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Taking your online business to the next level

Online businesses are cheap to setup and operate, but the costs to grow and become big place a large barrier for aspiring entrepreneurs. The issue is: how does one stand out from the herd and be heard.

These days you can set up a web-based business for a song. You can get a domain name, outsource the designs overseas, implement a cheap e-commerce platform and be trading in a few days.

But some entrepreneurs say the barriers to entry to big business online are higher than ever. Not so much in setting up, but in standing out from the vast numbers clamouring for attention.

“The price to get traffic has gone up so much that just to play in that game is eating up a lot of capital,” says Fred Schebesta, co-founder of online comparison site

Schebesta and business partner Frank Restuccia founded the credit card comparison service in 2006, but in 2010 they hit a wall. Revenue growth month-on-month slowed from 100 per cent to around 10 per cent, Schebesta says. The website had spread itself too thin, branching out from credit card comparisons to home loans and savings accounts, with a small number of staff dedicated to each.

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Are you in touch with reality?

By Martin Conboy.

There is often a discrepancy between real and perceived customer service, i.e. the level of service organisations think they are delivering versus the service that customers feel they are receiving. There is always going to be some gap in perception between the deliverer and receiver of services, but it appears that there is indeed a chasm and many organisations are clearly not in touch with the reality of the situation.

Back in 2006, Bain and Company did a survey, which illustrated how extraordinary this gap is. They surveyed 362 firms and of these 80% of these organisations believed that they were delivering a superior customer experience, but when asked, then only 8 percent of their customers agreed. And this was before the advent of social media, which only shines a spotlight on the difference between what companies think they are delivering versus what their customers actually think.

This first gap exists for several reasons, mainly because organisations are not continually measuring and reporting the right things in the right way from a customer centric viewpoint. This may occur because organisations don’t have good relationships with their customers to truly understand what is going on, or they just don’t bother asking their customers what they actually want and how this may change over time. And this is only exacerbated when an organisation is in a growth phase, i.e. focusing on customer acquisition rather than customer retention.

Added to this, cost constraints largely due to the global economic slowdown has caused organisations to reduce the amount spent on training staff to deliver good customer service, which ultimately will cause further damage to their brand. And finally because of the tough economy, spending on technology investments needed to allow organisations to deliver the high quality customer experiences that they would like to, are simply not taking place.

The general public is migrating to social media networks as the medium of choice, the growth is phenomenal and major corporations are having trouble keeping up as they scramble to reallocate their advertising budgets away from traditional media. Without understanding the impact of what their corporate messages are saying, some companies may be burning cash and doing themselves a complete disservice.

Against a background where physical products are commoditising, customer service is seen to be a crucial differentiator of the service offering. It is essential that the service delivered supports the product promise. In the future, it is be only those organisations that provide outstanding service that will thrive, since it will allow them to differentiate their products, charge a price premium and maintain their competitive edge in the marketplace.

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Posted in Business, Communications, CRMComments (0)

Single view of the customer: Reality or mirage?

Organisations are making increasing use of the data they’re collecting to build a more comprehensive picture of their customers. The benefits of this are potentially substantial. But the challenges to achieving are just as significant. To overcome these challenges companies are turning to their BPO providers for help.

One management system to view them all

Customer Experience Management (CEM) revolves around one fundamental concept – the “single view of the customer”.  For most organisations, creating a single view of the customer is driven by a practical need to consistently interact with customers in order to identify which of them are of high or low value to the business, provide a better customer experience, or to support some kind of research or analytical work to improve performance.

According to Katie Gove, managing director for Trellis, outsourcing consultants and analysts, it’s something that too few organisations do or do well. She comments, “Customers may have wildly different experiences or flavours of a company depending on the environment. Whether they are at a sporting event and the company is sponsoring, to the experience of dealing with the company’s help or information line is often worlds apart.”

In January 2006, Gartner forecast that by 2010 less than 33% of global organisations would have an enterprise view of their customers. The challenges are great, particularly for large, long-standing organisations that have grown through mergers and acquisitions and have accumulated a plethora of customer management systems, databases and product IT platforms that may or may not be fully integrated and compatible. Part of the problem as Gove sees it is, “organisations don’t see customer interactions as opportunities to generate revenue.”

The biggest challenge to creating a single view of the customer, however, is of course the customer. At times they may be inconsistent or contradictory in their consumption patterns vis-a-vis their economic status or social standing and other demographics. This results in conflicting views of him/her in various departments of the company that compile customer data for their own purposes.

“The problem is”, as Katie Gove points out, “because a company’s processes and operations are decentralised and segregated, each department has its own small picture of the customer and their behaviour.”

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Posted in Big Data, Cloud Computing, Contact CentreComments (0)

Social Media: Australia lagging behind

Australian organisations are lagging behind their international competitors on harnessing social media. According to a new report, many have banned it in their workplace due to inappropriate use and many wrongly perceive it as purely a branding tool.

Only a quarter of Australian companies are using social media for human resources and people management, and only half use it for work. The new report was produced by Deloitte pair Peter Williams and Jess Corbett.

The majority of employers restrict use of social media, 38 per cent ban staff from using it for personal use and one- third say they had been affected by employees inappropriately using social media.

The report was based on results of a survey by the Australian Human Resources Institute of 502 human resources practitioners working across a range of industries.

“Australian businesses are nearly four years behind the US and Britain in using social software,” Williams and Corbett argue in Rethinking social media, adding employers are failing to grasp how social media can be used to help staff react to ”exceptional events”, which cannot be scripted but can absorb up to 70 per cent of workers’ time. It can also be used to boost recruitment and staff engagement, they argue.

The report states those organisations that did have a social media policy or strategy (46 per cent) had largely focused it on employer branding, not organisational performance.

This reflects a poor understanding of the many other uses of social media, the authors say. There are some exceptions. LG Electronics, which has 82,000 staff globally, estimates the regular users of its internal social software save three hours a week finding faster answers to “business exceptions”, the report finds. Westfield Australia is successfully using yammer to manage events that come out of the blue.

Telstra is also using an online platform – CrowdSupport – to crowdsource solutions to customer problems where their call centre staff do not yet have a script. And Williams tells The Australian Financial Review that South Australia’s Department of Premier and Cabinet is an “early adopter”, using social media to help prepare parliamentary briefings.

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Posted in Human Resources, Productivity & Environment, Social MediaComments (0)

Infosys goes shopping for business

Infosys has placed on it shopping list is the technology and back-office services arms of a range of European companies.

According to recent reports in the Indian times, the deals that Infosys are chasing could give it committed business worth $40- $250 million over three to five years. Such transactions typically involve upfront payment for buying the facilities of corporations as well as taking over their employees.

“There are quite a few opportunities we are participating in. For clients, it is about cost-optimisation but at the same time they don’t want employees to be impacted,” said Infosys board member BG Srinivas, who also heads the financial services business division. “We are open to rebadging employees because we are continuing to invest in Europe.”

Rebadging refers to a service provider taking over clients’ employees on their rolls. Europe makes up 23 per cent revenues of the $7.4 billion revenue of Infosys but most of it comes from the United Kingdom and Nordic countries. Indian IT companies, including Infosys, have been trying to gain market share in continental European markets such as Germany and France.

Posted in Acquisitions, Business, Contracts, Expansions, Growth, Investments, MergersComments (0)

Australia needs to innovate

If Australia wants to keep, or even add, value to our country as the digital economy grows, it has to search for productivity in new ways. That means bringing together innovations from IT that are outside today’s core and combine them with solutions developed here and globally.

As Australians we have benefited dramatically as IT improved the efficiency and breadth of services that government and business have been able to offer. Arguably the mass rollout of business IT was as important to productivity in the 1990s as the economic reforms of the 1980s. As a direct result, the ABS tells us that we now have more than 460,000 people employed in Australia in IT.

While this nearly half-million-strong workforce has been responsible for so much, today it is not being applied in a way that will protect the Australian economy from leaking value offshore. Australian companies regard technology as something they do just enough of to get on with their “real” businesses, even as their markets diminish. By comparison, their peers elsewhere are busy innovating and inventing. Even “old economy” businesses are encouraging their IT departments to apply for patents.

Contrary to common perceptions on outsourcing, global companies such as General Motors globally are moving IT jobs on-shore to increase productivity, while accepting a higher cost. The current debate on 457 visas and the IT industry misses the point – there were fewer than 10,000 457 visa applications in the IT field last year, representing about 2 per cent of the total workforce.

To protect the tax base, and Australia’s future prosperity, the country has to search for productivity in new ways. That means combining innovations from IT that are outside today’s core and combining them with solutions developed by other organisations here and internationally. It means looking beyond the core business and being prepared to spin off activities at the edge that have real value in their own right. And it also means governments and large enterprises need to change the way they procure so that they are seeding whole new economies.

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Women with flexible work arrangements are more productive

A new report backs what many women working flexibly and part time already know: that they waste less time at work than their full-time colleagues – just 11.1% compared to the 14.5% of work hours wasted by the general population.

And getting more out of these productive women could save Australia and New Zealand at least $1.4 billion in wasted wages, according to the EY and Chief Executive Women report released this week.

Based on a range of different studies including figures obtained from the November 2012 EY Productivity Pulse and the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the report identifies what low female workforce participation is costing the economy and what can be done to help.

It finds that with 42.2% of women in the workforce working part time compared to just 13.5% of men, a significant productivity boost is being achieved with those flexible workers found to be wasting less time than their full time counterparts.

But too few organisations are recognising this, according to the report authors.

“Over the last decade, while there have been some gains in female workforce participation rates, a lot more needs to be done to ensure the waste doesn’t continue,” EY advisory partner Amy Poynton said in a statement with the report.

“When you consider that female workforce participation has only increased by 4% over the past decade to 65%, while male participation is currently at 79%, and you look at that in the context of the return of investment in educating women and the potential shortfall of retirement savings for women, it’s quite an alarming picture.”

The report also identifies a lack of sufficient superannuation for women – finding 38% of women have no superannuation at all – and puts an $8 billion figure on the investment in education that’s being wasted by women not transitioning to full time employment.

It also finds that women are missing out on our highest paying growth industries, given they’re qualifying for careers in health, social services and education which are lower paid but offer better flexible work options. The six-monthly EY Pulse survey measures more than 2100 Australian workers on their productivity and the value of work they do across all industry sectors.

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Posted in Human Resources, Industry Reports, LabourComments (0)

The Best Way to Improve Business Processes

A question we often hear is: “What’s the best way to improve business processes?” More often than not, this is a backhanded way of asking, “Which ‘fad of the day’ is the best approach to process improvement?” While fads have come and gone over the years — including Reengineering, Total Quality Management (TQM), Value Analysis, Six Sigma, and Lean — the answer has really remained the same: The best way to improve business processes depends on your objectives.

Each of the process improvement fads mentioned above brought several improvement capabilities forward. Reengineering gave us the “clean sheet of paper” concept that has yielded many innovative transformations of processes. TQM put the customer center stage by improving processes to standards that were important to the customer.

Value Analysis took a different approach depending on where the process segment fell in the Importance-Reliability-Cost matrix. Six Sigma helped organizations gain statistical control of their processes to reduce or eliminate errors. And last but not least, Lean is helping businesses remove waste and improve flow. Add to this list of highly publicized approaches, a few others that have proven effective, like Value Analysis, FAST Diagrams and Strategy-Driven Process Design, the last being a popular one that starts with setting the strategy and guiding principles, and then designing or redesigning to them. All of these are really good things.

The problem is that there is rarely an improvement effort with a narrow and singular focus. So if you counter that initial question with, “What are you trying to improve?” the answer is usually more complex than any one of the focused approaches can handle. Thus, the approach should be a blend of techniques to achieve the desired result.

Often the drive for a specific process improvement methodology is connected to attempts to build up internal consulting capabilities. Building it around a specific methodology can be appealing for a number of reasons — training is readily available via books, seminars and videos. Also, building a new capability that people are reading about in the business press or hearing about at conferences has image value.

Posted in Business Process Management (BPM)Comments (0)

Focused on your customer

By Mark Atterby.

So many market developments and technological advances have impacted the evolution of the contact centre in the last 5 to 10 years. The most important is the shift from focusing on internal performance metrics to managing and improving the customer experience.

From  its humble beginnings in the 1980s when it was referred to as a telemarketing centre or call centre to being called a contact centre or customer experience centre, technology and market trends have greatly altered the definition and the role of the contact centre within the modern enterprise.

Regardless of what it’s called, the contact centre is now one of the most important elements of a company’s Customer Experience Management (CEM) strategy. Anita Bowtell, President of the Contact Centre Management Associations comments, ”The evolution of the call centre to contact centre to customer experience centre has been driven by the expectations of consumers, and organisations looking to address the needs of their customers. They are tightly integrated with the enterprise’s sales and marketing objectives, pursuing cross-selling and long-term customer service goals.”

 The rise of the modern contact centre

The current definition of a call centre increasingly includes the handling of various types of interactions other than telephone calls. For this reason, most individuals and organisations refer to it as a “contact centre”. The rang of terms used generally reflect the proportion of  interactions done through the telephone to those  made through other channels such as e-mail or Web chat as well as the nature of those interactions. Bowtell adds, “People may refer to it as the customer service centre or infoline or whatever depending on their use and how they manage it.”

To many organisations a call centre is the most important operation they will let a third party to manage; therefore its efficient and effective operation are a key factor in their own overall success.

Many organisations now entrust the bulk of their customer service, sales and marketing campaigns to third party call centre operators.

Customer Service and Managemnet trends within the contact centre

A customer’s primary touch point is often the call centre, yet somewhere along the way call centre agents became guardians of handle times and hold times. With the ever increasing emphasis on Customer Experience Management, however, there is a growing realisation that the agent is instead the  guardian of  the relationship between the customer and the company. While in the past,   some companies were so obsessed with reducing the time it took to serve the customer, now it is no longer about the call but about the customer.

Despite the ever-changing models and terminologies used, the  metrics for call centre and agent performance  are substantially still traditional, but the customer profiles  are not. Even disregarding the percentage of customer contacts through e-mail or Web chat, the “typical” call centre inquiry changes in nature the moment self-help enters the equation.

With more customers resorting to self-help and solving problems on their own, when they do need to call, they tend to have challenging issues that entry-level agents cannot resolve. Therefore, there is a need for agents adequately trained to do multi-tasking and conflict resolution, or resolution management as CRM practitioners call it. The key shift in the mind set for call centre managers and agents is to optimise the current customer’s call rather than using it to speed to the next one.

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Posted in Business, Cloud Computing, Contact Centre, Customer ServiceComments (2)

Telstra pursues offshoring strategy to boost growth

Following its announcement in May that Telstra would reorganise its operational activities into five groups, the National Applications Services (NAS) business unit is planning to establish global delivery centres to pursue international expansion and growth.

As part of the proposal, Telstra has flagged it will cut up to 170 jobs as it shifts part of its back office operations to India, amid sweeping changes to the company’s operations. It also said in May that those changes would affect about half of its 30,000 strong domestic workforce. But the job cuts announced today are part of a different restructure of operations. Telstra staff were told of the potential cuts before the plan was made public.

David Burns, head of Telstra’s National Applications Services business, said the restructure and job cuts would affect its National Applications Services unit. The NAS unit provides customers in government and business with ICT network-based products and services, including managed network services, security, cloud, and video conferencing services.

Mr Burns said the company’s current business model was inadequate and the offshoring needed to occur to promote domestic and international growth. “Today we are announcing a proposal to establish global delivery centres with industry partners … in India to help us pursue international and growth aspirations for this [NAS] business,” Mr Burns said.

“Whilst no decision has been made to proceed as yet, our announcement today could affect existing Telstra employees,” he said. If the decision goes ahead, up to 170 jobs would be offshored from October. It would take a period of six to 12 months to complete.

The roles would disappear from all major capital cities, including Hobart and Canberra. The Indian jobs would be in back office operations, including service operations, SLA reporting, business and infrastructure operations, and resource management.

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