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INFO TECHNOLOGY

Internet simplifies client relations

Q: Our firm has several different departments, each of which handles customers in isolation. How can we streamline this interaction so that we don't double up or miss opportunities?
A: This is common in medium- to large-sized firms. Sales, accounts and service departments all deal with the same customer during the sales cycle, but frequently have little idea of what contact other departments have had with that customer. This leads to poor customer handling and an inability to anticipate and respond to their needs.
This can be alleviated by intelligent use of applications. Is your contact management system integrated with your accounts software? Does your support team know what combination of products a customer is using? Do your sales people know what calls have been made to the helpdesk? All these can streamline customer management.

Q: Our firm has several different departments, each of which handles customers in isolation. How can we streamline this interaction so that we don't double up or miss opportunities?

A: This is common in medium- to large-sized firms. Sales, accounts and service departments all deal with the same customer during the sales cycle, but frequently have little idea of what contact other departments have had with that customer. This leads to poor customer handling and an inability to anticipate and respond to their needs.

This can be alleviated by intelligent use of applications. Is your contact management system integrated with your accounts software? Does your support team know what combination of products a customer is using? Do your sales people know what calls have been made to the helpdesk? All these can streamline customer management.

Moving your process and data to an internet-based solution is the most effective way to streamline your business. The first step is to create a single database for all customer data. With an internet-enabled solution, this can interface with all customer-facing applications; financials, contact management, helpdesk, web site, call centre and so on. If you already have many point solutions, integrating them may prove costly, so you should also look at the ready-integrated suites available on the market, which may prove less expensive in the long run.

When all customer data is in the central database, you can use a business intelligence tool to mine that data for customer behaviour trends, and plan your marketing campaigns accordingly. This should highlight opportunities that you may not even have suspected existed, and because everyone is using the same data, you will eliminate overlap or omissions.

Q: Our sales people take paper forms into the field. We'd like to speed things up by giving them laptops with sales software. What sort of software should we buy?

A: There are two main advantages to using internet-enabed field sales software. Sales can be concluded more quickly, as the sales person has up-to-date product information and customer histories at his/her fingertips; and the faster a sale can be concluded, the happier the customer will be, and the more inclined to remain loyal to your firm.

The solutions currently available fall into two broad categories; point solutions and packages that are part of a wider suite of business applications. If you are planning to extend your sales channel to include e-commerce and/or a call centre, it is advisable to select an integrated suite. This way all of your sales channels will be able to work in harmony.

Some of today's applications are Internet-based, residing on a central server instead of on each laptop. The salesperson accesses the application on the company's Intranet via a browser. If you select an Internet-based application, you may not need the extra functionality that comes with a laptop, so look instead for Internet-enabled handheld devices which should be less costly.

Michael Klemen is Senior Vice President, Applications Marketing, Oracle EMEA. Questions and comments may be sent to mfischer@oracle.com

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