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Feature Article
November 2000

 

Ultimate Consumer Voice Over IP

BY CLYDE FOSTER

E-businesses that are benefiting from the compressed business cycles of the Internet are also finding that the financial damage caused by the loss of customer satisfaction hits just as quickly. E-business has delivered a powerful weapon to the customer: The power of immediate choice. In today's business-to-consumer (B2C) environment, a click of a mouse is all it takes for a buyer to switch between suppliers. In the business-to-business (B2B) world the loss of one client drops straight to the bottom line with significant, immediate impact on profitability. Recently, with valuations based on customer growth rates and market share, the lion's share of a company's resources has gone to marketing and sales activities backed by e-business transaction handling. Companies have been overlooking the standard path to profitability: Repeat orders and growing purchases from established customers. Forward-looking companies are coming to realize the company's ability to leverage technology to help deliver the ultimate customer experience is essential to driving overall company profitability.

MASTERING MULTI-CHANNEL CUSTOMER INTERACTION
In order to meet the challenge of total customer satisfaction, e-businesses must master multiple communication channels and provide customers with a variety of options. In the Internet economy, it is not enough to offer support singly through either telephone, e-mail, or the Internet. Customers not only want to interact with their suppliers through multiple media, they demand the ability to seamlessly move from one medium to another, at will and without warning. A one-customer, multiple-solution approach to this problem is essential.

Further, as e-commerce customers become more sophisticated, expectations will continue to grow. For example, customers want to start a transaction on the Internet, receive instructions from an agent using real-time chat, click on a button to have a telephone conversation with that agent to answer a question, then move back to the Internet to complete and begin tracking the transaction. Whether the requirement is acquiring a new customer with their first order, or dealing with established clients and their myriad needs, businesses must provide the flexibility of integrated Internet, telephone, e-mail, fax, and electronic data interaction (EDI) exchange. One key requirement for a single-customer view is the blending of voice technology with computer-based customer interaction technologies. By combining high-touch human interaction with a high-tech eCRM (electronic customer relationship management) infrastructure, an e-business can provide true customer service.

VoIP AND THE NEXT-GENERATION eCRM INFRASTRUCTURE
Integration of electronic customer interaction infrastructure with voice and telephony systems is an integral part of the next-generation eCRM system. While there are applications to handle individual channels, the eCRM solution of tomorrow must blend all communication channels in one total solution. The system must be comprised of the following components:

  • Phone System -- Providing a server that includes a digital PBX system, automatic call distributor (ACD), programmable IVR (interactive voice response system), multimedia queuing, skills-based routing, and a voice-mail system;
  • Fax System -- Automatically routing inbound faxes to the appropriate employees based on the rules specified, and gathering real-time statistics on fax interaction;
  • Web Collaboration -- Enabling Web interaction between customers and employees including text chat, second-line callback, Web page synchronization, page push, assisted page navigation/sharing, the customer's URL history, real-time communications options, assisted form completion, a meet-me option, and integrated tracking;
  • E-mail Response Management System (ERMS) -- Handling e-mail communications, including auto-acknowledgement, -response, and -suggest, rapid-build templates, integrated tracking, and skills-based e-mail routing;
  • Customer Relationship Management (CRM) -- Allowing the capture, access, and update of data from all customer transactions, including detailed customer profile and information, multimedia contact history, case history and activity, contact journal, work assignment, and work management;
  • Business Analytics -- Simple-to-use Web-based reporting, data mining, and online analytic processing (OLAP) tools enable marketing, sales, and service organizations to leverage this valuable information to maximize their effectiveness.

CLICK-TO-TALK
To provide a high-touch solution, an e-business must address customer issues and questions in real-time, regardless of where the interaction was originally initiated. With the Web serving as the focal point for many customer interactions, customers want to remain in an environment where they started the interaction, even when they interact with a service representative. One way of achieving this goal is to provide the interaction options the customer wants within the Web framework, rather than forcing them to pick up the telephone, and restart the process from scratch. With an integrated telecommunication system, a new eCRM infrastructure provides customer interaction options that have never been possible before. Through voice, chat, and Internet collaboration, the e-business can provide high-touch service within the context of the Web.

MEDIA BLENDING INTO A SINGLE VIEW
One of the primary objectives of the blended eCRM solution is to create a single relationship between buyers and sellers -- regardless of communication type, customer requirement, functional area, or company representative. Intelligence-based routing and media blending is a fundamental technology that enables companies to achieve this result. With a single relationship, a supplier can understand the customer's needs in the context of the history of the customer -- regardless of the type of interaction. Further, the information the company needs in order to effectively service each customer is available to the service center at the point of contact.

Using true media blending, a skill profile can be maintained per agent that defines their skills across all media channels, as well as their general skill set. Likewise, a single profile repository can be accessed for companies to determine the appropriate priority to assign to a customer, instead of assigning priority based on the method of access. Combining the agent skill information with the customer priority profile, the media blender can make the ultimate match between the customer type, the contact point, and the service representative.

TURN TO THE EXPERTS
While eCRM has quickly emerged as a business-critical infrastructure requirement that will mark the difference between success and failure in the years ahead, the technical requirements of such a system far out-strip in-house expertise. A recent Forrester Research study showed that while a single view of the customer was cited as a critical business need, only two percent of today's firms are equipped with it. A growing number of businesses are turning to a new service delivery model, and a new class of provider: The BSP (business solution provider). By combining best-of-breed blended technology, custom technology and content, domain and industry expertise, 24/7 hosted infrastructure, and professional services, the BSP is transforming the way information services are deployed. The best-of-class BSP provides the sophistication of a fully-custom solution, cost-effectiveness, and rapid deployment of solutions. By outsourcing the most complex challenges facing companies, the BSP not only provides specific expertise, they are addressing problems that the organization simply cannot solve on their own.

IP@THE_BOTTOM_LINE.COM
Businesses that provide their customers with a single point for all contact and enable them to move effortlessly between the telephone, chat, Internet, and other communication options, while presenting internal employees with the information they need to effectively respond to questions and inquiries, will be well-positioned to deliver superior customer satisfaction. In fact, the seamless integration of communications in business is becoming mandatory. The companies that master this difficult piece of e-business infrastructure will quickly create significant competitive advantages.

Clyde Foster is founder, president and CEO of eConvergent. Foster and his management team designed a business plan to offer e-businesses outsourced eCRM solutions that address mission-critical business processes. The company is headquartered in Pleasanton, California, and has service operations in California and Colorado.

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