Internet Customer Care: Survival Of The Persistent
BY LAURA DiSCIULLO
In all the excitement surrounding the Web and its really cool technology,
many have forgotten that the question is no longer whether they should be on the Internet.
Most businesses that need to be there have already made their decision. The question is
about meeting customers needs and expectations through a satisfying Web experience.
And, by the way, there is no one right answer.
What we have seen over the last year or so are companies in a state of transition.
Large well-established companies are looking to expand beyond the traditional brick and
mortar and call center. Companies with their genesis in the Internet are discovering the
need now to include methods other than the Web to meet customer requests. And, both groups
are rapidly learning they need to have integrated solutions to customer service. A great
Web site is just not enough. Consider what your Web site is actually saying: Look, but
dont touch. Browse, but dont buy. Ask, but dont expect an answer. Or,
even worse, caveat emptor.
TARGETING CUSTOMER NEEDS
Todays Internet call centers give the promise of delivering interactive customer
touch points to what was originally an anonymous and passive environment the
Internet. However, it may not be enough simply to answer your customers immediate
questions. The next level of sophistication is to respond to your customers needs in
a useful and efficient manner. Solutions on the market today begin to provide the
- A holistic view of customer interactions;
- Knowledge of customer interaction preferences;
- Direct marketing tied to consumer behavior;
- Determination of channel affordability by customer; and
- Easier to use technology.
Assuming youve decided to jump in to the Internet excitement, several questions
should come immediately to mind: What do my customers want? How do I bring the varying
technologies together? How do I prioritize whats needed now versus future needs? How
can I structure a solution that has staying power? This could lead you down the
deceptively simple path of evaluating technology solutions exclusively. But, in this case,
you run the risk of forgetting the reason why you were looking at the Internet in the
first place. It wasnt to try out technology; it was to achieve some business
Technology is only one step toward building a successful, integrated Web center. The
Web requires no less of a business focus than any other part of your business
albeit you may have to plan and execute more rapidly. Therefore:
- Have a clear business plan;
- Identify ONE problem to solve at a time;
- Apply technology to meet specific business needs;
- Leverage current investments and consciously determine throwaway investments; and
- Plan for rapid growth.
The business goals most frequently identified are to: (1) Differentiate the service and
sales channel by creating a winning Internet commerce strategy with enough flexibility to
evolve in this rapidly changing marketplace; (2) Reduce costs by optimizing core business
processes; (3) Improve communications and coordinate the efforts across business
functions; and (4) Ensure effective customer relationship management.
By selecting and prioritizing the business objectives, one is then able to evaluate the
plethora of technology solutions available on the market today. The traditional call
center providers have set the standard for solutions that deliver customer interactions to
the best resource for issue resolution in the most cost-effective manner. And, through the
use of CTI applications, more personalized customer treatment is possible.
BRINGING IN THE WEB
On the other hand, Web-based applications offer tremendous reach at a relatively low cost.
The detached, remote nature of these sites is rapidly giving way to real-time customer
service applications utilizing Voice over IP (VoIP), text chat, and/or callback with
escorted browsing and collaboration. Innovations from both the call center providers and
the multitude of emerging Internet solution providers have resulted in easy-to-use,
secure, and interactive experiences. In many cases, the same CTI applications that support
the voice call center are leveraged to provide tailored handling to the Internet
Other Internet-based solutions focus on providing the best, personalized self-service
experience typically by optimizing the encounter based on consumer preferences or business
rules. Of these applications, the ones that fully leverage a Web-based architecture are
well suited to the predicted exponential increases in Internet activity and the growing
customer expectations of tailored treatment. For identification of consumer preferences to
be most effective, careful attention must be placed on collecting data. Internet-based
customer care is still in its infancy, and the pioneers will help set the standards.
Customer data must be handled with integrity, and with an eye on rational boundaries.
Otherwise, consumers will balk at the obvious requests for personal information.
The penultimate question revolves around determining how best to leverage your
technology investments (call center hardware and software, CTI applications, Web site,
etc.) and move toward the new customer interaction end state. It is unrealistic to assume
that one will, in a wholesale fashion, remove an established infrastructure and replace it
with a fully re-architected multimedia, multi-channel, multi-purpose infrastructure. This
behavior is demonstrated on a daily basis through component buying behavior. Also notice
the burgeoning ranks of point solutions that address discrete slices of the new solution
possibilities as a strong indicator of market need and expectations.
Couple this development with a rapidly increasing desire to integrate the pieces in
order to provide cost-effective, high-quality, and holistic customer treatment. Thus the
remaining question becomes how to integrate the best of all these worlds; how to deliver
true customer relationship management irrespective of the communications channel. One can
mold an all-inclusive solution from the piece parts, but the costs are likely to be
substantial. Whether you view this as right, wrong, or indifferent, you can expect to
evaluate multiple vendors, rationalize a plethora of disparate architectures and service
creation environments, develop custom code to integrate the various elements, and so on.
As a result, there is an emerging trend toward fully integrated solution suites as a way
to mitigate these issues. Suites that integrate multiple business processes will have a
higher market acceptance than those that target a single practice. Those that further
provide a way to support multiple access media into the business will also be favored. The
cost of ownership, as well as greater simplicity of management and administration, make
this a reality.
While the pressures of Internet time suggest addressing your multimedia
customer care needs sooner rather than later, the perfect solution may not be
immediately available. It is almost certainly better to move toward your vision of
multimedia customer care than to stand still. For example, among the point solutions in
the marketplace are e-mail customer care software packages. This may not be a bad place to
start since studies indicate how haphazardly companies are generally handling
customers e-mail (and how expensive such poor management makes the process).
Therefore, we believe emerging multimedia and e-commerce technologies are both
evolutionary and revolutionary. Revolutionary because the channels, tools, and techniques
available to serve customers are beyond what most of us imagined just a few years ago.
Evolutionary because most of todays legacy systems can phase these new technologies
in as business strategies and customer expectations dictate. That these new technologies
offer improved means of customer differentiation is inarguable. That customers are
beginning to expect multimedia service channels, and that those expectations are quickly
becoming requirements, are developments businesses ignore at their peril. But the end game
is building and managing profitable customer relationships, and the Internet is a jewel
only to the extent that it supports those relationships. Consider who your customers and
potential customers are, and how they want to engage you. If you want to roll them a red
carpet, the solutions are out there. c
Laura DiSciullo is director of CRM eBusiness solutions for Lucent Technolo-
gies. Lucent Technologies, headquartered in Murray Hill, N.J., designs, builds, and
delivers a wide range of public and private networks, communications systems and software,
data networking systems, business telephone systems, and microelectronics components. For
more information about Lucent Technologies, visit the companys Web site at www.lucent.com