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Intelligent Web-based customer care

Written by  Prashant Jhawar
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Prashant JhawarIssue:Asia-Pacific III 2007
Article no.:15
Topic:Intelligent Web-based customer care
Author:Prashant Jhawar
Title:Chairman & CEO
Organisation:Ushacomm India Pvt. Ltd.
PDF size:308KB

About author

Mr Prashant Jhawar is the Chairman and CEO of Ushacomm and the Vice Chairman of the Usha Martin Group, which has diversified interests in steel, wire ropes, telecom and IT products and services. A second-generation entrepreneur, Mr Jhawar joined his family business as a trainee in 1982. In 1994, Mr Jhawar founded Usha Martin Telekom, a GSM cellular network provider, in partnership with Telekom Malaysia, and after six years led a trade sale of this venture to Hutchison Wampoha. A Commerce graduate from Calcutta University, Mr Jhawar has professional certifications in Strategic Alliances & Corporate Venturing (Wharton Business School), Telecommunication and Billing & customer care (Billing College, UK) and in Leadership in the 21st Century (Harvard University).

 

Article abstract

Customer service is a sensitive issue. The speed and efficiency with which a customer’s specific needs are dealt with can make or break a company’s reputation. The customer care call centres are costly, 24/7 operations; they deal with people from around the globe who speak many languages. To minimise costs, speed response and facilitate coordination with the back-office systems and staff that must deal with the problems, companies are investing in wholly computerised or hybrid human/IT customer care systems.

 

Full Article

The Internet has revolutionised the way we communicate in today’s world. It has become an open platform for data sharing, computing and servicing. It has added a new dimension to the physical economy, which is now gradually transforming into an online economy. This virtual market allows easy access to information and resources which otherwise were difficult to access in the physical economy. There are secure platforms available on the Web through which people find ways of doing business online and even maintain anonymity, if required. As a result, services organizations are compelled to utilize these platforms to offer services to their end users efficiently and effectively. A service provider today has various ways to interact with the customer. • Face-to-face interaction Typically, a customer has a face-to-face interaction with customer service representatives, CSR, who understand the customer’s requests and respond to them with the help of the back-office system they access directly or through the Web. A company with service areas in different geographical regions has to hire CSRs who are well versed in the local language and culture in order to interact with the customer effectively. This localisation of services increases the service provider’s cost. • Voice With voice interaction, the customer is guided by an IVR, Interactive Voice Response, system to the relevant CSR, to route the request to the relevant team. This increases the CSR’s productivity considerably. • Internet Traditionally interaction over the Internet has been only through emails. However, with new tools for use over the Web, new opportunities have been created for real-time response. State-of-the-art support tools, 24/7 helpdesks and order processing facilities are available online these days. Web-based customer care All this has created demand for Web-based customer care systems. Traditionally, Web-based customer care systems lacked the human touch. Hence, the system needs to be designed to act as a surrogate CSR and perform the following functions effectively: • Be receptive to the customer’s needs and anticipate the customer’s thought process and provide a personalised response; The Web-based customer care system needs to be receptive and flexible to understand and anticipate customer expectations and needs. This sows the seeds for an intelligent customer interface, which can be further developed into an intelligent Web-based customer care system; this will require advance interaction between intelligence and Web-based technologies; and, • Respond quickly to customer requests To respond quickly, there needs to be a tight coupling between the Web interface and such back office customer care systems as provisioning, trouble ticketing, billing, accounting, tracking, ERP, enterprise resource planning, customer database management etc. This in turn calls for low cost bandwidth availability for mass usage and acceptance. Incidentally, there is a worldwide trend as there is a continuous, and steep, fall in bandwidth or transportation costs worldwide. To increase usability of such systems, the Web-based customer care applications should be device independent so they can be accessed from a wide variety of devices such as laptops, PDA, mobile phones etc. Business issues and solutions The primary challenges when implementing such services are: • Making the service available 24/7 Today’s customer service delivery is depicted in Model 1, Figure 1. As labour costs across the world rise, the cost of servicing by physical agents also rises as it involves time and recurring expenses like training costs and wages. Since customers today are not limited to a specific geographical region or boundary, servicing becomes difficult and more expensive as it has to cater for different languages, cultures and lifestyles. This has both economic and social implications, which need to be addressed. • Lowering the cost of servicing using intelligent Web-based customer care systems With the rising demand for real-time/online systems, service providers are updating their backend systems with applications such as online billing, real-time charging and real time credit control. As a result, the efficiency of Web-based customer service can be better leveraged with the sort of real-time online interface depicted in Model 3 in Figure 1, which eliminates the need for CSRs as the customer interface. This is a purely Web-based customer service directly linked to the backend support. Such Web-based interfacing addresses the need for cost control. However there can also be a hybrid model, as shown in Figure 1 Model 2, where revenue critical requests from customers are verified by the CSR before they are activated in the back office IT systems. Moreover, there are service options where a CSR can access the backend system over the Web. This allows different kinds of employment opportunities such as home-based CSR or remote CSR to be developed. Emerging business models A variety of business models can also be developed, including Web-based customer care centres catering to multiple operators. Refer to Figure 2 Here there can be a common Web-based customer care interface for different organizations. The customer can select the organization and interact with the interface for problem or request resolution. The request goes to the corresponding organization’s back-office system for supportive actions to be performed via their respective Web-based customer care centres. • Satisfy the impulsive need gratification of subscribers Personalization is the key word in today’s increasingly competitive market. As service is the key differentiator in today’s market, operators are resorting to greater service personalization to battle commoditization and remain profitable. Personalization is facilitated by tracking customer behaviour patterns and preferences, which are captured during their interaction with the Web-based system. Personalization must also be device independent for the maximum benefit. Customer servicing is moving towards a totally integrated environment in which the customer is treated as a whole and not as a service number. For example, a frequent traveller to the UK and South Africa with a strong liking for sports can be sent frequent updates about the sports events in those countries. This holistic approach further allows services to be built around it by responding to customer preferences. Web-based customer servicing is a very effective tool that goes beyond customer service and supports customer retention.

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