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Customized Service: Sure Recipe for Success

In the new economy, businesses, especially in the services sector, have become customer-centric and have been exploring new ways to service customers efficiently. The verdict: it usually boils down to effectively managing those moments of truth with customers. And this turns out to be the most difficult part of the relationship saga. The interaction center plays a major role in enabling us to manage these moments. Though we all know this, we lose ourselves in the dictionaries of technology that are available to improve this interaction center.

Financial institutions, for one, are being forced to make this shift from processing transactions to managing relationships.

It's been some time since I consolidated my banking transactions to a single bank in the hope of receiving better service and attention. Recently I was performing an Internet banking transaction and decided to pay my house loan EMI from the same account. It was a frustrating experience. The bank did not provided this facility. As a natural extension to my attempt, I called the number mentioned in my loan letter for any queries.

The result: four phone numbers, six phone calls, five "can you please hold on, I will transfer you to the right person" requests and many explanations later a physical human being actually came and collected the cheque from my doorstep. Am still loyal to my bank? Definitely not! All I see is the tattered remains of what should have been a pleasant moment of truth.

Most customer service centers run by banks and other service departments are quite sophisticated. Right from outbound telemarketing capabilities to tele servicing, a technology capability exists to manage every possible customer scenario. Despite this, the moments of truth at many interaction centers end up being disastrous because they access customer information product-wise, as it is organized product wise and not customer wise. It is a rare moment when a customer service representative (CSR) can help you at one go with all transactions that you may have with an organization. Fortunately some banks are now realizing the need for a single point of contact, where a comprehensive and updated database of the customer resides. This ensures immediate fulfillment of customer queries and requirements through simple procedures.

The problem rests not with technology but the thought process that goes behind technology selection and deployment. Most of the tools and techniques used, such as work force scheduling, are focused on increasing the efficiency of the interaction centers. The techniques used are similar to what a supervisor's role would have been in an old shop floor. And we see people in interaction centers toiling away to meet their efficiency metrics. What is missed out in the process is the customer experience. There are number of ways to make this customer experience more delightful and memorable:

  • Not having to repeat my problem again and again to different people who are called in to support me when I call in.
  • If I don't speak English and am a registered customer for local language support, I shouldn't have to explain tothe operator that I want local language support.
  • Despite the fact that numerous customers would have reported the same problem, each call goes through yet another problem solving cycle.
  • If I called in earlier regarding a problem and if it's unresolved, the CSR should be able to trace this during the subsequent call.

Simple Thoughts, But Intricate To Implement And Manage!

Things ultimately boil down to how information is structured for a CSR to access. Does he/ she have information on the value of the customer, based on the transactions performed with the company? So where should the investment go when developing a world-class interaction center? My opinion is that it should be in analytics and in evolving a single customer master. All other technology ingredients should come later. Superimposing new technologies on a product centric organization is a sure recipe for a poor return on investment.

Think about my earlier experience with the bank. Suppose the bank deploys a tool to make my transaction information flow with the call, so that I do not have to repeat my query about my credit card. But what if I suddenly wish to enquire about my bank loan? My experience is that I have to call again and wait for about ten minutes before I can get connected to a CSR who can answer my query. And in all probability, this CSR will not be aware of the discussion I had ten minutes ago.

Here are some tested and tried tools, techniques that when deployed help to efficiently and successfully manage those moments of truth, which alone ensures a profitable and longstanding relationship with customers.

Database Construction
Database construction is really the heart of Customer Relationship Management (CRM). Most of the data would come from transactional systems such as billing and accounting, promotions and campaigns. These operational systems are typically fragmented, inconsistent and unsuited for managing relationships. To have a 360-degree view of the customer the CSR would require the assistance of software tools such as next generation integration and transformation platforms that are capable of handling the complexities of transforming bare facts into useful data, to enable efficient customer service.

A unified view of the customer would further mean maintaining hierarchical views of customers, linked to their transaction histories and of course enhanced with external demographics, dates and behavioral patterns obtained through the various interactions and transactions that the customer previously had with the organization. When an organization does have such a view of the customer, the e-moments of truth are managed much better. This in turn will strengthen the quality of relationship and probably increase the lifetime value of the customer.

Data Analysis And Mining
Typical questions that marketers often ask are of the following nature—"How many of my customers are located in Bangalore and are software professionals with a balance of over Rs. 2 lakhs?" Quickly counting customers who meet a specific profile and constantly refining the segment would require an analytical tool that would be easy to query and give quick answers. Traditional databases and SQL do not usually help. An online analytical processing tool facilitates asking these complex marketing questions and delivering quick responses.

Data mining tools today have the ability to search for unsuspected relationships among customer attributes. Submit a question such as "Which of my customers in Bangalore are likely to go in for a house loan?" and voi la you have the results in an instance. Data mining tools, Presto for instance, often come up with answers such as "Software professionals working in an MNC with an average bank balance of Rs. 2 lakhs in the savings account." Of course, the pre-requisite is that you have a customer-centric database populated with all the transactional and demographic data.

Interactive Relationship Management
Let's look at another key technology enabler—Interactive Relationship Management. What if my bank was to trace that I have pulled out an unusually large amount from my savings account or deposited a large amount? If this can be coupled with the analysis made by the analytical tool used by the bank, it would probably represent a marketing opportunity for the bank's investment division. The CRM tools would then proactively trigger in a rule for the bank to get in touch with me through a medium I would prefer most—a telephone in my case.

Let's go back to my earlier experience with the bank. Suppose the bank adds a tool to make my transaction information flow with the call so I need not repeat my query regarding my credit card. But what if I suddenly wish to enquire about my bank loan? My experience in India is that I would need to call in again and wait for about ten minutes before I get connected to a CSR who can answer my query. And most probably this CSR will not be aware of the discussion I had with the bank ten minutes ago. Such events can be better managed through interactive relationship management tools, which typically help in responding to the real time interactions using pre-defined customer prediction models and the customer's history.

How Do I Optimize Customer Relationships?
Capture, analyze and integrate data from all touch points. Companies that have the resources to perform these processes can transform this knowledge into a powerful CRM arsenal.

To optimize customer relationships, organizations should operate within this framework:

The foundation is to have a customer-centric database. This provides a fundamental value a 360-degree view of the customer.

  • Add enabling technologies that include interactive relationship management.
  • Ensure that your fulfillment processes and your customer ordering processes are in sync.
  • Align your infrastructure and your organization to support your CRM initiatives.

It's surprising how many businesses are run without information. If we just step backwards and review the dotcom bust, we can derive some interesting tidbits. There is lot of talk about business models, market share, mindset and so on while trying to explain the dotcom demise. Service seems to be a forgotten word. Apart from poor business models, dotcoms were unable to survive due one obvious reason: poor customer service. This was facilitated by a lack of investment in infrastructure and processes for interaction centers. The belief that just a HTML page would deliver wonders to the world was a flawed one.

As more corporations are nursing their wounds, there is a huge opportunity for what are called "old economy companies" to leverage their service orientation and deliver through a reliable business model a delightful user experience. So before we run to buy new interaction center technology, lets pause and understand first what information would be useful for serving the customer better and how it should it be stored for efficient retrieval.

For enhancing the quality of customer service experience, the problem rests not with technology but the thought process that goes behind technology selection and deployment To have a 360-degree view of the customer, CSR can do with next-gen software tools that are capable of handling the complexities of transforming bare facts into useful data

Srinivas K.S, Head-Client Services (Asia Pacific), Talisma Corporation Pvt. Ltd. can be reached at srinivasks@talisma.com and Asit Sinha, formerly Managing Principal, Talisma Corporation Pvt. Ltd. can be reached at AsitS@talisma.com

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