This week Generation-e hosted Microsoft’s Australian Skype for Business launch at Dockside in Sydney’s Darling Harbour, and as a partner of Generation-e and Microsoft, we were proud to be a silver sponsor of the event.
There was a great turn out of partners and customers who came along to learn about the benefits of Skype for Business, which they received from a selection of streamed presentations throughout the day. For me though, the standout was the keynote presentation which included a speech by Tim Sheedy of Forester. He outlined that customer-activated communication and collaboration is the future of unified communications.
Skype for Business is very much about looking at the future of UC. How customers are changing the way in which they engage with businesses, and how we need to evolve to match their expectations and create a good customer journey.
I have already mentioned in my own blogs about the need for businesses to prioritise customer experience and satisfaction, and this was very much at the centre of Tim’s thinking too.
To help us understand the current position for businesses, Tim took us back and talked about industry over the last 100 years, and how the ‘competitive edge’ has evolved during this era. Tim broke it down into several different ‘ages’, and that we are currently in the ‘Age of the Customer’.
First up is the ‘Age of Manufacturing’. Going back to the early 1900’s the world was very much at the height of the manufacturing boom. During this period, to gain a competitive advantage you needed to make a better product than the competition. Companies like Ford were among some of the leaders in this age.
But as we entered the middle of the 1900s, manufacturing capabilities were improving, and more businesses were able to play catch up and create competitive products. That type of competitive advantage was on the wane, and it started to become less about the quality of the product, and more about the quantity.
Enter the ‘Age of Distribution’. This period saw in influx of businesses whose strategy, and competitive advantage, was their ability to shift product, with the happy side effect of lower prices this brought. In the US, Walmart was, and still is, the standout, and they still enjoy a stranglehold on the US market today (well, from a bricks and mortar perspective).
We also saw Asian car companies like Toyota emerging into the global market thanks to their ability to mass-produce their products, allowing them to gain a good foothold in the overseas markets of America and Europe.
Towards the end of the century, and the 1990s, we entered the ‘Age of Information’, which lasted for about the next 20 years. As its name suggests the competitive advantage for businesses during this era was information, and getting as much of it as possible. Customer loyalty programs took on a life of their own, but ironically these programs actually had very little to do with customer loyalty. Yes, there were some sweeteners in there, but it was about getting information from the customer, to use against the customer, to get more money from the customer.
However, information is now so readily available and accessible to everyone, it is no longer a competitive advantage, which brings us to the present day – the ‘Age of the Customer’.
Now, with beautiful irony, access to information, that was so veraciously used by business to gain an advantage, is now being used by customers to gain their own advantage. The customers now have the power. So in this ‘age’ what is the competitive advantage for business? It is your relationship with the customer. That is now the one true differentiator.
In the next 20-year cycle the most successful enterprises will reinvent themselves to understand and serve increasingly powerful customers. That applies to both B2B and B2C customers. While businesses should have more of their staff and departments being involved with customer interactions, the Contact Centre will obviously play a pivotal part in customer engagement.
After conducting their own online research, the Contact Centre will likely be the next port of call for any questions, and customers expect to engage with your business in whichever way, and by whichever channel, suits them. Adopting an OMNI-channel approach, and being able to transfer them between channels, will reduce friction from the process.
Data plays a massive part in the Contact Centre providing a good experience. Having the relevant data at hand will speed up the process and make the journey as painless as possible for the customer. It will allow staff to be more informed, anticipate a customer’s problem, leading to quicker resolutions.
Looking to the future, Tim noted that the ‘data’ available to Contact Centre staff will evolve too. If a customer is looking at their bank account on a smartphone, the Contact Centre person will be able to hit a button, and bring up that view too, so they can see what the customer is seeing, making the whole interaction easier, and far more satisfying for the customer. This will ensure the best possible customer experience, creating a better customer relationship outcome, which in Tim’s ‘Age of the Customer’, is the competitive advantage you are looking for.