SmartAdvice: Make Sure E-Business Bids Make Sense And Offer Value

Don't jump on the E-commerce bandwagon just because, <B>The Advisory Council</B> says--look for the business value. Also, Web services make building links with partners easier; and customer Web portals can work even in high-touch businesses.

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

November 4, 2004

4 Min Read

Question A: How might we use a customer Web portal effectively in a traditionally high-touch business?

Our advice: A goal of almost any business is to serve more customers, better, and more profitably. In a traditionally high-touch business, whether B-to-B (such as management consulting) or business-to-consumer (such as a doctor's office), this is accomplished by creating opportunities to spend time with more prospects and more customers, to constantly add value for them, while simultaneously striving to reduce the cost associated with the service delivery. Customer Web portals can help accomplish all three objectives:

  • Serve more customers by enabling routine customer-oriented activities, such as scheduling, billing, feedback and inquiry, to be moved to the portal.

  • Provide better customer service by enabling anytime/anywhere access to routine, yet personalized and valuable, information.

  • Increase profitability per "transaction" by reducing the need for expensive labor to provide the above routine functions and information.

The value that a customer receives in a typical high-touch business can be depicted as a bell curve, with "value received" on the Y-axis and the "time sequence of touch-points" on the X-axis. While the high-value touch-points toward the center of the service cycle are hard to replace by the use of a portal, since they require the personal expertise of the service provider, many of the touch-points before and after these high-value touch-points can at least partially be offloaded to a self-service portal.

Portal Features
What makes a customer Web portal effective, efficient, and useful are some or all of the following features:

  • Quick access to personalized information, order transactions, and support.

  • The ability to communicate with other customers, and to create peer networks.

  • The ability to select the information one will receive, when they receive it, and how they receive it.

  • Simple methods of sending feedback or for asking questions.

Critical Success Factors
Here's a checklist of the most-critical aspects to consider when implementing a customer Web portal:

  • High customer awareness: Customers must have a high degree of awareness of the portal and the services it offers.

  • Ease of use: Make products, services and information easy to find and access. The portal must be customizable.

  • Encouragement of revisits: Provide quality content and transactional capabilities. Encourage and reward customers to use it.

  • Trust: The portal must be in the spirit of the business itself by being trustworthy and secure, especially if it's to provide access to private data.

  • Customer control: Allow maximum possible control to the customers while ensuring compliance with privacy and other regulations.

  • Integrated service delivery: The portal must align with, integrate, and support the brick-and-mortar side of the business.

Stakeholder Advantages
The various internal and external organizational stakeholders are affected as follows:

  • The service provider is able to focus on those critical and valuable aspects of the customer interaction that require a personal touch.

  • The support staff at the business is freed from mundane tasks. They're now reachable not just in-person, but also via the portal using such features as chat.

  • The customers have access to personalized and valuable information anytime and anywhere.

High-tech and high-touch don't have to be mutually exclusive. Instead, implemented properly, they leverage each other's strengths, and support one another in areas where the other may present such opportunities. While technology won't replace the human touch, it can and does enable humans to serve others more quickly and efficiently.

--Sanjay Anand

Sourabh Hajela, TAC Expert, has more than 15 years of experience in strategy, planning, and delivery of IT capability to maximize shareholder value for corporations in major industries across North America, Europe, and Asia. He is a member of the faculty at the University of Phoenix, where he teaches courses in strategy, marketing, E-business, and leadership. Most recently, he was VP and the head of E-business with Prudential Financial.

Humayun Beg, TAC Thought Leader, has more than 20 years of experience in business IT management, technology deployment, and risk management. He has significant experience in all aspects of systems management, software development, and project management, and has held key positions in directing major IT initiatives and projects.

Sanjay Anand, TAC Expert, has more than 20 years of IT and business-process-management experience as a strategic adviser, certified consultant, speaker, and published author. More than 100 personal clients, large and small, have included companies from a diverse array of industries and geographies, from academia to technology and from Asia to the Americas. Often referred to as a "consultant's consultant" for training and mentoring skills. He is author of books "The Sarbanes-Oxley Guide for Finance and Information Technology Professionals" and "J.D. Edwards OneWorld: A Beginner's Guide."

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