You Have To Be Agile: How Technology Is Changing Your Approach to Customers

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In the 1980s, financial institutions started rolling out their new automated teller machines, banking on the idea that customers would pay for this convenience. At first, the ATMs were not warmly accepted by consumers: The idea of using a plastic card in a machine outside of a bank to access your account was new, and it was strange for many people. However, as soon as customers determined the advantages of having ready access to their funds in the middle of the night, the installation and use of ATMs quickly skyrocketed. Today, anyone with a desire to start a financial institution without a network of ATMs would fail miserably. In less than two decades, the service became a commodity.

Things aren’t all that different in today’s technology market. In fact, innovations in technology have a profound impact on a company’s ability to win. If you’re not making an investment to win by using new technologies that will give you a clear advantage, the chances are that your competitors will.

In fact, Forrester Research recently reported that the demand for software that looks outside the business—sales force automation (SFA), marketing automation and procurement—is increasing over last year. Sixty-three percent of the small or medium-size businesses that are expected to buy marketing automation software next year are also expected to buy sales force automation (SFA) software (see The State of IT Spending in SMBs, Forrester Research, November 18, 2004).

What is behind the popularity of automation technologies in the SMB market? SMBs are either seeking a proactive strategy or a reactive response. The proactive scenario can help an SMB customer become more successful and is usually based upon the strategic vision of the leaders of the company. Companies can use technology to achieve their strategic objectives, which can include gaining new customers or growing the business with existing customers.

In contrast, companies use technology reactively when they lose key deals to competitors based on how the prospect—and now customer—was treated. The critical goal in both scenarios is to retain existing customers and improve the organization’s ability to attract new customers and increase the win ratio.

The cornerstone of a proactive strategy is increased visibility into the business. Without it, leaders find it hard to determine the best approach and implementation. With new and innovative software and hardware, SMBs can now automate the gathering and dissemination of business intelligence information to key personnel in real-time fashion, delivering the competitive advantage that most mid-size companies want from their technology. Companies can use technology to create advantages in other areas, too. Here are some examples of how an innovative approach to technology can ensure a positive customer experience:

  • Personalization. Companies have typically used mass marketing to reach out to a broad audience. This approach, however, can result in a colder and more impersonal customer interaction than when you can gather customer details and create a unique customer. Smart companies then automate the communications process to ensure their customers receive regular, personalized updates. Simple processes can go a long way in distinguishing your company from the competition.

  • Workflow Automation. Companies can enhance their customer and prospect satisfaction levels by automating many of their business processes. An effective workflow automation strategy allows companies to implement policies and procedures throughout an organization, based on simple rules, which can include everything from an automatic notification that leads have not been followed up within a 24-hour period or the execution, running and delivery of key management reports to ensuring automatic escalation of a customer service issue.

  • Self-Service. With so many customers opting for the Internet as a way to do business, automated customer self-service portals are an excellent way to create personalized on-demand interactions. If your web site and telephony system are customer friendly, the customer experience should be very positive and customer satisfaction levels can be increased. Less than a decade ago, many consumer department stores only offered limited telephone service or required the customer to return to the store to lodge complaints or return an item. Today customers are finding it easier than ever to shop online and receive customer service at a level that consistently creates a positive buying experience.

  • Advanced Profiling. More than most departments within an organization, marketing departments have improved their ability to target specific audiences in a personalized way. Automation technology has increased the ability of marketing departments to deliver significant productivity benefits relating to a marketing programs performance.

  • Mobile Solutions. Significant advances in wireless devices have made it possible for field sales and service people to connect with their office in real time, rather than synchronizing their laptop or calling in to the office for the day’s news. The ability of each department to be more responsive is greatly enhanced through new mobile solutions, and customers now expect their sales and service people to answer all of their questions whenever they are out of the office.

  • Real-Time Forecasting. Today’s competitive corporation expects their sales and service people to update their records even when they are on the road. As a result, whenever a change is made, the organization is notified immediately and that change is reflected in future forecasts. Long gone are the days of spreadsheets that need to be updated by an administrator and were, as a result, error-prone. Real-time forecasting means the people the reports are intended for can spend more time analyzing the numbers and less time verifying the accuracy of those numbers.


Innovation is everywhere. Companies can create a competitive advantage by searching for smarter ways to apply technology to their businesses and become more successful.

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