|All Media All
The Time: Giving Customers A Choice
By Chris Rechtsteiner, Apropos Technology
The pendulum of customer sentiment swings swiftly from infatuation to
disinterest. In the late 1990s, the market adopted the position that it was
more cost-effective to acquire new customers and new revenue than to worry
about existing relationships. As quickly as that mindset was embraced, it
was replaced in the beginning of this new decade by the adage that it is
more cost-effective to manage existing relationships than it is to pursue
new customers and subsequently new revenue. This shift is due in part to the
current nature of the economy and in part to the necessity of developing a
satisfied, stable and referenceable customer base that extols your
corporate/product/service virtues to additional prospective customers. Today
the market is about leverage ' most importantly, leverage that is enabled
through personal, high-quality relationships with individuals and
corporations with whom one does business. The strength and value of these
relationships is integral to the current and ongoing success for any
company. The key to solidifying these relationships is to provide customers
with the ability to choose from an optimum amount of media channels to
communicate with your organization.
From wireless Internet access, mobile phones, instant messaging, e-mail,
Web self-service and even the 'old reliable' telephone, people express
themselves uniquely under myriad circumstances, which are driven
predominantly by the urgency of their need to communicate. Individuals
choose forms and methods of communications that are personal to them,
significantly affecting how they will contact the sales, service and support
operations of your business. At the same time, individuals expect
comprehensive and rapid communication in return, regardless of the issue at
hand or the communication medium used. Meeting and ultimately exceeding
these expectations (as well as those yet to come) requires a fundamentally
sound approach to customer relationship management (CRM).
Of late, CRM has taken more than its fair share of abuse from industry
analysts, the media, the stock market and even individual customers crowing
about the problems inherent in CRM strategies. There is, however, a rather
elegant solution to this problem ' a solution that enables customers to
make their choice of any or all communications media at any time, which is
the final objective of a CRM initiative. The solution is a universal
interaction management application with multiple media channel capabilities.
Step One ' Identifying The Media Channels That Matter
To implement this type of solution, it is first important to identify
the complete availability of communication media channels within your
organization. This straightforward yet difficult task will help ensure
communications are not lost in transmission, receipt or during response.
Take a look at your business card. How many forms of communication are
listed? Postal address? E-mail? Web site? Corporate phone? Direct phone?
Mobile phone? Now, go to your Web site. How many e-mail links, Web forms,
phone numbers, branch offices and other points of entry are available to
your customers? Finally, look at your sales and direct marketing materials.
How many phone numbers, URLs and physical locations are listed? The number
of answers will probably surprise you. At the very minimum, this exercise
will provide you with a thorough understanding of the challenges in front of
Once these communication entry points have been mapped out, it is
necessary to test all of them. Send e-mail, submit Web forms, make phone
calls and visit Web pages and physical locations to understand how each
unique entry point is managed. Does customer information transcend all
available entry points? As you work through this process, note entry points
that fall into oblivion or result in a significantly delayed response.
Again, the results may surprise you. Remember, on average, more than 50
percent of available communication channel entry points deliver no response.
Next, identify which communication entry points are relevant for your
business. Note those that should exist (but don't) and remove those that
will only result in customer frustration due to lack of internal ownership
and therefore a lack of a timely (if any) response. This simple exercise
will significantly reduce customer frustration levels, as the remaining
avenues of communication will be specifically designed and enabled to handle
the incoming flow of customer inquiries as this process continues.
Step Two ' Integrating A Robust Solution
It is now critical to establish a central point of processing and
administration to manage this seemingly endless number of communications
channels and the resulting flood of communications. To accomplish this, the
requirement is the identification of a robust multichannel interaction
management solution ' one based upon open system standards and squarely
integrated with a company's existing third-party business applications,
business processes and communications infrastructure. The benefit to this
type of enterprise-class solution is that you can introduce new
applications, new forms of communication and new business processes at the
time that's right for your organization, and at the time that is right for
your customers ' all while leveraging your existing technology and
infrastructure to its fullest extent.
Let's take a brief look at this requirement for an interaction
management application, as it will impact the ultimate success of your
initiative to open all media channels to all customers at all times.
Interaction management is the foundation for evolving single-channel
customer service into multichannel customer satisfaction. Interaction
management seamlessly integrates customer communications with customer data
no matter where the communications may originate or where the data may
reside within your company. Making this information easily and quickly
accessible throughout the customer management process, regardless of media
channel, is an intrinsic value-add that the interaction management solution
provides. Additionally, the interaction management solution enables you to
make use of your defined business rules (through your recently defined
communication channels), ensuring that each customer is offered the most
efficient and effective way possible to communicate with your company.
All communications enabled by the interaction management solution are
based upon YOUR business objectives. This is a critical distinction.
Interaction management provides the foundation for you to offer the most
effective method of communication to your customers, based on their value
and the value of each unique interaction, as well as what is best for your
company. Without the interaction management piece of this puzzle, the
ability to offer any-time, any-channel communications, and ultimately a
comprehensive view of the customer's activity, is nearly impossible.
The underlying interaction management solution should be designed from
the ground up as a fully integrated suite, not a collection of loosely
integrated products or technologies. This suite should include communication
channel management applications, centralized interaction management driven
by client-defined business rules, and comprehensive real-time and historical
management tools to measure the efficiency and effectiveness of your
customer management operations. The benefit of an inherently suite-based
architecture is that it enables rapid implementation. In addition, a
suite-based system delivers a lower total cost of ownership, as the complete
solution remains on the same version at the same time and does not combine
multiple products and/or vendors to deliver functional and operational
The interaction management solution should also be able to prioritize,
personalize, queue, route, manage and report on both synchronous
communications (voice, e-mail, Web, fax) and asynchronous communications
(task activities, offline work, document management, etc.), according to
each medium's unique value to your business. This last 'technical
requirement' is critical because it incorporates the ability to manage not
only the live customer communications but also the resulting 'work'
associated with complete resolution of a customer interaction. Instead of
adding to static 'to do' lists, the interaction management solution
should enable your company to queue these activities directly inline and
within the prioritization structure of your business rules to ensure that
they are managed in a timely fashion ' correlating with your service level
and operation level agreements. Finally, the solution should be able to
provide both real-time and historical business metrics on productivity,
efficiency and effectiveness of the contact center operations.
As an example, let's look at a case study for a company in the
financial services sector. This organization may find that its customers and
brokers ' all of whom rely on common interaction management infrastructure
' prefer to use the phone. By the nature of their profession and because
of the ability to actively record conversations for compliance with
government regulations, the telephone is the most acceptable method of
communication for both parties today. Having already identified the most
appropriate media channels through the aforementioned first step in this
process, the flow of these communications can quickly be centralized and
therefore managed more consistently and effectively. Most important, while
leveraging the chosen method of communications at this time (i.e., the
phone), the organization is also able to easily integrate additional
communication channels, e-mail for example, when both the company and its
clients decide the time is right to move online. This is simply a matter of
engaging the existing business rules infrastructure and application
integration already developed within the interaction management platform.
Once its customers and brokers move to e-mail (Web, wireless, etc.) as an
accepted form of communication, the financial services organization can add
e-mail modules, Web modules and mobility modules at the drop of a dime. This
introduction is completed without adding a new, separate management
application ' effectively lowering the total cost of ownership of not only
the interaction management solution, but also the existing communications
infrastructure and other CRM applications.
This is the inherent value of the interaction management solution ' the
ability to quickly, easily and seamlessly introduce additional communication
channels to the right individuals at the right time. When coupled with a
detailed profile of customer information, the company even has the ability
to selectively control the presentation of each medium to each unique
Step Three ' A Strategy For Your Agent Force
The implementation and use of a common interaction management platform
throughout an enterprise enables the company to provide superior service
across all communications channels at all times ' either independently via
media-specific agents (who retain cross-media channel visibility of current
and past interactions) or via 'global' users skilled in many
communications channels and languages. This flexibility is a critical step
in the process and should not be overlooked, as the skill sets required for
multichannel interaction management are significantly different than those
required for traditional telephone interaction management.
Step Four ' Develop The Business Logic
The next step in establishing this central point of interaction
management is the development of and integration to cross-functional
business rules. Subsequently, customers need never worry their inquiry will
get less attention simply because it arrived via e-mail instead of over the
phone. The resulting integrated business logic of the interaction management
solution and the business applications enables each customer and each
interaction to receive its necessary level of priority escalation and,
ultimately, service as defined by your company. With these business rules in
place, a high-value customer, perhaps with a pending purchase, can jump to
the top of a queue and receive immediate service, regardless of whether the
interaction is taking place via e-mail, phone or the Web.
The Project Process
As you engage the process of introducing anytime, anywhere customer
interaction management, remember the success of any CRM initiative is
predicated upon up-front planning. Too little project scope, and the results
won't meet the comprehensive business requirements. Too much project
scope, and the ability to realize the 'end goal' of the project will be
compromised. Most important, remember to align the scope of the project with
your organization, not with that of a vendor, systems integrator or other
third party. You alone will know far better what your company (and
customers) are ready for than anyone else.
Acquiring new customers is more difficult than ever. Allowing customers
to choose from multiple media channels will help retain existing customers
by offering new avenues of communication, interaction and service.
Additionally, your company now has the ability to enable revenue-generating
service level agreements, in which access to increasing levels of
communication channels carries a higher price.
As customers have become accustomed to using more communication media to
interact with your organization, customer expectations of service levels
have also increased. A centralized tool for managing multiple media channels
gives customers both choice and confidence ' and that may be all that
customers need to remain loyal to a company.
Chris Rechtsteiner is senior director of Strategic Marketing at
Apropos Technology (www.apropos.com).
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August 2002 Table Of Contents ]