Last month’s ii2P Insights article described the initial steps that small and medium-sized businesses (SMB) should take, considering that implementing a self-service platform is both strategic to improving customer intimacy as well as reducing overall costs.

This month, Steve Carter, president and CEO of ii2P, describes one of the easier elements companies can implement to transition to a self-service model — automated self-service password reset solutions.

“If you peel back the covers and examine the monthly call volume coming into IT support help desks across all business environments, easily 25-40 percent of the reason employees call is because they’ve forgotten a password or locked themselves out of something,” Carter says.

Smart Business spoke with Carter about why self-service password management is something SMBs should take a hard look at.

Why is password management so important to SMBs?

Intellectual property theft is significant — it compromises an SMB’s oftentimes thin competitive edge. SMBs should be proactive when it comes to password management. After all, the cost to implement a secure solution is a fraction of what could be lost in intellectual capital.

Many SMBs look to cloud-based IT solutions to run their businesses and lower their costs. However, this sets them up for the greatest opportunity for IP theft. While some cloud companies do provide stringent security controls, it can be a bit alarming to have all your company IP centralized into the cloud.

Cloud based solutions offer convenience, but this is not the top priority for an SMB — security is. The SMB needs to understand that both convenience and security can be obtained. If you have spent money on a tool and are still calling a service desk for help, you are spending too much. It’s important to build a solution that is convenient for your end users and is also secure.

How big a problem is ineffective password management?

I’ve been in the IT industry for 30 years and password management consistently accounts for 25-40 percent of all calls that come into a help desk. This is a huge number. The loss of productivity for an end user is significant. It’s not just the office user, but also remote travelers who have to call the help desk to get their passwords so they can do their presentations. Every year, millions of dollars are spent answering customer reset problems.

If you bring the right solution to the table, you can reduce overall IT costs significantly. If end users adopt your solution, you are going to increase your security, decrease your costs and protect your intellectual capital. It’s important to begin the process by automating the password reset in a manner in which the end user will actually use.

By implementing the right technology security solution you can remove the exposure of the end user, who is the weakest link in the chain, and enhance your security by gradually making it more complex.

What are some of the available solutions and which ones are best for the SMB?

There are a lot of cloud-based solutions that cater to one key element: convenience. SMBs who utilize cloud-based solutions are susceptible to security breaches. My recommendation is to tailor a token-based solution. Countries in Europe, the Middle East and Asia  are already accepting the smartchip, token-type approach. This solution is not as prevalent in North America yet, but will become more and more common.

There are smartchip, token solutions out there now that have been engineered from the end user’s perspective. This ensures that the change in the business application of password management does not reside at the help desk, but with the end user. Also, when you use this approach you are able to build a solution that is tailored to your specific environment and is able to expand as your business grows.

How can SMBs benefit from self-service password management?

Password management is an ongoing and growing concern. The ability to secure passwords should be a priority for every business, whether it is small, medium or large. You should focus on the end user, making sure that they embrace the solution you provide, rather than ignoring it. If you choose the right solution — which in my opinion is a chip-based, token solution — you are going to realize four key benefits:

1) Increased security

2) Increased end user compliance

3) Increased end user productivity

4) Reduced cost for support

Steve Carter is president and CEO of ii2P. Reach him at (817) 442-9292 or scarter@ii2p.com.

Insights Technology is brought to you by ii2P

Published in Dallas

Last month Steve Carter, president and CEO of ii2P, challenged small and medium-sized businesses (SMB) to take a look at investment decisions around their current support models. This month, he stresses the importance of adopting a strong sense of urgency to avoid upcoming challenges.

“SMBs worldwide are projected to spend $1 trillion on IT by 2014. But unless something drastically changes, that spending could be like a heavy weight on a vessel headed into a perfect storm,” says Carter. “We want to stop, take a pause, and not repeat history by spending money on technologies without really looking for a composite solution.”

Smart Business spoke with Carter about the challenges SMBs face, how to avoid common traps and the importance of managing cost pressure while strengthening customer intimacy.

Why do you feel there needs to be a heightened sense of urgency around creating change this year?

There are two fundamental problems facing the SMB market space: 1) cost pressures to stay competitive; 2) customer intimacy is in jeopardy. All companies with products and services wrestle with relieving cost pressures to maintain competitiveness. However, the most significant challenge I see is declining customer intimacy. This is an aspect that has been ignored. In order to sustain and grow market share, maintaining customer intimacy is paramount. Overall, a quality customer experience is missing, which shows up in lost market share.

What factors do you feel are causing these challenges?

A perfect storm is described as having multiple conditions that are colliding at the same time. There is a perfect storm in the SMB market today. First, all too often we see both cost and customer intimacy elements are chained to an archaic standard support model. Such a model is actually designed to cost more to interact with the customer. Historically, this has been why companies scrambled to find ways to cut back on support costs. This standard model is also designed to drive customer interactions out because it costs so much and reflects pure overhead. What this does is create an environment for the SMB that says, ‘Use it less, find a way to reduce calls for support.’ Sounds like a good thing, but it is deceiving. It’s a death trap for the SMB.

At the same time the demographics of the end user have changed considerably and it is imperative that you respond to their wishes. Our clients have grown up in the technology world and favor what I call the ‘preferred end user support model’ — they prefer to satisfy the needs themselves rather than call a support center for help.

Lastly, by not considering and committing to a holistic approach when installing new technologies into your business, you are actually burdening your organization with incomplete and ineffective solutions.

How can the SMB know if it is facing the perfect storm?

There are some clear, obvious indicators that every SMB should use as beacons:

? Check your specific market growth. Has your business grown at a healthy rate? If you are not growing at a healthy rate, the storm will ultimately catch you.

? Check your client retention. This one is big. You can’t glaze over client loss as being a result of some external factor. Truth is, if you are losing clients, your model is working against you. The two key components are your cost competitiveness and your ability to be intimate with your end users.

? Check your profitability. This one should be obvious, but can be deceiving. If your margins are falling, for example, don’t automatically blame costs of raw materials. The cost of your support model is a more obvious culprit.

What options does an SMB have if it determines it is facing a perfect storm?

There are three options that always apply, and the first two are the most common traps that sink businesses. The first option is to do nothing. Keep steaming straight ahead, believing the situation will improve. The second option is planning to do something in the future. While this one doesn’t sound quite as bad as doing nothing, it has the same result: the longer you wait, the more you lose ground.

There is a third option: Do something new. Now is the time to face the perfect storm.

How should an SMB go about implementing a new approach in order to avoid the perfect storm?

The thing to remember is that surviving the storm requires a balance between the two elements I spoke of earlier: managing cost pressure while strengthening customer intimacy. The first step to bailing water out of your boat is to analyze and optimize your current support model. Then establish a clear strategy and create self-improving client intimacy through customer-facing self-service.

We’ve all made the mistake thinking that just purchasing technology is the answer. Take a new holistic approach that will bring technology, process and management disciplines as a complete and total solution. Examine the investment in current IT expenditures and make the hard assessment: ‘Am I getting real return on investment?’ If not, make a change. Finally, establish committed continuous improvement processes that focus on balancing the customer intimacy mandate with prudent cost management. With these approaches in place, clearing the perfect storm is simply a matter of having your clients use your new model more.

Steve Carter is president and CEO of ii2P. Reach him at (817) 442-9292 or scarter@ii2p.com.

Published in Dallas
Monday, 19 September 2011 13:27

5 keys for a next-generation contact center

In the 21st Century, delivering high-value customer interactions is a fundamental best practice. Today’s customers expect businesses to provide top-class service and support. That top-class customer support includes prompt responses to handle customer service promptly and professionally — without long hold times or countless transfers — as well as multimedia queuing to provide the same high level of service whether the interaction is through phone, fax, e-mail, Web chat or SMS.

Over the past several years, businesses have increasingly focused on improving customer support as a key element in their top-line strategy. In fact, industry analysts report that more than 80 percent of North American companies use customer experience as an area of differentiation. Contact, customer interaction and service centers are now clearly aligned directly with C-level objectives.

But companies need to provide exceptional customer service within the parameters of their respective budgets. The larger the customer base, typically, the tighter the margins and the more critical it is to provide best-in-class service in a cost-conscious matter. This is particularly true of middle-market companies and industries where expenses come under regulator scrutiny, like financial services providers and utility companies.

Among the myriad considerations for deploying your next-generation contact center, there are five major issues to consider when evaluating customer contact technologies. To meet the service needs of customers, both public and private enterprises today must look at technologies that provide:

Skills-based routing. This function gets the customer to the right agent quickly and easily. It greatly reduces or eliminates the need to transfer calls from specialist to specialist to resolve an issue. The quicker the issue is resolved, the more satisfied the customer and the less costly the interaction for the company.

Multimedia queuing. Today’s customer is likely to call one day, send an e-mail another time, and use SMS messaging for his next contact. This person expects to be able to contact a company via any and all of these methods, quickly and easily, and he expects the same high level of service on each communication channel. It is unacceptable to answer a call within a few rings, but to take several hours to reply to e-mails.

Presence. Any next-gen contact center needs powerful presence. This technology needs to accurately provide real-time information on the whereabouts and availability of staff, regardless of location. The most accurate and reliable solutions track mouse and keyboard movement as well as personal schedules to determine if a person is actually at his or her desk. This level of detail and intimacy helps maximize contact center efficiency by routing communications to the best available personnel.

Proven technology. A system might seem to have all of the elements necessary to deliver best-in-class customer service, but has it worked in practice? Does it scale to meet the increase in volume during promotions or other peak times — such as during a power outage for a utility? Have other firms successfully deployed the technology? What have been their results?

Professional services. Tied closely to the concept of proven technology is professional service for training, support and other business optimization activities. This enables the company to concentrate on what it does best and optimize workforce effectiveness while integrating a new system.

By leveraging the proper contact center technology with the right support, companies can provide the premier service that is necessary to differentiate from the competition. Organizations that realize this truth are adopting advanced customer interaction solutions to drive a sustainable competitive advantage.

A volatile economy has intensified the need to become more cost-effective and make decisions that will help your company evolve into a more effective, streamlined operation. The companies that will emerge successful when the economic dust settles will be those that invest in next-generation contact center and customer interaction solutions today to avoid customer and revenue loss tomorrow.

Ernie Wallerstein Jr. is President of Zeacom (www.Zeacom.com), a global provider of contact center, unified communications and process automation software, solutions and services. Nearly 4,000 enterprises across the globe count on Zeacom to optimize their workforce and drive operational efficiencies, cut costs and increase customer satisfaction.

Published in Orange County