Keep customers happy: Use the latest business technologies

Feb. 1, 2002
Keep Customers Happy Use the latest business technologiesBy Fred Workley

In today's market, customers have come to expect convenient, fast and accurate response to their inquiries and needs. Companies must deliver a consistent business-to-customer or business-to-business customer experience in order to meet these needs. In addition, there may be an inherent need to transform large data repositories from archaic and unusable data, into a dynamic resource from which strategic decisions can be made. We will discuss a few ways that you can accomplish both of these goals in your business, and boost efficiency at the same time.

Customer relationships
Business, both traditional and electronically supported (eBusiness), is based on customer relationships. I talk to many people in the aircraft repair business, and they are all coping with these difficult economic times. One way to cope is by building customer relationships. This can be done by implementing new technologies, when possible and if it's cost effective. One option is to use business intelligence as an information tool to implement Customer Resource Management (CRM).

Business intelligence usually refers to the capability to use and leverage information or data into meaningful and useful information that can provide strong insights into how your business is doing. It also supports the goal of building customer relationships. In addition, it can help forecast trends. These information tools enable organizations to understand and respond to customer behavior, analyze sales, identify opportunities for cost savings and potential revenue, improve decision making, and help access risk. The end result is profitability.

A look at the tools
Let's define what we mean by business intelligence tools used in e-business.

Customer resource management (CRM) is a system that emphasizes the ability to manage the whole customer experience and to deliver personalized service that makes the customer feel the experience was a one-on-one service. Your real-time interaction with your customer is at the heart of this approach. This requires an integrated customer data warehouse that provides the ability for marketing opportunities and analysis.

Data mining uses complex search methods to identify patterns, trends, and groupings within data that can be used to predict future behavior.

Data warehousing provides a central storage location where data from many sources or separate transactional sites or systems is consolidated into a single consistent and integrated database source.

Enterprise information portals (EIP) provide access to organizational data through a single point of entry web site. This is used for both internal and external communications to allow a customized view of data, to access reports, spread sheets, and documents, and other information that exists in different systems and locations.

Extraction, transformation and loading (ETL) is used to establish a single and common way to view data from multiple systems. It is then loaded into a data warehouse that has a single set of common codes within the data warehouse. An example might be a sales data base matched with an inventory data base using different codes to identify the same products or services.

Online analytical processing (OLAP) provides a sophisticated way to analyze data while utilizing the capabilities of a system that are far above any traditional query and reporting system. OLAP permits analysis of large amounts of real-time information by permitting on-the-fly queries.

Wireless application protocol (WAP) means that business intelligence can be delivered with several different mediums. Enterprise intelligence portals are now available through wireless phones, pagers, and other wireless applications anywhere and at any time.

What's in it for me?
By now you may be asking what does this have to do with me? It may be a survival issue. We used to do all our communication face-to-face or over the phone. Now, fax machines and e-mail are in integral part of our lives. Cell phones and pagers seem to be everywhere. Some customers now use Palm handhelds and mobile data devices of every kind. Many organizations have a web site.

High technology has made business intelligence practical and cost effective. Business intelligence tools enable you to use data to provide valuable information very quickly. This can improve the decision-making process while increasing responses to the ever-changing marketplace.

Organizing the information
Real-time information gathered constantly must be stored, organized, and disseminated in order to be useful to your organization. It is a matter of transforming large amounts of data into a usable resource. Your goal is to improve the efficiency of your organization through CRM.

Using CRM might ensure your survival in today's economy. You need every customer both old and new. Good customers are a limited commodity. Your ability to build loyalty and retain a base of repeat customers is critical to your success.

Integrating the technology
Technology applications are available to implement worldwide multichannel contact centers that synchronize all customer contact points. Servers accept all contacts including voice inputs, web, e-mail, fax, and wireless communications. We have to convert these customer contacts to customer relationships. CRM is really about managing customer contacts. Technologies such as interactive voice response (IVR), fax-back, speech recognition, and text-to-speech recognition can provide round-the-clock access for your customers.

Technology is allowing you to integrate all of your contact channels to deal with today's complex marketplace. This integration allows customers to access information on a 24/7 basis. Most systems give customers the relevant information that they need quickly. Self-service is a strategy that links users, relevant information, and transactions into a common framework. But don't forget web self-service doesn't replace human interaction.

Consider the return
CRM is like any other investment. You need to consider your return on investment (ROI). E-business initiatives should use the satisfied customer as a benchmark. Customer value is the true measurement, not just trying to justify the cost of the technological components of a system. Customer satisfaction equates to profitability and survival in a tight economy.

Just looking at technology costs and training make this new strategy difficult to justify as an ROI. Part of the cost of implementing CRM is changing from a product-focused to a customer-focused organization. The change from just making a number of sales to counting satisfied customers may be a big jump.

Consider CRM as an investment and not as an expense. CRM expenditures that improve customer service and ensure customer loyalty have value and not every measure is based on cost reduction. Customer expectations are that you and your organization are in this business for the long run. Make your presence known in every communication medium.

Keep 'em Flying. AMT

Fred Workley is the president of Workley Aircraft and Maintenance Inc. in Alexandria, VA, and Indianapolis, IN. He holds an A&P certificate with an Inspection Authorization, general radio telephone license, a technician plus license, ATP, FE, CFI-I, and advance and instrument ground instructor licenses.