Editorial: Connect with customers

Know thy customer - That's a commonsense challenge easily overlooked in the rush to get the job done. But unless you're a ‘customer through the front door' type of business, the means to ‘know thy customer' can a) be of limited effectiveness (such as poorly resourced market research); b) put customers' noses out of joint (as seen in recent adverse reactions to online data gathering); or c) burn out front-line people (as with help desks and call centres).

The difficulty of the task of ‘knowing the customer' is reflected in the experiences of personnel at the customer coalface - in call centres and on help desks - who too often find it tough going. The Australian Call Centre Association puts employee turnover rate in the call centre industry at 20 per cent. It estimates that with each employee moving on, an organisation loses some $12,000 in recruitment and training costs. When multiplied by the 1200 call centres throughout Australia, with an average of 30 seats in each, this adds up to about $86.4 million. Add to this a call centre growth rate of 25 per cent, and it's no surprise that call centres are hard pressed to find and retain trained staff.

Together with the personnel hassles, many companies also face a pressing need to update their call centre systems. Some, now discussing e-commerce and seeing, for the first time, a need for their own call centres, may find the whole prospect as comforting as a night with Freddy Kruger.

A top-of-the-line option would be to build an electronic customer relationship management (eCRM) solution. This would give users a single, enterprise view of each customer. Every interaction would build on the history of previous interactions, and call centre operatives would be better able to anticipate customer wants, needs and expectations - thereby building customer loyalty. Many of the elements in such a blue-chip solution would be custom built since this service front end would be fed by a variety of legacy or ‘operational systems' that evolved around products or company divisions. Greg Stack, senior vice president and co-founder of eLoyalty, admits that building a truly customer-centric eCRM solution is a staggering challenge. In his view, it would require integrating, testing and maintaining technologies from seven to 10 vendors. Stack lists key areas as computer telephony integration (CTI) middleware for resource tracking and integrating messaging between access channels (VRU, Automatic Call Distributor, e-mail); Web interaction; an operational customer data repository; a soft data-based rules engine to route contacts across channels and prescribe actions to deploy; data-mining tools to examine the customer data repository for customer segments and trends in buying patterns; a workflow/CRM package for process execution, case management, follow-up and fulfilment; reporting tools to provide feedback on the success of targeted campaigns, customer segments, and customised rules and interaction strategies; and more, - you get the picture.

Once hammered into place, the business benefits would be phenomenal. Product managers and marketers could experiment with new customer target segments, offers, Web pages and e-mail responses. No doubt true eCRM would also make life for call centre staffers a little easier.

But there are much cheaper, easier ways if your organisation does not need the eCRM level of performance. Just one example, could be a Digital Dashboard which pulls data out of variety of back-end systems and presents it to service reps via a single screen, as demonstrated by Praxa recently. Clearly not eCRM, as Stack sees it, but a handy way of putting customers into clearer view.

David_Beynon@idg.com.au

Editor in chief

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