Leadership - Customer Care as a Virtual Business Process

Customer care is the buzz phrase of 2008. Depending on which vendor you speak with the phrase can have various unique meanings rooted in what the vendor is selling. Customer care is becoming a source of significant differentiation between firms. In the virtual world of e-Business, customer care must include the full life cycle of care: target, acquire, transact, service, retain and grow with each step being in alignment with business processes.  A sound customer care program provides substantial benefits to the Internet-enabled business.


A sound customer care initiative integrates all of the contact points with the customer throughout the customer life cycle. For example, the target phase would include personalized customer interactions to identify individual needs. The service phase would provide service when and where the customer needs it. The retain phase would engage with customers to increase understanding and responsiveness to their evolving needs. 


Within the e-Business model, two processes within the life cycle that have become increasingly more important are acquiring and retaining customers. Acquiring customers requires the company to invest in messaging activities that attract customers' interest enough that they take the time to examine the value proposition of the goods or services being offered. Retaining customers requires the firm to invest in building the hooks throughout the life cycle process that incents the customers to continue doing business with the firm. Retention efforts are particularly important in e-Business for two reasons. First, it is relatively easy for a customer to switch to a competitor, so the hooks a vendor uses have to be many and deep throughout the lifecycle. Second, it is more expensive for a firm to acquire a new customer than it is to retain an existing customer.


The point of customer care solutions is to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the customer interactions with the firm. In the virtual business process world, firms that do not focus on a positive customer experience each and every time place customer retention at risk.  We are all painfully familiar with the automated help lines that require stepping through multiple levels of menu options only to be get disconnected or worse, handed off to an agent that is unable to resolve the problem. Many companies are using the personal touch as a service differentiator by guaranteeing that a real person will answer the phone at certain hours of the business day. The challenge for firms is to build customer care systems that automate the purely routine activities while providing human interaction when required or desired by the customer.


It is extremely beneficial for firms to invest in high quality customer care solutions for their e-Business. Efficiency and effectiveness are improved through cross-functional business process integration and globalization initiatives. Through these types of initiatives, customer information and data is exchanged in real time or on demand. Additional benefits of a quality customer care solution include reduced costs through Internet-based activities, improved lead tracking, enhanced customer loyalty and retention, and expanded capabilities to support cultural nuances.

 As a firm continues to move toward becoming Internet-enabled, virtualizing the business process of customer care and its complete life cycle will provide substantial competitive advantages not easily duplicated by others in the market.

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