Closing the Gap with Larger Competitors - InformationWeek

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Government // Enterprise Architecture
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6/30/2008
03:59 PM
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Closing the Gap with Larger Competitors

A converged network allows small and midsize businesses to regain their edge over their larger competitors and once again get closer to their customers

Traditionally, small and midsize businesses have been more agile and more intimate with their customers than the typical large company could ever hope to be.

But we saw a major shift in the late '90s when large enterprises began taking advantage of networked solutions to establish effective communications channels and enable systems to share up-to-date customer information. This allowed customer-facing representatives across the enterprise to provide an enhanced customer experience thanks to their improved access to information. Suddenly, even the biggest companies could be closer to their customers and more effectively address their needs. Now the tide has turned once again. These network-based tools like voice over IP, or VoIP -- once reserved for large companies with dedicated IT staffs and hefty budgets -- are now easy for small and midsize businesses to buy, deploy, and support as well.

One Network, Many Applications
A number of reasons have now made these sophisticated applications available for small and midsize businesses. Chief among these is the network itself. In the past, companies maintained disparate networks -- one for voice communications, another for data, and possibly others for discrete business systems such as enterprise resource planning (ERP). Increasingly, small and midsize businesses are merging these networks into one intelligent, secure Internet Protocol network that reduces operating costs and boosts employee productivity. By 2010, approximately 40% of companies will have integrated their voice and data communications into a single network, according to estimates from research firm Gartner.

A converged IP network is less expensive to design and operate, simpler to manage and maintain, and handles data, voice, and video traffic. This makes it possible for small and midsize businesses to enhance their interactions with customers, who increasingly expect an efficient, positive experience when they communicate with companies, no matter the size. Small and midsize businesses that have already converged their networks are deploying a wide variety of applications that take advantage of this synthesis.

For example, they can integrate a call-center application to their customer and -- increasingly -- ERP systems, allowing representatives not only to instantly retrieve updated customer information, but also accurate supply chain data such as current inventory levels or delivery schedules.


Don't Miss: 8 Strategies for First-Rate Customer Service


Also consider the range of unified communications applications available to small and midsize businesses. A large percentage of customer interactions still take place over the phone. Tools like integrated voice and data messaging -- which allows you to retrieve voice mail and e-mail from a single in-box -- help employees communicate more efficiently with customers. Calls can also roll from one device to another -- from a desk phone to a mobile device to a home phone, for example -- which enables customers to connect with employees with a single call.

IP-based call-center solutions for small and midsize businesses allow businesses to route customer calls to the employee who can best address the customer issue -- even based on parameters such as availability, language preference, or specialized expertise.

Employees also have fast access to current customer data, improving their ability to provide superior service and increase loyalty.

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