Monday, July 03, 2006

Customer Interaction Center: Business Context

In my earlier articles, I have attempted to establish the importance of Customers & Customer interactions - refer to CRM (Re) Defined, Customers have choices, & What exactly is CRM?.

The above articles examine the fundamental concept of WHY should Customer Interaction Center be an integral part of your business. To summarize the linkages between the earlier articles, (and to offer a starting point if you have missed those articles):-

  • No Business is an island
  • Customer is the core around which the business is built
  • Customer is the Key success factor & needs to be nurtured and converted into a staunch advocate
  • Business needs to build a meaningful relationship with customers- CRM is therefore a MUST - regardless of what is deployed and how
  • Customer Interaction is the cornerstone of Relationship building, hence Collaborative CRM is the foundation of any CRM strategy
  • If your business strategy flounders on any aspect of the "true" CRM, Customers have the choice of abandoning the business relationship

With these linkages clear, it is time I turned your attention to the basic inter-dependencies equation of the Business Enterprise <-> Customer Interactions.

Very few businesses really succeed in making Interactions as an integral part of their business, and most organizations keep Contact Centers as a dump for complaining customers, primarily because it is easy to fall in the "Cost Center" thought process. You can choose to take the easy way of keeping the Contact Center isolated; or build a perfect Customer Interaction Center that is kept fine-tuned on an ongoing basis. But the latter is possible only if you appreciate the Enterprise <-> Customer Interaction dependencies. And this appreciation can only begin with the true understanding of the overall constitution of the Customer Interaction as embedded in your entire Business Enterprise.

Visionary Business Leaders view their entire business as a smoothly functioning unit - like a well engineered Car. Their Customer Interaction Center (read Contact Center), is also an integral part of this integrated machine. The dependencies are therefore both inherent and inevitable. Hence you cannot just arbitrarily change strategy elements in either the business or the customer interaction dimension.

I chose the analogy of a Car because it self-explains many of the core principles you should appreciate. Can you simply decide to increase the width of the car by another 8 inches without changing anything else?

  • What happens to the dashboard design?
  • How would the seats be realigned?
  • Can the engine still carry the additional weight of the chassis?
  • How will you maintain other controls within same reach of the driver?
  • What happens to the engine block design under the hood?
  • Why do you want a wider car - does it increase passenger capacity?
  • What does it do to the aesthetics? Should you increase the length as well?
  • What is the cost impact? Impact on fuel efficiency?
  • Will you be able to sell more with this change?.....
    endless questions... And the same happens when Customer Interaction Center is an integral part of your business.

Notice also, that not all changes in the Car will create a major impact. How about changing the seat covers from fabric to leather? Maybe some cost impact, but I'm sure it does not lead to a engine block redesign...

Same goes with the Customer Interaction Center as well. The importance is in understanding what are the parameters that have a far-reaching impact on other strategic dimensions. So when I am asked for example, which technology do I recommend, my answer to my clients is:- "choose the experts who can make your Car run". It is not very important how the Car looks, with fabric seats or leather, whether it costs $500 lesser, whether the boot space is 500 Liters or 550.. But it is critical that your Customer Interaction Center vendor(s) should make the Car run,.. now.. as well as keep it running appropriately in future.. as per your business needs.

Hence it is critical that you have expert consultants examine the framework in light of your core business objectives and value proposition. For example, it should not be a simple - "deploy your Interactive Voice Response with some navigation and forget about it". The consultant will design an appropriate 'Persona' for your Speech recognition enabled IVR by identifying how do you want to sound to your customers? - youthful and energetic, or mature and business-like, or playful and informal, or exuding calm & measured in its response?

WHY would the consultant do so? Because IVR is your first touch point to your voice callers, and as such it must identify with the brand image you are trying to portray to your customers. Else you spend millions of dollars in advertising & promotions, and at the same time your IVR is busy distorting that brand image when each new customer calls in.

A positive persona example is that of "Lara", helping pre-paid customers to register with Vodafone Australia. This "28 year old brunette" having a penchant for pouplar music, appeals to the key demographic profile for Vodafone pre-paid - namely the 18 to 35 year olds. But just imagine Lara being erroneously plugged in your IVR if you were an old and the most prestigious bank catering to 40-something businessmen, who are seeking Power, Prestige, and aspirations of a CEO Lifestyle?

So Business Leaders, move over from the age-old tradition of towing your Contact Center behind your powerful Car. Integrate the Customer Interactions seamlessly within your business, and experience the power it will generate for you. If you need a hand in the re-design, we are there to help. Go realize your dream!!


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