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Providing the Total Customer Experience
Naresh Wadhwa
Friday, November 30, 2007
Organizations in India are making rapid strides on many fronts. However, along with this phenomenal growth come challenges and learning that we need to focus on. Today, it has become more challenging than ever to maintain and grow a loyal customer base, largely because customers have so many choices before them. Looking at today’s successful companies, it is quite evident that many have earned their customers’ loyalty by providing a ‘total customer experience’. By ‘total customer experience’ we don’t mean just great or improved customer service. Instead, we are talking about a major shift in the way organizations interact with customers from pre-sale queries to post-sale support and more.

So what entails a ‘total customer experience’? It starts, naturally, with a great product or service. It continues with easy transactions for the customer. And most importantly it is made satisfying by personalized interactions with company service representatives, subject matter experts, and other knowledge workers. The three key ingredients — a great product, easy transactions, and valuable interactions — are the ones that point the way to ensuring a loyal customer base today.

For many of us in India, we have pleasant memories of shopping at our local kiraana shop, or personalized interactions at our oft-frequented bank or restaurant. Such interactions made for easy transactions and continued loyalty. However, today, with the tremendous variety of choices available to us and the larger scales of operations we may not always have those enhanced customer experiences. And as for sellers, customer loyalty is that elusive figure that everybody is searching for.

A market of one
We live in an era in which customers want their individual needs and preferences fulfilled. Customers want companies to know and anticipate their personal preferences, and to provide products and services tailored to those preferences. For customers, a satisfying interaction is a personal one. The goal for companies — and it is lofty — is to get to know each customer by name, behavior, product preference, and communication preference, to essentially create a market of one with each and every customer. Companies can help to meet these challenges by:
* Adapting business processes to capture customer information
* Investing in collaborative technologies that get experts in front of customers
* Engaging in interactions above and beyond the traditional buy-sell relationship
* Creating better ways for customers to communicate with them
* Encouraging collaborative problem-solving by involving customers and suppliers in product development
* Deploying a system to measure and improve the customer experience.

Let us look at a potential scenario we may encounter in the not-too-distant future. The Indian retail market is one of the fastest growing industries and is expected to grow from $350 billion to $427 billion by 2010.

We can hope to look forward to innovations that retailers can provide us when they embrace an array of retail technologies that deliver product information to customers and employees on the store floor, including network-enabled kiosks and handheld devices. If retail or Web sales associates don’t have the answers, customers are quickly connected to category knowledge experts in other stores or company headquarters. And a company could make the shopping experience seamless across its three major channels—retail stores, online stores, and mail-order catalogs by combining its customer information into one integrated database accessible by all qualified employees.

Enhanced interactions across industries
We witness a renewed interest in customer interactions virtually in every industry today. Take the example of healthcare providers who are working hard to improve the customer, or patient, experience with wireless medical-grade networks deployed inside the hospitals and across entire campuses. This could allow caregivers to access information anytime at any place so they can be more responsive in providing treatment and information tailored specifically to patients’ needs. With integrated data, voice, and video communication capabilities, this information can take the form of a simple voice call, data from a heart monitor, an image from an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging), or a real-time video conference with a medical specialist located in the next room or continents away.
In the hospitality industry, there has always been a great focus on providing a positive customer experience. Technology, wherein Internet Protocol communications could allow you to tailor your interactions with the hotel, view restaurant menus, and shop — all from your room’s telephone handset. Thus, the opportunities for any organization today to reach out and enhance the experiences with their customers could be without limits. Be they governments, educational institutions, not for profit, research, arts and cultural, healthcare and civic organizations across the world — working toward the total customer experience has many possibilities.

The network as a platform
Just as the network provides the platform for more efficient customer transactions — it also presents the platform for orchestrating and delivering the ‘total customer experience’. Today, the network can deliver converged data, voice, and video communications with ease, even in a wireless environment. This combination of data, voice, video, and wireless — or ‘quad play’ — provides a wealth of possibilities for rich customer interaction and collaboration. Meanwhile, the network allows organizations to capture knowledge and information drawn from each customer encounter to continually improve and personalize the customer experience. In fact, successful business leaders are making customer preferences the fundamental unit of analysis, rather than the account, the purchase, the product, or the location. The bottom line is this: The customer experience is the next frontier for growing revenues and enhancing customer loyalty. And the network is clearly the platform for delivering enhanced customer communications, collaborations, and experiences. We have entered an era of customization, personalization, and interaction, and those companies that understand the power of these business components will be the first to reap the benefits.

The wheel has been set in motion and we are already witnessing the use of some of this great innovation in India today. The network is fast evolving into a primary services delivery platform, one that provides a flexible foundation for the kind of personalized experience that the consumers prefer. The convergence of these trends offers incredible opportunities to businesses that adeptly embrace the new interactive way of communicating, and challenges to those that do not.

In the future only those companies that win and maintain loyal customers will be the ones that succeed in providing not only a quality product or service, but also a series of consistently positive experiences. We will be successful only if we continue to focus on a customer-driven culture and collaborate with partners and customers in a way that addresses their greatest challenges. In the end, the customer will determine those companies that are built to last, and built to lead.

These are energized times for all of us in India and I am reminded of Shakespeare’s famous lines from Julius Caesar:

There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune…

The author is President and Country Manager, Cisco Systems, India and SAARC. He can be reached at nwadhwa@cisco.com

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