Opinion

Information versus experience

Peter Tanner, CEO of Boomerang

Most companies believe they have transformed the way they interact with customers, suppliers and mobile/remote staff in recent years. From Twitter feeds to SMS, email, IM and voice, many organisations have embedded communication within core applications such as CRM and ERP, to drive timely, relevant stakeholder engagement.

But, look again. The reality is that the vast majority of these developments may have enabled organisations to get the message out, but have they really improved the stakeholder experience? And have they created a fully automated end to end process to reduce costs and improve efficiency?

In most cases, if any of these stakeholders needs or wants to respond to the communication blast, the only option is to pick up the phone, go online or send an email. To move away from this outdated and ineffective model, companies need a communication channel that provides a meaningful dialogue with stakeholders. Peter Tanner, CEO, Boomerang, insists by solving this communication challenge  organisations can create an effective and efficient two-way dialogue using intelligent technology that exploits real time communication to not only inform but also transform day to day stakeholder experience.

Information Blast

There is no doubt that the ways in which organisations can interact with customers, suppliers, partners and remote staff has been completely overhauled over the past decade. From self-service web-based portals used to update HR records or make appointments, to mobile CRM solutions that provide sales and marketing teams with the latest information irrespective of time or place and the mobile provision of work orders. The way companies disperse information to stakeholders is both efficient and timely.

But what happens when a response is required? For example, it is very straightforward for an insurance company to create a workflow that will automatically generate SMS messages to all agents within a specific geographic area or postcode when a new case comes in. However, when an agent responds, how would that agent know if they have been allocated the case, or their response is too late? Without proper controls and a direct correlation of outbound messages to inbound responses, there is the potential for confusion and the need for the agent to have to revert to email or calls to clarify the status – all time consuming and inefficient.

Similarly for customers receiving SMS alerts for forthcoming appointments – an approach increasingly adopted across the public and private sectors to successfully reduce missed appointments – what happens when the customer reply indicates the appointment will be missed? Is that customer then obliged to contact the organisation via telephone or web site to create a new appointment? The customer may not even understand the impact of a negative response. The organisation which will often have sent more than one SMS reminder, may not know what the next step is. Someone may have to manually go through the diary and contact other customers in order to fill the now vacant slot.

Once again, the model for providing information to stakeholders is excellent, but the impact on the stakeholder experience is less compelling – and the true potential of business benefits are not being realised.

Two Way Dialogue

This continued overemphasis on blasting information rather than structured, interactive communication can be seen with the current surge of investment in social media – from Twitter feeds to Facebook pages. But organisations need to ask: just how much value is the stakeholder and the business gaining from this one sided approach?

It appears that in the rush to achieve better customer understanding and drive internal efficiencies, many organisations have actually forgotten one of the most basic tenets of effective business: dialogue, not just communication. Without the ability to integrate and automate multiple communication routes into core ERP, support desk, HR and CRM applications, organisations risk undermining much of this existing investment in these applications.

With stakeholder facing solutions, organisations should consider not only the quality and timeliness of information being delivered but also how to achieve effective two way communication and embed that communication within the entire engagement process. Critically, each stakeholder’s actions should automatically trigger the next level of workflow with his or her response.

When the customer is replying to one of several appointment reminders that he or she can no longer attend for example, the key is to correlate the response to the original request from the CRM system or appointment database. This means the response ties back to the specific customer, keeping continuity of process and creating the next job within the workflow - in this case, sending a set of alternative dates to that customer, vacating that appointment slot for someone else to fulfil and sending an SMS in turn to a number of other suitable candidates. The entire process is automatic for the organisation – reducing costs and releasing the pressure on call centres and help desks – but critically, is a seamless and positive experience for the customer.

Multi-Threaded Model

Key to achieving this process is the use of multi-threaded SMS, email and voice that matches inbound and outbound communications. Therefore each outbound communication generated by the workflow within a system, such as CRM, will be automatically matched with the inbound response – irrespective of how many outbound communications have been generated to that individual.

As a result, rather than forcing the stakeholder to contact a call centre, go online or generate an email, the organisation can automate the next stage in the workflow, attain a 360 view of engagement and improve the process for the stakeholder.

Take the insurance agents in the above example. Using multi-threaded SMS or emails, the insurance company automatically generates the ‘do you want this case’ communication as before, which is then fired out to the relevant agents. The response from each agent is automatically matched to the outgoing message and generates the next stage in the workflow: in this case, a confirmation to the first agent to respond, who is now allocated the case; and a notification to the rest to say the case has been filled. There is no manual interaction, the process is streamlined and seamless – and the insurance company also has the benefit of automatically collecting a list of agents who were interested in that specific case, should the allocated agent be unable to fulfil his obligations. The entire process is transformed.

Addressing the challenge

There is no doubt that organisations have improved the way they understand and communicate with customers, enhanced the timeliness of supplier interaction and exploited mobile technologies to provide remote staff with fast access to critical information.  Much of this communication has been automated, using workflow embedded within CRM and ERP to minimise manual intervention and improve efficiency.

But today, most companies are still struggling to reach out beyond the corporate environment: as soon as the supplier, customer or staff member is required to respond, the only course of action is some form of manual activity. If the end user is not empowered to respond, the entire experience becomes staccato – and the business is still incurring significant costs associated with manually handling these stakeholder interactions.

By addressing this communication challenge and bringing the stakeholder response into the workflow, an organisation can completely change the engagement model. And by embedding matched inbound and outbound communication  within core processes, organisations can truly exploit new levels of understanding and efficiency to not only reduce costs but critically achieve the quality of experience many, wrongly, perceive are already in place.

This was first published in February 2014

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