Turn Self-Service Inside Out to Cultivate Customer Relationships

In this evolving world of the Web (and of Web 2.0), companies have the potential to increase customer loyalty, boost sales volumes, diminish risks, lessen order errors, and reduce administrative overhead. But to harness the power of the Net in order to attain competitive advantages, companies must focus on e-business -- the key areas of their business that are digitally accessible to customers. What separates the winners from the losers in e-business is theoretically simple -- but difficult to achieve without a game plan. Companies that are succeeding in e-business today have learned to cultivate and extend their relationships with customers who demand quick and easy access to the right products and services, at the right time, in the right place -- all while receiving personalized interactions and direct access to their accounts. Many companies fail to recognize the benefit that can be achieved by offering customers a window into their CRM and ERP process -- a change that will offer more insight into customers' buying needs and preferences. By giving customers "frictionless" access to all the product, pricing, promotion, and order information they need, companies can boost sales while streamlining order processing. For example:
  • At the site of a leading automotive- and industrial-parts company, improved search capabilities enable mechanics to search for a part by car make, model, type, and engine.
  • A wireless service provider added enhanced guided selling and configuration so customers can now compare as many as five different packages, including phones, service agreements, pricing, and the cost to add more lines.
To give customers a 360-degree view of your company, you need to design and build transparency and integration throughout what are often disparate and siloed processes, applications, and systems. While sales, marketing, and customer service were once the three traditional outward-facing areas for customer interaction, online interfaces now make it possible for customers to go directly to their account and inquire about their business or order status. To be even more customer-focused, companies need to turn their organizations inside out and Web-enable all the aspects of their businesses suitable for such interactions. You must determine which aspects of the order management process to automate with an e-business solution and then more accurately and efficiently track a customer inquiry throughout the selling process both online and offline. By following this business process from inquiry to guided selling and configuration of a solution, then to quotes and proposals and ultimately to order capture and fulfillment, you will be able to determine which parts of the process you should make directly accessible to your customers. However, it is key to stay focused on the fact that automation
is not the main goal -- customer satisfaction is. Many companies make significant financial investments to steer their customers to the Web but fail to unify the sales process and experience, which ultimately results in companies providing a less-than-satisfying customer experience. Business solutions, without exception, must integrate with traditional selling processes in order to suit customer and partner needs. Customers need assurance that Web self-service will enable them to call the sales rep for help, if necessary, to complete the transaction and allow them to check the status of an order any way they choose -- online, via a call center, or in person. A Web sales self-service experience also needs be individualized and agile, addressing the interests and needs of that particular customer. The site should enable potential buyers to quickly and easily locate, configure, and purchase the correct products and services at the correct price, and it should be easily searchable and intuitive. The site should be transactional -- capturing, distributing, and fulfilling orders promptly and accurately and providing status and details as needed during the order fulfillment process. It is equally important to consider the complete sales model when deploying e-business solutions. If channel partners, distributors, and resellers are part of the sales model, then they must be unified and synchronized with the automated sales experience, since they are critical to the delivery of corporate products and services. In order to accomplish this, some companies establish personalized, virtual storefronts for their partners to ensure their participation as the sales process becomes automated. Following these recommendations, the keys to establishing successful Web self-service are simple:
  • Provide customers with a unified experience while they are conducting their business over the Web. They need the ability to communicate directly with internal sales and customer service organizations as well as with outside partners.
  • Address customer and partner requirements individually using guided selling and configurations that simplify the "multiples" such as business units, product lines, service offerings, and build-to-order offerings, as well as multiple back-end systems and processes.
  • Simplify processes for customers and partners by conducting business the way they want -- via phone, Web, kiosk or in-store.
  • Sell integrated products and services -- seamlessly cross-sell and up-sell products and services to the installed base and prospects. Leverage service contracts to drive additional product sales and vice versa.
The Web has raised expectations for the customer experience. The only way to compete is to turn the company inside out to provide customers with an online buying experience that is customizable and agile. About the Author Ken Ramoutar is director of global product marketing for Sterling Commerce, one of the world's largest providers of multi-enterprise collaboration software and services. In this role, Ramoutar leads the go-to-market strategies for Sterling Commerce applications. This includes developing and communicating long- and short-term marketing strategies and objectives, as well as serving as the solution spokesman to internal organizations, customers, partners, industry analysts, and the press.
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