Because communications technology has developed in phases, organisations have implemented the customer service improvements these technologies make possible in a fragmented way. It’s now possible to pull together the many different threads of communication technology so it becomes the differentiator it should be. Achieving this is a question of intent and methodology, rather than additional capex.
So says Adam Foster, Dimension Data Group Executive, Communications. ‘We’re seeing the final stages of the evolution of organisational communications. Although devices are still proliferating and consumers’ options for being in contact with an organisation continue to broaden, your strategy for delivering good communications, regardless of device and channel, can be conversely simple. ’While the integration of technologies and streamlining of business processes are necessary to achieve coherent communications both within an organisation, and to and from its external stakeholders, what Foster refers to as a ‘simple communications strategy’ doesn’t equate to the long-standing concept of unified communications and collaboration (UCC).
UCC has been around for at least a decade. Most organisations taking the UCC route have spent considerable time and other resources on getting the physical infrastructure in place. This has meant upgrading or reconfiguring the network, upgrading hardware and software, installing different types of video conferencing capabilities, and, frequently, using hosted or managed services from organisations such as Dimension Data. Theoretically, UCC offers the means to interact smoothly with partners and customers but, by and large, organisations have used it for internal communications. ‘Sometimes, the change management needed to get people talking to one another inside and outside of the enterprise has seemed too big an ask,’ Foster says. ‘In other cases, there hasn’t been the executive focus or will to drive unified communications externally. Mostly, the commercial motivation for integrating communications across the full value chain has been absent because the evidence that effective communication leads to customer satisfaction was not as clear as it is today.’
Merchants, a Dimension Data company that’s a major contributor to the parent company’s new communications practice, has proven repeatedly, in its own operations, that the global trend towards customer satisfaction as a differentiator is not just a passing novelty. Merchants, which has its headquarters in South Africa and specialises in contact centre operation and business process outsourcing (BPO), has retained South African, British, and Australian clients for up to 10 years, an extremely rare phenomenon in the BPO sector.
‘The primary reason for Merchants being such a strong example of how offshoring can work is that it’s always provided thought leadership for its clients regarding the development and roll-out of customer satisfaction programmes,’ Foster says. ‘This enables its clients to retain customers who then encourage their friends and family – or business partners - to bring their business to the organisation. ‘Merchants uses customer satisfaction to help its clients grow. In turn, this makes its clients loyal to Merchants, which helps Merchants grow. Customer satisfaction is a significant differentiator.’
The irony, however, is that most large organisations are not incorporating customer satisfaction into their UCC thinking or using it to boost UCC’s contribution to their bottom line. With the contact centre focused externally, on customers, and UCC systems focused internally, the organisation’s communications go in separate directions. They’re also managed by different teams, thus duplicating effort and resources.
‘This is not only a contradiction of every idea behind UCC, but, by definition, it also damages customer service,’ Foster says. ‘Customer service processes and systems have to be in place and used throughout the organisation in order for the contact centre or any other customer facing part of an organisation to deliver a truly positive customer experience - or, indeed, a return on the company’s investment in customer service capabilities. ‘As this realisation is sinking in, more organisations across the globe are approaching us for help in creating an integrated, holistic customer service capability. They acknowledge that their entire organisation must be involved in giving customers what they want, in the way that they want, because that’s what brings customers back and encourages them to speak positively about the organisation.
‘Customer service is the highway to sustainability. Creating the capability for the whole organisation to drive down that road means having the right combination of technology and business processes. Many organisations have a lot of the technology. Some have some of the processes. But they need objective help in putting it all together. ‘The trouble is, few solution providers have the right mix of skills and experience to partner meaningfully with client organisations at this strategic level, and organisations aren’t keen to manage multiple providers. It just so happens that Dimension Data has the technology track record and Merchants the BPO one. Jointly, we have a head start on the industry – and that means our clients get a head start on customer service as a differentiator.’