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Making the most of what you’ve got

01 Feb 09

Businesses have entered the new year facing, in most cases, a whole host of challenges and imposed change. Business managers and chief information officers are having to deal with new scenarios, such as reduced operating budgets, staff cutbacks, critical projects being canned or suppliers going out of business – all grim stuff. But businesses need to remind themselves that now is the time to make sure they really look after what they have got already: their customers.

It might seem like common sense, but companies can lose sight of who their customers are and what their expectations might be. This is where organisations need to make sure they have a defined channel strategy in place to identify the communication channels that are needed to connect with customers, both external and internal. Again, it seems common sense that businesses will have marketing and communication plans in place already, but are these strategies working effectively together? Do businesses know what interactions are going on, either internally or externally, and is the right information being supplied at the right time, to the right people, in the right way?

For example, do your customers want printed or web-based information? How customer-focused is your company’s website? Are staff members making the most of the available technology? Could travel costs be reduced by making the most of internet-based video conferencing or webinars?

Asking these sorts of questions and establishing a channel strategy means companies can ensure they are well placed to deal with what, for many, are chronic organisational problems, such as inconsistent information being supplied, a lack of knowledge within the organisation about how to access information, and dissatisfied customers who are unable to get their needs met consistently. Inappropriate use of technology can often frustrate efforts to communicate effectively and sometimes the idea that technology is the solution to every problem can, in itself, block the flow of information.

By establishing the ‘who, what, when and how’ of a business’s interaction with its customers, the organisation will be better placed to evaluate projects and initiatives strategically. Would it, say, be better to embark on a project that retains and strengthens the relationship with customers or one that upgrades the internal desktop environment? Priorities need to be constantly reviewed in light of both customer needs and the rapidly changing environment. Projects that fit a short- to medium-term return on investment are likely to move up the list. For example, a project that can be completed quickly and that delivers immediate benefits to improving relationships with customers is most probably a better bet than a long-term internal project that won’t deliver results for three years. While looking at priorities, it’s also important to ensure common-sense program and project management. A centralised project management office can be too heavy in process and too light in added value. This could be a good time to promote a value-based management of projects.

When you are looking at providing the best possible service to your customers, it’s essential to review relationships with your suppliers. Their service to you is fundamental to the relationship you supply to your customers. Take a look at your satisfaction levels and remember, while you are looking at operating smarter in tough times, your suppliers are also looking at staying in business and keeping their customers happy – in this case you! It could even be a good time to look at your sourcing options; is it better at this time to source services that were once outsourced from within, or conversely outsource services that are currently provided internally?

Tough times require and often reveal innovative ideas. As the economic climate deteriorates, get your staff involved and promote innovation; don’t stifle it! Put in place mechanisms to seek and review ideas and suggestions – don’t forget the internal customers.

The idea might be to be a smarter, safer operator, but for most businesses the ultimate goals remain the same; it’s just aquestion of recharting your course and enjoying the adventure!

Craig Nelson has over 20 years’ experience in the IT industry, both in New Zealand and offshore, and is a consultant for Voco, which has quickly become New Zealand’s fastest growing independent telecommunications and interaction optimisation consultancy. Craig’s specific skills cover strategic consulting, software development and marketing, business and systems analysis, sourcing and implementation, project and program management, including steering group participation. 


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