Customer service doesn’t stop at the office door, argues Brian MacDonald of IVP.
For most businesses, empowering field employees and improving service mobility has little to do with browsing on a tiny screen and more to do with delivering enterprise messaging and applications to whatever device an employee uses. Today's corporations run on various standard business applications. From traditional customer relationship management systems and enterprise resource planning packages to dispatch applications and simple databases, mission critical data is stored and maintained in these applications. Access and interaction with these applications is vital if information is to be truly exploited for the benefit of the customer.
To date, CRM has focused on installing software inside organisations in the hopes of obtaining the ‘single customer view’. CRM solutions enable companies to differentiate their products and services and improve the level of individualised attention to customers, while reducing the total investment in servicing them. However, the potential benefits of extending this functionality to the mobile workforce by empowering remote field force staff, has been largely overlooked. The need for anytime, anywhere access to critical information about customers, inventory and competition has kept field-sales professionals on the cutting edge of technology adoption. Most companies now realise that getting information out to mobile workers faster and more efficiently will significantly contribute to the bottom line.
If properly equipped, remote field staff are able to provide better service, examine and extract market and customer data, and solve problems in the field through access to their enterprise systems. Mobile Enterprise Applications (MEAs) make this possible, by enabling key enterprise applications and their associated data to be available to employees, partners, and customers, regardless of location. IDC predicts that the MEA market will be a $150 billion dollar industry by 2003. The worldwide mobile middleware market alone is expected to grow from $137.2 million in 2000 to $1.47 billion in 2005 a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 160.7%.
Early mobile applications for CRM were somewhat primitive, simply giving a salesperson the ability to keep a contact database up to date while in the field, but that's changing. There are two key audiences for these devices - field sales organisations and other kinds of mobile users within a company. Salespeople can now view a database of inventory. When they sync their devices in the morning, they get the latest inventory with an application on the device that allows them to take an order, check an inventory level that was current and make a commitment to the customer based on that inventory. When they sync again, it places that order into the system and executes fulfilment.
Such synchronisation was at the heart of early mobile products which appeared in the mid-90s and allowed laptop users to synchronise data over a LAN (local area network). That technology has now been extended to PDAs, allowing them to take a pre-defined set of data with them on the road and to update data on the fly through various cellular networks.
These applications are becoming more intelligent. Increased sophistication is evident in the number of vertical market applications beginning to appear on the market as companies integrate CRM with line-of-business applications that support a specific industry.
As customer expectations increase and market conditions become more competitive, many corporations are beginning to realise the hidden advantages of empowering their field force, and are now looking to extend their front-office applications beyond the traditional business enterprise in order to optimise their customer relationships through their external employees. These companies have realised that the economic benefits of empowering mobile workers. As part of ongoing economy drives and streamlining internal efficiencies, many businesses are moving workers out of the office and into the field in order to reduce operating costs and improve customer service.
The effect of this has meant that field-based employees who were previously viewed mainly as an expense and difficult to manage on a timely basis are now increasingly viewed as a rich source of market intelligence and revenue for their employers. As a result, many organisations are now attempting to arm their mobile workers with the key information that they need while on site with customers, making them more effective by extending access to mission-critical information in back-office systems to these mobile workers wherever they are - fast, accurately, and effectively.
However, many existing front office applications do not support the workflow and functional tasks of mobile workers. Fortunately, the Internet, along with recent advances in handheld computers and wireless and broadband technologies, has created opportunities for companies to implement new ways of doing business that were previously not technically feasible.
While many reporting and analytical systems "pigeonhole" data into pre-arranged structures that hinder the ability of users to "see" the big picture, advances in data structuring products permit data to be assembled from across multiple touch points/information sources, allowing enterprises to scale to the largest databases (over 100 million records) so that point of sale data can be correlated with field force data at a moment’s notice. MEA applications can deliver strategic marketing knowledge providing a platform for marketing and decision management.
Why is this important to you? Advances in MEA applications now mean that your company can enable employees and service personnel to access information anywhere, any time, increasing customer service in real time in the field, while also reducing operational costs. The future of CRM lies in packaged applications that meet the unique needs of mobile workers and the extended enterprise, and support mobile workforces by supplying access to the business rules, business processes, and enterprise data that mobile workers need. All the while providing them with information on where, when, why and what they need to accomplish. By taking service to the customer, rather than the other way round, companies are building stronger ties to customers, creating new revenue streams and increasing their competitive advantage. This is how true customer service should be delivered.
Brian MacDonald is President of IVP Technology Corporation, which specialises in data solutions for the enterprise