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Keeping Pace With Corporate Strategies: Taking Your Customer Care Global

By Amy S. Abrams, Telerx


Customer care. Your organization does it well. It has to. After all, by carefully managing customer interactions, you successfully protect and maximize the brand-building investments your company makes. Your company spends hundreds of millions of dollars building brand value, thus appealing to customers to try your products, buy them repeatedly and become loyal users. That makes customer relationships a critical means for realizing a return on brand investments, and makes your customers a valuable and tangible asset. How this asset is managed, protected and expanded is a strategically important activity.

At the same time, your company is moving to a global management structure. Like many others that have been conducting business internationally for years, your organization has probably found that operating entities in different countries throughout the world is no longer enough. Across the board, managing these businesses as a single global enterprise has become an important corporate goal to fuel growth, maximize revenue, achieve efficiencies, lower costs and drive brand equity.

As a customer care professional, that means you're not only charged with delivering best-in-class service domestically, you're now responsible for globalizing your customer care operation. Where do you begin? How do you determine if the time is right for global customer care in your organization? How do you develop a globalization road map? What are other market leaders doing?

Current Trends In Managing Globally
Leading-edge companies, in varying stages of motion, are pursuing multiple routes and combinations, influenced by product type and differentiation, corporate parentage, business structure and management philosophy. While no clear or definitive customer care globalization super-highway has been established yet, paths are being cut and there are trail signs to follow.

As part of developing our global strategy and approach, Telerx recently interviewed eight market leaders to better understand where customer care falls in the globalization continuum. These companies ' representing a range of food, packaged goods and durables manufacturers ' included global management leaders who embarked on this strategy 10 years ago, as well as companies just beginning their journeys.

Findings were grouped into four key areas: strategy, standardization, phasing and technology.

Strategy. In the most successful cases, strategy is driving the process, as opposed to the reverse. Overall, the companies studied are aligning their global strategies to be consistent with their organization's operating style, product/market characteristics and customer dynamics. Brands have developed and matured in different ways in different parts of the world, so globalization approaches are creating consistent best practices while allowing for local nuances. Technology is enabling the process with the ultimate goal of data and reporting integration to support continued business growth and global management.

Standardization. Standardization frequently starts out as a primary goal. In many cases, however, after in-depth analysis, the need and desire for standardization has to be weighed against the need for local country customization. The ability to standardize what is critical to corporate success, such as databases and alert responses, while allowing for local market and cultural customization is an approach that is working well.

Phasing. Taking a step-wise approach and encouraging local office involvement throughout will set the tone for a cooperative 'executional' environment. As an initial effort, many companies are focusing on establishing globally consistent data, reporting, macro-level trend analysis and best practices. Consolidation of customer care operations is typically the second step.

Technology. Last, while only a few years ago the need for standard global technology was driving the process, technology today is being viewed as the engine that executes well-developed business strategies. When it comes to CRM platforms, the most logical initial move seems to be narrowing many different platforms to a limited number, most frequently between two and four ' with more experienced global players able to standardize to only one. Telecom can be a problematic and costly part of globalized customer care, due to inter-country switching costs within regions and other unanticipated costs. This is an area where newly developing technologies, such as VoIP, are rapidly becoming business-ready, widely available and significantly impacting levels of service and cost.

Company Profiles And Global Strategies Correlate
Telerx's findings suggest a correlation between product type, the length and depth of company global customer care experience and the global strategies that should be selected. Within consumer packaged goods, for example, durable and household/personal care companies ' many of which began their customer care globalization efforts 5-10 years ago ' are in a position to standardize and aggregate more aggressively than many food and beverage companies which began in the last year or two. Furthermore, companies with truly global products, where cultural differences don't influence brands and uses, can also move more aggressively without sacrificing brand strategies and customer needs.

Similar to companies, parts of the world are also in different stages of development. North America, especially the United States, has the most highly developed consumer culture, generating the highest contacts per unit sold and representing 60 percent to 80 percent of all global contacts based on those companies surveyed.

Western Europe, followed by Australia/New Zealand, represents the next most developed consumer culture. Combined total contacts account for 10 percent to 25 percent of worldwide volume; and contacts are growing in both geographies as these cultures continue to become more 'relationship focused.' Their customer care programs tend to be less well-developed than their North American counterparts.

There is a fast drop-off with the rest of the world, which accounts for approximately 10 percent of contacts. Latin America is developing rapidly today, and Asia Pacific is expected to escalate even faster in the near future based on population and business expansion statistics.

Regardless of the status of different parts of the world, all surveyed companies are focused on achieving a future desired state for customer care in the global enterprise, desires that include the following:

' Standardized data collection;

' Consistent processes and procedures ' modified for local nuances ' to ensure quality of service and brand building;

' Integrated and efficient front-end contact management system (whether one CRM or multiple platforms);

' Global customer-data-reporting system that provides the consolidated information necessary to manage the product line and marketing efforts at the local, regional and global levels; and

' Effective processes to share best practices for operations and service delivery around the globe.

Developing Your Globalization Road Map

The decision to globalize customer care is critically important and needs to be done in the most appropriate manner so that it aligns with and supports your organization's product line, business structure, management philosophy, key growth objectives and other enterprise-level global efforts.

So start the process now by examining your customer care business goals in the context of corporate global goals. An analysis of customer care business needs by brand and geographic variables is essential to ensure the effort and resources are directed in the most meaningful way.

Make sure your strategy fits those goals, because when it comes to globalizing customer care, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It's not as simple as taking your current North American customer care practices worldwide.

The process is complicated by the many stakeholders and divergent perspectives that must be balanced:

The customer. The customer has different needs and wants that vary country to country and region to region.

The product mix. Are your brands truly global, or are they really regional or even local? Consumables? Durables? If your products are items that are used similarly in each part of the world, globalizing customer care is easier. If you manufacture food products, it's more complicated. Even if the food items are the same around the world, the way they are used may vary within different parts of the world. As well, the same comment from a consumer or a customer service representative can have very different meanings, depending on the cultural filter applied.

The business influencers. A corporation's main objective may be to cut costs and gain a 360-degree worldwide view of the business. Yet local business owners who are already successful in their own right may not want to change the way they operate unless they see clear benefits to their own operations. So it's important to align with them and their business goals, and to make them partners from the start. Add in technology's goal of having one CRM and one database for maximum cost-effectiveness and reporting efficiency.

The customer care department. In the global enterprise, our charge is to: (1) strategically manage the customer asset ' build brand loyalty and strengthen repurchase intent by addressing customer needs and by building relationships; (2) ensure customer response is consistent, cost-effective, high in quality, representative of best practices, and aligned with corporate identity, brand image and business goals; and (3) provide local, regional and global market intelligence to leverage global customer information, strategy development and effective risk management.

Bringing all of these perspectives together as you develop your globalization plans is the only way to ensure customer care brings maximum value to the business ' and ultimately is viewed as a strategic asset. CIS

Amy S. Abrams is president of Telerx, a Customer Interaction Solutions magazine Top 50 Inbound Teleservices Agency. Telerx provides companies with global consultancy services, technology products and contact centers that nurture, protect and expand their customer assets. She can be reached at [email protected].

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