A study called Best Face Forward by Robert Jaworski discusses the emerging topic of the customer interface; how a company relates or interfaces with its customers. From a company website to a customer call representative to a sales clerk at a store, these customer interfaces all connect with the customer and must keep the customer’s attention. For this reason a system to manage the customer interfaces must be adopted.The system must manage these interfaces for the company’s competitive advantage. Added value in terms of customer appreciation would be a result of a management system. Thus leading to software is now running the world, as the review of its impact continues.
The system must ultimately be efficient and effective with the customer. Too much confusion and complexity is a result of not having a system to coordinate these interfaces. Best Face Forward, the title of this article, exemplifies the meaning of customer interface. It means that the company is on the frontlines with respect to the customers. The company’s face is seen by the customer weather it be a human face like a clerk or some technological interface such as Kiosk. The company has a face and the better it is managed the more likely a customer will respond. New IT capabilities, if a company is going to succeed in the technological revolution, must be aligned with a company’s re-designed operations.
Re-designing operations to meet the IT capabilities is a need we should all consider. It is this front-office reengineering where technologies are changing how customers interact and how the management of these customer relationships function. Increasingly it is technology that shapes the customer relationship and business processes. Front-office re-engineering defines this and is also involved in the decision to replace people with technology.
All of this ultimately leads to quality of service.
Making the customer happy is the ultimate goal. The Interface Imperative is a belief that customer interactions through these interfaces are the only means of achieving competitive advantage.There are four trends that have brought this about:
- Competitive differentiation, the uniqueness of a product or service in terms of cost, sales, profit and other means, and the ability to outperform other commodities, is no longer sustainable.
- Quality of service is now a customer priority, eclipsing cost and performance in terms of purchases.
- Skilled labor is harder to find now than ever before, in the service sector. Workers are not trained and they last on the job only a relatively short period of time.
- Finally technology and machines are replacing people in the front lines of customer interfaces. These technologies and machines are in fact doing better at making people feel comfortable in some cases.
The four dimensions of an interface, physical presence and appearance -clean, neat and friendly- cognition (reasoning), emotion or attitude, and connectedness (coordinating communications) are the qualities that should define a customer interface.
Customer interfaces come in one of three forms.
- People oriented interfaces; where the interface could be a clerk at a store.
- People and technology; where there is a combination of the two, such as customer representatives who must query a database for a customer.
- Technology; such as a website. Increasingly technology is creeping in to the picture.
Everywhere one looks people are being replaced with technology. This is a direct result of the technology revolution where advances in technology are growing at exponential rates. As this revolution increases companies are clamoring to adopt new technologies.
It then seems apparent that business drivers should be geared toward technology. As with everything there are positive and negative aspects with customer interfaces, both human and machine. Humans are good at judgment, pattern recognition, exception processing, insight, and creativity.
Machines are good at collecting, storing, transmitting, and routine processing. Humans however need to be trained and deployed which is costly. And they can be difficult to manage. Machines lack the personal touch and concern that a human has. So it is the customer interface that has become the focus of business today. Both human and machine or a combination, the face of the company is the interaction with the customer.
To manage the customer interfaces a system must evolve that keeps the customer happy; a system where IT is the influence on business roles and processes. Letting evolving technologies run the show, and business will follow, because it is for certain, software is now running the world.
By Mark Lindquist
A study by Best Face Forward, (Rayport, Jaworski, 2004)