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The Customer-Care Equation
Rajeev Chopra


Rajeev Chopra is Vice President-Marketing, Cisco Systems India. His current responsibilities include product marketing, demand generation, education and relationship-building with existing customers and partners. Prior to joining Cisco, Rajeev served as Director, Marketing for Microsoft India.

A successful customer-care solution calls for the integration of three key elements: People, Process & Technology

Thanks to the Internet revolution, successful customer service today means having a successful customer relationship management strategy that integrates Web-based self-service with traditional service capabilities. Web-based tools and services are an integral part of customer-care programs for virtually every business, and their role in customer service will continue to increase. Successful customer-care calls for seamless integration of three primary aspects: People, Process, and Technology.

Since customer-care has become a differentiating factor for companies and individuals making decisions about the companies they work with, it's critical to move quickly. But by adhering to standards and working in incremental steps, you can more easily manage the risks involved. The teams responsible for delivering your customer-care initiatives must acknowledge the issues surrounding people, process, and technology. More important, it's imperative that they realize the balance of these three elements will change as systems evolve, and as the needs of your company change.

When it comes to transitioning to Web-based customer-care systems, the people component is the most difficult one to address, especially during the initial phases. You must address the concerns of not only your employees, but also that of customers who will use the system. Implementing online systems that support or streamline customer-care processes often includes making changes in the way your staff does its day-to-day jobs. Change is unsettling to many people, especially those who don't fully understand the reasons for the change, and negative input from employees can substantially jeopardize the success of your customer-care system.

To determine your business requirements, apply a structured process to identify and prioritize your users' needs. Doing this requires that you address many people processes, such as working with potential users to identify their business requirements and helping them manage their expectations about the likely impact of these changes.

Communicating information about plans is critical to a project's success. One major technology company launched a global customer-care initiative, and as part of its planning process, it formed a super-user group of representatives from different departments to provide input. Because senior managers had some doubts about the company's ability to meet the project deadlines, they minimized communication about the project. A number of minor glitches occurred, all of which could have been successfully resolved, but employee speculation turned these minor glitches into major problems. When the company invited users for training, approximately 50 percent said they knew little about the initiative and were not interested in participating. Four months later, the company pulled the plug and absorbed a loss in excess of $800,000.

In another example, an international publishing company launched a customer-care initiative and set up a super-user group. This group remained active throughout the implementation, helping select vendors, review the software, and train other users. The company also used a comprehensive communications program that included a weekly status memo to all potential users, an internal website, and regular Q&A sessions. People actually competed to attend the first training session. The initiative went on to deliver an average productivity gain of 22 person-days per user in the first year alone. Lesson learned: Get users involved early, and help them to develop and manage change.

The process component is delicate because simply Web-enabling existing business processes usually speeds up problematic processes. While most companies have customer-facing business processes in place for the purchase, payment, and usage of products and services, these services often need to be reviewed, updated, or even replaced. Moving to Web-based processes gives companies the opportunity to enhance existing procedures to make them more customer-oriented, accessible via multiple channels, and more consistent across different touch-points, and to turn customer service into a strategic differentiator.

It's tempting to look for quick solutions, but companies pursuing a customer-care initiative often make the dangerous mistake of trying to correct business-process deficiencies by purchasing software that includes one-size-fits-all applications. For change to be effective, a company needs to evaluate the current process, then work with internal stakeholders to redesign or replace it. While it's not wrong to look at prepackaged processes, it's vital to make sure the solution is correct for the specific situation.

Before it implemented a customer-care initiative, one global life-sciences company decided to revamp its sales lead-management system. Originally, leads came in from various sources, including the company's website, trade shows, magazine ads, and word of mouth. The marketing department screened all leads and assigned them to field-sales personnel based on geography or specialization. During busy periods, leads often piled up for days or even weeks, by which time they became cold. Field personnel also had difficulty prioritizing them. The company brought together sales, marketing, and top management to create an ideal customer-lead process. The new process was agreed upon and promoted throughout the company. Next, all marketing and sales personnel were trained. Last, the process was automated using customer-relationship-management software workflow. Today, screening is automated, and sales representatives receive prioritized leads immediately. The results are a 10 percent to 15 percent improvement in lead-close rates, equating to millions of dollars of new and ongoing business.

The Internet and new software provide options for implementing customer-care solutions. However, the technology component can often seem overwhelming given the ever-expanding number of options. When exploring projects or developing ideas for a customer-care system, you need to take into account architectural considerations, project prioritization, and future plans. Some of the latest product developments include Web-based customer self-service, e-marketing, wireless technologies, and voice recognition.

Technology plays a critical role in integrating legacy and other needed systems. The selection and use of applications and systems will greatly impact the effectiveness and efficiency of system integration. People might insist that their part of the system needs to be integrated first, so be sure to set a process for scheduling integration activities.

Integrating All Three
All three components are critical. People are crucial for ultimately evaluating how well the system meets their needs. Process is important for driving workflow development, which is in turn built by technology. Technology is key for developing and modifying the actual applications that customers and customer-service agents will use.

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