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Publisher's Outlook
December 2000

Welcome To CUSTOMER INTER@CTION Solutions!


You may notice that this month, C@LL CENTER CRM Solutions has become CUSTOMER INTER@CTION Solutions. This is because today, the way you do business with your customers is about so much more than phone calls. Technology has stepped in and allowed your company and your customers to communicate in many more ways, allowing your customers more choices and enabling you to target your customers' needs much more effectively. Today's customer interaction center, done well, becomes ground-zero of a win-win situation that will propel your business into the 21st century.

So where do you find these new solutions? In the pages of CUSTOMER INTER@CTION Solutions, of course! Our name may have changed, but our coverage has not. As we have done for the previous 16 December issues, this month we present you with our Annual Buyer's Guide: an ultimate source for finding all the products and services you need to provide world-class customer service in all available and up-and-coming media. To help you use this guide more effectively, let me first point out some purchasing suggestions I have garnered in my many years in this industry.

Understanding The Difference Between "Want" Versus "Need"
Every buyer of business products and services knows the old consumer mantra that underscores the importance of striking a balance between wants and needs when making a purchasing decision. Yet, as standard as this principle may be, achieving the "right" balance may become a stumbling block when it comes time to make a decision, especially where high-ticket/high-tech items are concerned. The opportunity to purchase such items doesn't come along with much frequency, so the tendency is to flirt a bit with the "possibilities" even if they don't match your needs. While there is little harm in indulging yourself in a little fantasy (it might prove to be a great learning experience), don't let the practice gobble up too much of your precious time, which should be spent researching what you really need, and will probably ultimately buy. Vice President of TMC and Executive Editorial Director of CUSTOMER INTER@CTION Solutions, Linda Driscoll, related to me a classic example of the want-versus-need dilemma when she needed to purchase a new car last summer. She told me she really wanted what a number of single people, executives and DINKS (dual-income, no kids) in our office had recently purchased...a foreign-make, high-end, luxury sports-type sedan. She looked into this class of vehicle and lo and behold, they were within her budget! So, all she thought she needed to do was pick a color and start the engine, right? Wrong. With three active boys ages 2 to 12 and their accompanying paraphernalia, from car seats to football gear, the lovely little sedans she was pining over just were not going to cut it. What she really needed was (gasp) a minivan or one of the trailer-sized monsters that are passed off as SUVs! The truth is, she knew all along what her needs were, she just let herself indulge in a little fantasy because she did not want to buy what she felt was the only thing the market had to offer to meet those needs. Nevertheless, when reality set in, she began to research the market that met her needs and was pleasantly surprised to find one car maker produced a mid-size SUV with seating capacity for eight. Since it wasn't too big and it wasn't a minivan (albeit about $15,000 more), it was something she wanted as well as needed.

Ultimately, Linda decided it was worth the extra cash to appease her desires, and went ahead and bought the SUV. What she realizes she didn't do, and absolutely should have done, was investigate the lifetime cost of operating the vehicle. She has since learned that the SUV she bought is one of the top three gas-guzzlers on the road and that every year she will be spending a few thousand dollars more than other car owners on gasoline. Don't make the same mistake of ignoring the lifetime cost of ownership when purchasing your contact center technologies.

CliffsNotes And A Day At The Zoo
Discount clothing retailer Syms uses a great slogan: "An educated consumer is our best customer." Surely you agree that there is no substitute for a solid education, and that the better informed you are about your marketplace, the better your purchasing decisions will be. The problem is that becoming an educated consumer can take alot of time and trouble. Researching, reading and making "field" visits on your own can become frustrating and extremely time-consuming. That's when you discover the beauty of trade shows, especially well-run, education-oriented shows such as our Communications Solutions EXPO and INTERNET TELEPHONY EXPO. Such shows offer the opportunity to get a "fast read" on a number of topics of interest (just like the CliffsNotes you used in college) and enable you to touch, see and experience the interesting, unusual, rare or difficult-to-access creations from around the world in just a day (much like a day at the zoo). I strongly suggest that you take the opportunity to attend such events and use the knowledge you gain to make better use of the contact information you will find in this directory.

CRM From The Other Side
I have little doubt that a great majority of you who have picked up this directory will use it to research some type of CRM product or service to address your business needs, as well you should as it is an excellent source for this information. This puts you in the unique position of not only seeking to better manage your relationships with your own customers, but also being a potential customer who deserves special care and management from the vendors you contact. There is a great opportunity here to assess what other vendors do well and others do poorly in terms of customer relationship management and to apply your observations to your own business. I think you'll be surprised by just how much the treatment you receive from vendors affects your final decision regarding which one gets your business. If you previously had even the slightest doubt about the importance of superior CRM in your business, this experience will wipe it out forever.

Not too long ago, I rediscovered the powerful impact CRM can have on a purchasing decision when I was tasked with purchasing materials for what I considered a rather large project. There were two vendors that could meet my needs, one large and very well known and the other much smaller. Before I met with them, I had the feeling I would probably go with the larger of the two as I assumed I could get a better deal with them. I met with the smaller vendor first, mostly to get it out of the way and reassure myself that I had comparison shopped. The meeting lasted longer than I had expected as the vendor's representative took a long time explaining various options available to me and giving me new ideas I hadn't thought of. He seemed to genuinely share my enthusiasm for the project and strongly suggested I take my time in making my final decision. He also encouraged me to take along some complimentary trial materials to help in the decision making. I proceeded on to the next vendor. With this encounter, I quickly learned that the project I considered rather large was actually quite puny compared to what others were looking to buy, and my potential business was treated as such. Aside from making sure I understood that they would beat the other vendor's price by 25 percent, this vendor's rep made it clear that assisting me was not worth his while. And yes, I could have some trial materials -- as long as I left a deposit, which would be refunded only if they got the business. It wasn't direct, but he made me feel stupid for not knowing then and there what I wanted. When I stopped reeling from the experience, I realized that the first vendor was also very much aware that there was much bigger business to be had with other customers, but he never expressed that to me. In fact, he made me feel very important as well as entrusting me with the complimentary materials.

Since this project would require follow-up service, and a possible expansion, my decision about which vendor to choose was literally made for me. Even with a 25 percent higher price tag, the lesser-known vendor was obviously the better deal. After all, if the treatment I received from Mr. Big was an indication of how they handle basic customer service, what in the world could they have in mind for customer relationship management? Thank you, but I'd rather not find out.

What Are You Talking About?
At the risk of alienating all of my friends in public relations and marketing, no discussion of "how to buy" would be complete without a remark or two about the caution one must exercise when reading product literature. I suggest you approach this phase of your purchasing decision with two different colored highlighters at hand. Use your favorite colored highlighter to mark all of the adulatory words you'll find liberally sprinkled throughout the literature. I feel 100 percent certain your pen will glide over the following words more times than you can count:

  • The leader,
  • The first,
  • The only,
  • Innovative,
  • Total,
  • Complete,
  • State-of-the-art,
  • Expert,
  • Easily integrated, installed, etc.

Use your second highlighter to accentuate all of the vague terms and acronyms used by individual vendors. For the products or services you feel might be of interest/benefit to your company, your colorful product literature sheets will prove to be a great aid in comparing apples to apples. For example, you may find three different vendors whose products fall into the same category all claiming to be "the leader." Ask each of them what criteria they used to make that claim. Also ask for a clear definition of confusing terms and acronyms. It is not unusual for different companies to use different buzz words and terms to refer to the same thing. Don't be afraid to really press on getting a thorough explanation of important factors such as "a complete system," "a total solution," etc.

All of this may seem a bit overboard, but from our vantage point of being on the receiving end of more product literature than you could imagine, we know how important it is to never take marketing material at face value. Case in point, we recently received a press release giving us advance notice of a new company that was scheduled to "debut" the following day. The release went on to describe this company, which had yet to open its doors in a pretty crowded market space, as "the leader" in its field! Another case is a company that changed its description of what its product was three times within a year, and yet the product itself was never altered.

Follow The TMC Labs Formula To Avoid Pitfalls
Our TMC Labs reviews, which appear regularly in this publication, provide an excellent formula to follow for product evaluation. Each product reviewed is scrutinized for its ease of installation, its documentation, its features and its operational abilities. Be sure to examine all of these areas when considering a new customer contact product. In addition, it would behoove you to log on to our Web site and check out the numerous TMC Labs reviews that have run in past issues of this publication as well as our sister publications Communications Solutions and INTERNET TELEPHONY. You may just find that the product you are interested in has already been reviewed, or you may find a review of a similar product that you can use for comparison.

Get Off To A Running Start
As we end another year and begin a new one, we'd like to thank you, our readers, for choosing us over the years. We hope you are as excited about our new name, CUSTOMER INTER@CTION SolutionsTM, as we are. We know that in the pages of this Annual Buyer's Guide, we are offering you an extremely comprehensive source for meeting all of your purchasing needs. So here's to a new year, a new name, and a host of new opportunities for your business. Cheers!
As always, I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences.


Nadji Tehrani
Executive Group Publisher

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