Faced with relentless competitive pressure and the increasing commoditization of products and services, how can an organization stay ahead of the game? The answer is simple: provide the customer with a satisfying buying experience. Let’s face it, customers today are in charge, and they are demanding an easy-to-use, seamless buying experience across accessible channels. Often, the winning competitor is the one that responds first; provides an orchestrated experience (whether with sales, over the phone, in a store or over the web); gets the order right the first time; and suggests complementary products that actually fit the customer’s needs.
Driving this customer experience is information—everything from detailed product specifications to options on availability, price and even location. The need for information is equally critical once the order is placed. Then customers want to track their orders over the web or via email, phone or fax. They also want consistent, correct answers, whether they’re talking to the vendor or a channel partner.
Delivering information to customers wherever and whenever they want it is the key to increased sales, profits and customer satisfaction€”and, over the long run, customer loyalty. But finding this information and getting it to customers require seamless integration among legacy applications. The best way to achieve that is through service-oriented architecture (SOA) applications.
No special coding
Unlike earlier generations of stove-piped, standalone applications, SOA applications require no expensive special coding or integration to make the data within them available to other applications. SOA applications are built to operate in a “services” environment where the functions of an application, such as looking up a price quote or checking a customer’s credit, can be shared with other applications far more easily than traditional, standalone applications. Organizations find it easier and more cost-effective to leverage their large-scale investments in ERP and CRM applications with SOA-based customer-facing applications, rather than to expand or change their existing investments.
By integrating a customer- and partner-facing application with a SOA-based architecture, organizations can deploy an e-business offering for their customers and partners within a few months vs. the long implementation cycles and significant resources ERP and CRM solutions typically require. In addition, with a SOA-based solution, an organization is able to easily and dynamically change its offering to respond to evolving market requirements. In the end, SOA-based solutions offer significant time-to-market and resource advantages over stove-piped standalone applications.
Consider a leading distributor of complex computer solutions. Before implementing an SOA-based solution for its customers and partners, all sales were conducted via the phone and email, and each order with its very specific configurations was manually entered. As a result, an order cost the distributor significant time and money because of order complexity, changes in orders and customer requests for order status updates. Also manual processes sometimes led to order and configuration errors.
Its SOA-based self-service electronic business solution enables distribution partners to accelerate their sales cycles through online product information, quoting, ordering and account management. A user-friendly interface makes it easy for distribution partners to place orders and check transaction status for their customers. For the thousands of customers the company serves, distribution partners can enter multiple product and service configurations into shopping carts and then submit them for quotes. They also can save product searches as carts, eliminating tedious data re-entry.
With its e-business site, this leading distributor is able to accelerate order processing, improve partner relations and account management, operate more efficiently and increase cash flow for partners with online invoicing and payment support in real time.
Organizations also report fewer mistakes and delays in ordering with SOA applications because they allow one person€”often the customer€”to enter the required information once and transmit it to all the affected systems. This not only reduces the cost of correcting mistakes and processing returns but also increases customer satisfaction and loyalty.
Seamless integration to existing investments in ERP systems via SOA-based customer-facing applications makes it easier and quicker for customers to do business with a company however and wherever they want. It also allows companies to reach and serve their customers more effectively and profitably. That’s because SOA-based applications enable businesses to sell more products and services through a web self-service model by automating configuration and ordering, resulting in a streamlined, more accurate sales process. The more efficient and accurate the sales process, the greater customer satisfaction and loyalty. In addition, coupled with guided selling to enable cross-sell or up-sell opportunities, SOA e-business applications can boost the average sales per transaction and the seller’s bottom line.
Truly seamless, customer-oriented e-business processes are no longer just a dream. SOA applications today are delivering the behind-the scenes integration that delivers information from multiple legacy applications to customers, internal users and business partners. The results are lower costs, higher revenue, improved customer satisfaction and increased profits across markets, channels and geographies.