First (IT) Step in Better Customer Service? Integration

Loraine Lawson

My husband recently bought a new planner, "filled with hope and promise for the New Year," he shared on the phone. I understood completely. Along with our passion for office supplies and geek movies, we share a love of planners. Last year, I bought four-I guess I needed a lot of fresh starts.


I bought my planner in August, and I'm pretty happy with it, so there hasn't been a lot of reason to get excited about 2010 yet. Then, I read a list of CRM predictions on TechTarget, including this gem from William Band, a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research:


"Customer service moves back into the spotlight."


Dare I dream?


Apparently, businesses have miraculously made the logic leap that says if customers are your source of income, then keeping them happy might be a smashing idea. I don't know why they're just figuring this out-maybe it's the economy, maybe it's their new BI capabilities, maybe an angel told them-but apparently, they've figured it out, because they're bugging Forrester for answers:


"We see a rising number of inquiries from clients about how to improve their customer service capabilities. How does customer service affect the bottom line? The higher the customer experience index, regardless of the industry, the more customers buy and the more loyal they are... With customers now requiring more real-time support, it's essential to keep pace with their expectations and to respond to them in new ways."


Hallelujah and pass the bubbly!


Given the renewed interest in customer service, IT pros and regular readers of this blog can probably predict what else Band is predicting for 2010: a continued push for customer data integration.


"The volume of inquiries that Forrester receives about customer data integration (CDI) continues to increase," Band tells TechTarget. "Customer management professionals tell us that poor data management is one of the biggest barriers to getting value from their CRM systems."


The problem? Finding the "right approach" to managing customer data, Band says. Apparently, CRM solutions just aren't cutting it when it comes to knocking down silos to integrate data, and BI-which can pull data together and deliver a more complete picture of the customer-stinks at keeping the data clean and updated, according to Band.


As Gartner analyst Andrew White recently pointed out, it's just a bad idea to expect applications to clean your data.


When you see the problems companies are experience with customer data, you can see why customer data integration solutions are so enticing. CDI falls under the operational master data management umbrella, along with Product Information Management.


As it turns out, better data quality, particularly when it comes to master data, may also be good for your bottom line in other ways, according to a recent piece published on Information Management.


So will we see a corresponding rise in interest in MDM? There are already predictions afoot that 2010 will be the year for MDM, and it's even been written about in Forbes-although, briefly, and only as it relates to customer data.


My Magic 8 Ball is stuck on "Ask again later," but I think I may speak for many others when I say that better customer service would make an excellent New Year's resolution for many businesses and government agencies. In fact, to quote George Harrison in A Hard Day's Night, "By all means, I'd be quite prepared for that eventuality."

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Dec 31, 2009 6:13 PM Francis Carden Francis Carden  says:

Amen Loraine. Imagine the possibilities if all of your contact center applications could instantly talk to each other, today. From IM to Billing, from CRM to provisioning, from IVR to CTI, from desktop to cloud, from mainframe to Google Docs, from Email to mortgage app, from credit verification to rate plans and so on. Since the average agent uses somewhere around 6-10 apps on their desktop and most, if not all of these apps require an agent to manually navigate around to manage your call, it's no wonder customer service takes a battering.

Not only that, but an agent typically can only drive one application at a time. Automating the steps to look at 5 systems simultaneously means that process is now potentially 5 times faster (and error free). It's not rocket science but up until now, getting all of those applications on the same page (talking to each other) has been.

Whilst we wait for all of these applications to be one (not likely to happen in my lifetime), OpenSpan enables all of them at least, to work together as one. The approach is real, the technology works and the ROI is massive. It goes without saying, it doesn't do any harm in improving customer satisfaction rates either. It also buys IT the time by solving business pains today and giving IT the runway to think about how the applications might be re-engineered (if) in the future.

Dec 31, 2009 8:42 PM Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach  says:

Hi Loraine,

I read the same report and was filled with hope that Customer Service will take center stage.  I do agree that accurate data and truly integrated systems will give IT and all customer service, call centers, and Help Desks the tools they need to do the job more easily.   I was an IT professional before starting my own business and lived the technological challenges you mention.

As a consultant, I continue to see IT Help Desks, CS analysts, jump through hoops to get answers. In one extreme case, one financial S/W corporation kept buying other smaller companies.  They never integrated the systems/data so it was truly a jigsaw puzzle for the Customer Care to service *any customer. 

On top of all that, I must add that a desire to care for the customer is still essential or customers will walk.  It takes both great people-skills and effective technology to deliver great service. 

Thanks for sharing your hope and insights,

Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach



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