Customers Are Your Company's Greatest Asset

Mr. Jay runs a little convenience shop on a corner near my home. Whenever I go in he says hello to me by name and quickly pours my coffee. I'm in and out the door in less than a minute. There's a minimart down the street that also has coffee, maybe at a lower price. But there's something about the relationship I have with Mr. Jay that keeps me going back. He knows me. He knows how I like my coffee. Mr. Jay understands the importance of customer service and managing customer relationships: Know your customers and anticipate their needs. This is true at every level of business. The strength of your relationship with your customers is directly proportional to your ability to achieve profitability and even survival. Yet as business become global, conducted from disparate locations through a variety of media (phone, computer, in-person), it becomes a greater challenge to provide that level of personal attention. As you're trying to figure out how to maintain your relationships, competitors are gunning for them. Your customers are always just a contact-- a phone call, Web click, email or visit--away from your competitors. Therefore, you need proactive communications with your customers; you need to be highly accessible; and you need to deliver quality and consistency in your communication. You need high-performance Web capabilities. You need communications systems that provide customers with easy access to the resources they need. You need to enable your employees to provide timely responses. In a word, you need to be engaged and collaborate with your customers to anticipate their needs. This collaboration between a company and its customers drives new technology adoption today. Today's customer expects this collaboration immediately, in real time. They demand and expect communication and collaboration features that provide a variety of ways to interact: click to talk, Instant Messaging, video conferencing, and Web push. These types of multimedia interactions build loyalty and long-term improvements in the relationship, which in turn lead to more return on the relationship. Engagement through multimedia communications increases the bottom line for you and your customers. This type of "engaged" vendor network minimizes bottlenecks in customer networks. It uses converged, high-performance products and services that minimize costs and boost productivity. It uses the knowledge you have of your customer to drive higher value from your relationship. But to get to this customer nirvana you need a plan. First, determine the outcome you want to achieve. Second, evaluate your current investments, determine how they can meet your above stated intentions, and choose those applications that will enhance those investments. Often people barrel into CRM without having real clarity on what they want to achieve. This requires a clear articulation of your goals, with a very specific outcome, e.g., "We want to improve customer relationships and thus the rate of closure by providing real-time information on size and stock information." Take the above example, in the catalog business. Your customer visits your Web site to buy a shirt for her husband's birthday. She's ready to buy, but doesn't know how the sizes relate to measurements. She clicks on a button and interacts with an agent, through a choice of media (voice, instant message, etc.) asking, "What size is an XL?" She gets her answer quickly and is ready to buy. The shirt isn't in stock. Your system immediately alerts her, before she leaves the site and says, "We don't have that shirt in this size, but perhaps you might like the following options." She chooses from the options and closes the transaction. You're presenting your customer with a solution, rather than just a problem. And, she leaves your site content with the transaction. In this example you take a traditional contact center capability and integrate multimedia and Web chat. If the customer doesn't want to use Instant Messaging, enable her to make the call from her PC. With a converged voice and data network you enable your customers to communicate however they wish--in multimedia, chat, video, email, and fax. You also have application awareness capabilities that understand the way in which people enter your system, i.e., bandwidth awareness--you don't want to send a video clip to someone on dial-up. By recognizing what your customers need to do, and how they do it, you can better identify what type of technology you need to support. While battling to provide the best customer service possible, companies also face increasing cost pressures. Converged networks, in addition to greatly improving customer loyalty, provide companies with great flexibility in structuring customer communication centers, such as contact centers. Companies can continue to use centralized contact centers, but increasingly, companies choose to use distributed contact centers or home networked representatives. A converged network makes work an activity, not a place. Distributed contact center/branch office:
Used either for historical reasons or geographic reasons, more companies use distributed contact centers. By implementing a converged network, you optimize bandwidth, maximize cost-effectiveness, and simplify management. You improve efficiency and reduce costs. You enable user benefits like file sharing, email, voicemail, integrated branch-to-branch dialing, and other advanced communications features. More important, when a customer calls, he receives consistent, high quality service, regardless of what office he's reached. Home networking: In some areas laws exist that if you have more than a certain number of employees you need to have a certain number of telecommuters. But beyond regulatory issues, home networking enabled by converged networks provides huge cost benefits to companies. Home networking enables a company to quickly respond when needed. A company might have a surge in customer support calls, and they can just contact agents at home and ask them to log on. Also, you may not need these people full time and therefore, you cut down on real estate costs. And again, you ensure a high level of customer service. Ultimately, it comes down to increased revenues and decreased costs. You must leverage your company's IT infrastructure to anticipate customer requirements and provide additional network intelligence so your employees can serve your customers better and faster. In this world of more and more standardized goods and services, you need to find way to differentiate yourself. Increasingly, that differentiation comes in the form of customer relationships: The choices you provide; the services you provide; the experience you provide. These choices reside with companies every day. Simply put, the companies that provide the best choice wins--and wins the greatest asset: return on relationship. About the Author As vice president and general manager of Enterprise Business Networks, Alex Pierson is responsible for all management functions for Nortel Networks' enterprise business unit. Pierson maintains a global focus on IP telephony, driving Nortel Networks IP Enterprise strategy. During his 14-year tenure he has held positions in product development and management. Pierson graduated in 1980 from Queen's University with a Bachelor of Commerce (Hon).
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