Intelligent networks: A competitive differentiator in customer service

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GB Kumar, Senior VP - Customer Advocacy, Cisco India & SAARC

In today’s complex market, the proliferation of customer touch points has meant that it is actually getting harder - not easier - to consistently and profitably deliver the right kind of high-quality experience to all customers all the time.

Early in 2006, Forrester Research put forward this question to businesses everywhere: "In this competitive new world, how will leaders rise above the fray and differentiate their wares?" Considering that this question remains pertinent year after year, Forrester went on to conclude that business leaders will differentiate their products and services by creating compelling, valuable, usable customer experiences. This dilemma, faced by all businesses for decades has given rise to the new era in industry; the era of Transforming Customer Service.

Businesses that have gained ground with a differentiated product or service would do well to not rest on their laurels, but identify and implement an array of channels for their customers to interact with them, whether for maintenance or service, or simply feedback from the user perspective on how the product or service can be enhanced. A recent survey by management consultants Accenture (‘Service in the Customers’ Eyes: What Works, What Doesn’t and How it Contributes to High Performance, Sept 2005) brings up the alarming fact that nearly 50% of the respondents had changed service or product providers in the past year due to poor customer service.

It is an accepted fact that technology by itself means nothing; it is in the effective deployment of technology around the needs of a business that it brings its strategic relevance to today’s complex market. And technology, by itself, has been ineffective in addressing customer service issues. The most popular technological implementation for customer service - the automated voice response system - is commonly quoted as one of the major pain points for customers trying to reach their product or service provider.

Centuries of buyer-seller relationships have clearly shown that the customer is most satisfied with human interaction, and every other non-human contact is an inconvenience that is put up with. Businesses looking to cut costs in terms of headcount are also waking up to the fact that this is not a milestone to be achieved at the cost of customer satisfaction.

Many companies that are adopting ‘Virtualisation’ and multiple customer-facing approach channels such as contact centres, retail outlets and others, have understood that their staff manning one of the channels are unable to provide the customer with successful resolution of their issue until they are plugged into the company’s human network. This gives them access to information and expertise outside their core domain, and enables them to create an environment wherein the customer’s issue is redressed in real-time, creating both happy customers and motivated employees. The prerequisite for this is the company providing its employees with the right tools that they require in creating customer delight.

Companies are moving towards an all-IP architecture because of the significant collaboration, mobility and other advanced benefits that it brings. With this strong framework as the network platform, integration of tools such as voice, video, and data ensure a multi-channel collaboration with the goal of customer issue resolution.

A Customer Interaction Network of this nature transforms an entire company into a living, breathing customer service organism. In addition to this, the employees, suppliers and partners of this organization too are efficient and motivated because they operate in a highly integrated environment with access to rich communications and productivity tools.

Picture this real-time collaborative business scenario: A customer calls a contact centre for resolution on a technical issue with the company’s product. The agent who interacts first with the customer collates all the details from the online customer database, and then searches the company staff database for domain experts best placed to assist the customer instantaneously, and also brings them on to the interaction through voice, Instant Messaging, WebEx or any other such collaborative tool. This ensures that from just one point of contact, the customer has got his entire issue sorted out, without having to register a complaint and wait for feedback, or have to be on hold until the expert is available to talk.

We believe that this type of agile, adaptive and intelligent infrastructure is ‘Intelligent Networking’ and is the basis for a customer interaction network. These networks are equipped to make intelligent decisions about the most appropriate way to handle internal communications to respond to customer’s requirements. The company’s network will know, for example, which employees are available at any time and on which communications channel.

Ultimately, networks will also be able to determine what employees are doing, to make even better decisions about where and how to forward calls or information. What this means for customer servicing is that a company with such capabilities on its network will be much better equipped to field the best employee to handle any particular customer query in real time, without having to call customers back or offer them anything less than a satisfactory experience. This capability makes customer care a responsibility of the entire organisation.

By keeping the big picture in view when considering evolving to a customer interaction network, companies should avoid being overwhelmed by the scale of the task before them. Intelligent networks can be built in small stages, starting with the introduction of services such as security and IP telephony that are already quite common today, and then moving on to more advanced applications and technologies.

The ultimate goal is to align IT resources with business priorities. Increasingly, that means aligning them with customer service priorities.

GB Kumar

GB Kumar
Senior VP - Customer Advocacy
Cisco - India & SAARC


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