Small & Medium Business

The Basics of Serving Customers Better

The Basics of Serving Customers Better

What You Need to Know about Serving Customers Better

In a marketplace where too many products and services are chasing too little demand, it's never been more essential to attract--and retain--customers.

The stakes are high: Reducing customer attrition by 5 to 10 percent can increase annual profits by as much as 75 percent, according to a study by The Wharton School.

Customer satisfaction starts when you offer both a trouble-free shopping experience and a smooth business transaction. But you also have to anticipate and meet your customers' wants, not just needs.

How Things Will Change: Make Every Customer Contact a Personal One
Things to Consider: How to Plan for Better Customer Service
Down the Road: Even More Ways to Serve Your Customers Better
Top 5 Questions to Ask Your Partner about This Solution

How Things Will Change: Make Every Customer Contact a Personal One

The more you increase your customer knowledge and centralize it into customer profiles, the better positioned you'll be to deliver a satisfying customer experience each time you interact with a customer, be it on the Web, face to face, by e-mail or telephone. New tools and technologies, such as Internet Protocol (IP) Communications and Contact Center applications, can help you provide top-tier customer service.

  • Customer data will always be available. Employees can input, update, and view information about your customers in a database that's accessible over wired or wireless network connections using a computer, phone, or other handheld device. Mobile workers can stay connected to customers and customer data in real time, whether they're on the sales floor, a warehouse, at an airport departure gate, or if they've just stepped away from their desks.
  • When customers call, you'll know who they are. You can ensure that vital customer details pop up on a computer screen the moment a customer calls. Your workers will have a 360-degree view of each customer, including notes from other employees regarding earlier transactions, as soon as that customer calls. You'll save time for your customers and employees and make a better impression.
  • Your customers can access their personal information easily and safely. Customers like to track their packages, see their purchase histories, and personalize their relationship with you. By adding a Web interface or telephone prompt interface to your customer database, customers can be an active partner in their relationship with you. They can get the information they need when, where and how they need it.
  • You'll be able to easily collaborate with customers more effectively. Does the customer have an assigned sales rep? Does the customer regularly need an expert in a particular area? With automatic call routing, you'll make sure that customers are connected to the most appropriate employee without numerous or needless telephone transfers.
  • Customers will communicate however they want. By telephone, via e-mail, Web chat, or by instant messaging, your customers will be able to contact you in the way they want.
  • Ensure that customer data remains secure. Consumers are increasingly wary of threats to their privacy online. A secure network will prevent thieves and hackers from stealing your vital customer information—the consequences of which can be disastrous for your business.
  • View other employee's phone status (unavailable, busy). You'll be able to only transfer customers to others in your company who are available—rather than sending callers into aggravating voice mail limbo.
  • Provide a rich customer experience. You can engage in video calls and Web chats to communicate more dynamically and effectively.
  • Improve employee morale. Employees feel good about themselves and the work they do when they have the tools and training necessary to do the job correctly. Improved employee morale is reflected in every customer contact made.
  • Improve the bottom line. By offering an enhanced customer experience, you'll be able to retain the customers you have and attract new ones. The end result: You'll reduce costs associated with attracting new customers and boost revenues.

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Things to Consider: How to Plan for Better Customer Service

If you have a secure data network in place, you've got the foundation you need to add the tools—such as Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software tied to your unified communications phone system—that will help you serve customers better. Before upgrading your network, there are some things to consider. Such as:

  • What do your customers want? It's no use spending on technology that doesn't solve your company's particular customer service problems. Talk to customers and send out surveys to determine what improvements they'd like to see. Then make sure any technology investments you make will help you specifically accomplish those improvements. Talk to others in your industry to see what's working and what's not.
  • Ask your employees what they need. Frontline sales people and customer service reps have a good idea of what's working and what's not. Involve them from the beginning as you create solutions designed to meet everyone's needs.
  • You don't have to go it alone. Certified Cisco partners that specialize in working with small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) can help you throughout the entire process. Even before providing you with a bid, your partner will thoroughly inspect your current network and phone system to determine what equipment is needed to help you improve customer service.
  • Prepare your workers for a change. Create a transition plan that alerts employees to the changes to come. Focus on the benefits to them. You can request additional training to help your workforce transition to the many customer service features that will be available. Be sure to ask your partner what training he or she recommends.
  • Work with your partner for an easy transition. The time required to upgrade your network and add customer service applications depends on such factors as your company's number of employees, locations and customer needs. Ask your partner for a real-world estimate of how long it might take and how best to transition with minimum disruption. Also, ask what can be done to minimize any potential down time. For example, if your business operates during traditional Monday-Friday business hours, your partner might suggest the installation process occur on Friday evening or during the weekend. Either way, chances are the process will go a lot faster than you might have imagined.
  • Decide how you want to handle ongoing support and maintenance. Discuss with your partner a service-level agreement (SLA) that guarantees specific levels of support at different fee structures. Depending on the size of your business and your needs, you might want to hire one or more people to provide ongoing support and maintenance. Whichever direction you take, carefully consider the pros and cons of each as early in the process as possible.

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Down the Road: Even More Ways to Serve Your Customers Better

In today's interconnected and knowledge-based economy, your business's survival depends on how quickly and securely you can respond to customer needs. Until recently, only large enterprises with hefty budgets could afford customer relationship management (CRM) solutions needed to manage the entire customer experience from first contact onward. Today, there are many CRM solutions designed specifically for the budgets and needs of small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs).

CRM software is designed to collect, organize, analyze, and disseminate information about customers, including purchases and returns, buying habits, past inquiries, and service contracts.

With a CRM customized for your business you can:

  • Track performance across the entire organization. CRM software can provide data that helps you analyze such things as average call duration, peak calling periods, how often customer problems are resolved with one call, and more. This data provides management with valuable insights that can help make your business more effective at handling customer calls.
  • Analyze customer data in new and powerful ways. Knowing what your customers want and need enables you to better focus your production and service efforts. Understanding which customers have the most sales potential enables you to focus on them. You can also use CRM software to determine which customers are the least profitable. You'll also be able to easily identify which customers are your strongest advocates and are willing to serve as references or new product beta testers.
  • Speed outgoing telephone calls. You or anyone in your company can instantly call a customer by double-clicking his or her phone number in the shared company database. And you'll see important information about customers who call via instant computer screen pop-ups.
  • Continually modify and customize your customer service efforts. Every company regardless of size, must track the performance of people, processes and workflows to determine how well they are delivering a satisfying customer experience. With CRM solutions you can continually modify your policies, processes and operations to enhance customer interactions, from first contact to most recent.
  • Prepare for success. Is your company growing rapidly? Expanding locations? A single, secure, flexible network with applications like CRM allows you to easily and cost-effectively extend your operations as business conditions change. Your business will be better positioned to stay a step ahead of competitors and offer new services to customers—both of which will help you continue to grow.

Adding wireless connectivity to your network can also help you better serve customers. With wireless connectivity, you can:

  • Stay in touch wherever you go. Wireless IP phones are as easy to use as traditional cordless phones but have a far greater signal range and can provide much more functionality. With wireless IP phones, your workforce can roam the sales floor, office, campus, or warehouse, answering customer inquiries and accessing company data, such as an inventory database.
  • Improve your just-in-time supply and inventory management. Employees can use handheld bar code readers to track packages, inventory, and supplies.
  • Speed delivery and reduce delivery errors. Enable delivery vehicle personnel to access the company database for updated delivery and customer information from their vehicles.

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Top 5 Questions to Ask Your Partner about This Solution

Here are five key questions to ask potential partners who offer SMB Solutions:

  1. Do you specialize in working with small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs)? Cisco has a network of certified partners who specifically focus on providing technology solutions and support to SMBs. Many of these partners are SMBs themselves, so they understand the business challenges you face and the goals you have in mind. Cisco certified partners have proven their qualifications in specialized technologies. They have the training, support, and services to design, deploy, and optimize networking solutions for your business. They also stay up to date on the latest software and hardware changes as well as upcoming Cisco products and solutions.
  2. What type of service and support do you offer after the sale? Ask your partner detailed questions about the support he or she can offer after the sale. For example: Does the partner offer after-hours or emergency support? If so, during what hours is that support available? The specific support levels offered should be detailed in a service level agreement (SLA). Also, keep in mind many Cisco partners offer award-winning technical support service that offers anytime access to Cisco engineers and an extensive range of technical resources.
  3. How will this new solution integrate with my existing IT environment? A Cisco partner can discuss your business requirements and evaluate your current systems and network infrastructure. From there, a Cisco Partner can present solution options that will meet your needs today, grow with your business over time, and fit within your budget requirements.
  4. How will this solution help me save money and control my costs? An end-to-end solution from Cisco is easier to maintain and support than a, multi-vendor solution. Also, when budgeting for network enhancements, always take into account the cost of any software not included with your hardware purchases; maintenance; training; support; additional staff (if needed); and other factors. Research firm Gartner estimates such indirect costs account for up to 60% of an organization's total technology expenditures. As a result, by working with your Cisco partner, you can achieve the best possible TCO.
  5. What do we need to do to prepare? Before the installation, ask your partner what information about your network, users, business procedures, and security requirements he or she needs from you to make the network upgrade go as smoothly as possible. Also ask your partner what are the common oversights or challenges businesses like yours face when upgrading their networks, and how you should prepare for them.


Contact a Cisco partner to learn more and get exactly what you need.

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