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Multiple interaction channels--imperative for CRM success

Is a Web-only interface sufficient for providing efficient customer service? Or should e-tailers consider other options besides the Web for customer support?

2001 marks more than the official beginning of the 21st century. It also marks one year since the first of many dotcom flaws surfaced. Think about it, all the major dotcoms geared up for the 1999/2000-holiday season and most failed. Why? Because they embraced "Web only" a mistake that cost them, and their customers, dearly.

E-tailers put up Web stores and opened for business. Online customers flocked to the sites to eliminate their shopping pain. But, when the orders didn't come, the customers were begging for service. Unfortunately, there wasn't any. Customer service agents didn't have visibility on the online transactions and when customers called the e-tailer's call center, they couldn't get answers to basic questions, like "Did my order ship?" and "When will I get my shipment?"

Now that a year has gone by and we've seen the demise of many of those dotcoms, we can look at the lessons learned to avoid the same mistakes, and the failures.

The major flaw: in the race to online success, everyone gambled on Web-only. But the Web is just one more channel through which to sell and provide customer service. It is imperative that businesses always give customers the choice of interacting with their company in the manner that is most comfortable for them all the customer contact channels need to be linked together to ensure a 360 degree view of the customer profile.

A recent report by Jupiter Communications showed that only 37 percent of Web ventures currently combine three or more customer service channels on their websites. Those that do, have all the channels connected and synchronized into a seamless customer service experience! Remember, if the channels aren't in sync, then they are working against each other not with each other and the resulting damage done to the customer relationship may be irreparable.

As a service-oriented organization catering to the needs of a Web-savvy generation, you need to utilize the Web as an essential vehicle to deliver world-class customer service and to provide alternatives to reducing the cost of service.

But, don't just think about Web self-service. Your call center must evolve into an interaction center so that unlike the failed e-tailers your customer service agents will have full visibility over Web transactions, as well as traditional service requests and field service. Also, you have to simplify your "face" to the customer.

Customer loyalty is fleeting today. Customers now expect great service. To be able to deliver world-class service, you have to ensure that Web interactions and direct, phone and partner interactions are all consistent.

Businesses face considerable challenges in integrating these interaction channels, each with its distinct technology platforms, into a cohesive whole. According to a recent survey by the Meta Group, about 60 percent of CRM project costs go into integration.

IT experts everywhere struggle with the need to make sense of and maintain the various technology platforms and software components that make up the foundation of how they communicate with, and manage and serve customers.

Given the speed at which e-business is conducted, organizations can no longer afford to spend too much time on long implementation cycles for CRM initiatives. There are technologies and applications today in the form of a pre-packaged, integrated suite from one vendor that can help an enterprise move toward integrating and coordinating their business functions, infrastructure, interaction channels and even external companies such as suppliers or distributors.

This option provides a very high degree of integration to ensure consistent and easy access to customer data and a unified view of customer across the company. This enables businesses to enhance the quality of customer interaction, as each customer-facing agent whether sales, customer service or marketing has access to the same information and the complete customer account history. Integrated business intelligence tools also help to develop more effective campaigns, services and products, and identify unique cross-sell and up-selling opportunities.

An integrated CRM component within a complete e-business suite built on a single technology stack and designed to function together seamlessly addresses all of the issues that come along with coping with disparate systems. Businesses also enjoy lower integration, maintenance and upgrade costs.

With critical resources freed up, businesses can focus on the most important thing meeting and managing their customers' needs well.

Lisa Arthur, Vice President, Oracle Corp can be reached at lisa.arthur@oracle.com

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