Simple Ways to Automate Customer Interaction Points No Matter Your Company Size

By Justin Hitt, Strategic Relations Consultant,

Many small organization fear automation because they feel it has to be costly -- something only available to the largest deep pocket businesses can afford. Whether you manage a small team or the largest Fortune 500 Company, you can reduce your costs by automating those points where your customer interacts with your company.

Anywhere a customer considers or needs your products or services is a customer interaction point, a point where you have the opportunity to sell or educate your customers. Ideally, your company should be able to do this in the most cost effective manner possible. Automation may be your key to reduce costs while serving customers.

In order to automate existing points of interaction you must first understand where they are in your business. Start by mapping out the steps a customer goes through to acquire or use your product. The simplest form of automation is self-service; determine if any of the steps that contribute to a purchase can be done without involving your staff. When you make it convenient for customers to serve themselves, you can reduce costs without compromising service quality.

Next, determine why a customer would engage in an interaction. What do they get (or hope to get) by contacting you. Seek first to provide for these desires to a customer in the most efficient manner possible, and then concentrate interactive efforts on answering questions about the individuals needs. This form of automation is called engagement.

When you understand what a customer expects to get out of an interaction, you can train your staff to anticipate their needs more effectively. This form of automation is called anticipation; it should lead to improvements in customer satisfaction.

In addition, you will want to document what kind of educational opportunities you can provide to help the customer better use your product, or acquire other products that solve specific problems they have. After you successfully provide what a customer desires from the interaction, ask if they would like one of these prepackaged offers that provides them additional value. This automation, called continuation, extends the customer relationship into a mutually beneficial exchange that a customer has the option to receive.

Another way to automate customer interaction points is through preparedness, this means having all the information you need for that interaction available as soon as the customer needs it. Identify data elements that will support customer desires at that point of interaction -- a well-integrated Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system is helpful for this. Have available product information, customer purchase history, and other data necessary to support the customers� desires.

You should also know which interaction point the customer came from, and which point is next. Help the customer down the interaction points if they form a series. This form of automation, called sequence, is particularly useful to move a customer from pre-sales to sales interaction points.

Finally, you must understand any points where conditional automation is necessary. Educate your staff to move customers along based on their needs and desires. Many times a customer will have a specific request at one point that would be best handled by another -- your people need to know where to send the customer to get what they desire.

While there are as many different types of customer interaction points as there are products, you will find three common to all businesses.

Work through these points looking for the different types of automation as described earlier. Identify specific actions you can take to improve the customers� experience, while reducing your costs, time in cycle, and number of steps. Learn to test only one action per point against your current methods. Before you know it, you will find the automation strategies right for your business.

Automation should reduce the costs of delivering goods and services while improving the customers� experience. How can you improve on what you already do while reducing costs?

© 2002 JWH Consolidated LLC dba Center for Strategic Relations, All rights reserved.
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Justin Hitt is the author of several business how-to publications including the "101 Strategies for more Profitable Customers" booklet, available on-line or by sending $7 and a self-addressed, double-stamped envelope to theCenter for Strategic Relations, Dept AA18,PO Box 3123, Martinsville, VA 24115, USA. Quantity discounts available.

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