By Mark Turner, Northern Europe VP of the Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise Marketing Group

As the economic backdrop starts to normalise, businesses are re-focusing their priorities from reducing costs to now growing their revenue. However, recent economical and sociological changes have given us new norms and new paradigms. The profile of society has dramatically shifted in the last few years and as Generation Y — or the Millennials — becomes a more significant customer and employee segment, their practices and preferences have greater influence on business strategy.

Disrupted business models

The world is mobile and cross-channel — and more in touch than ever before. This shift in customer communication preferences is disrupting traditional business models.

The result is that walls around the traditional ‘contact centre’ model for customer service have well and truly disappeared. Organisations must leverage their entire enterprise towards the customer experience, which requires a fundamental shift in management, organisation and engagement within the enterprise.

The Conversation Paradigm — a social phenomenon

The notion of a Conversation may seem simple — and it is — but moving into this new paradigm requires a fundamental shift in the way that most organisations currently drive their customer service. Socially, we have seen some structured conversation tools — Google Wave, for example — attempt to formalise the environment in which to conduct a conversation.

Informally, social media is a highly conversational environment. Twitter and Facebook are only two examples of how individuals connect with others, contextualising their lives by sharing not only thoughts and preferences, but also experiences (eg photos, videos) and discoveries (eg hyperlinks, emails or online media). These online conversations have a large amount of context surrounding them which peers will be aware of for future interactions.

The Conversation Paradigm — now an enterprise phenomenon

To identify and apply context to business-to-consumer conversations is the challenge that organisations must satisfy if they are to ensure that their customers become/remain loyal and therefore greater contributors to the bottom line.

Customers must be able to come and go from these conversations as they wish. It’s very simple for one friend to say to another “I’ll call you back in 15 minutes” or “IM me when you’ve watched this video”, but implementing that approach into the customer experience requires greater synchronisation across the enterprise to remember what happened 15 minutes ago or before the customer watched the video. An organisation must also be able to instantly see if/when a customer starts or continues a conversation across any channel.

Whether interactions are separated by hours, days or weeks, they must seamlessly continue in context with all previous experiences.

How to conduct a Conversation....dynamic engagement in a dynamic enterprise

To achieve this level of customer conversation, most businesses require a shift in their organisation and processes, which will enable them to engage dynamically across the whole enterprise with both employees and with customers.

So in order to embrace the new Conversation paradigm, a business needs to establish itself as a dynamic enterprise, increasing and integrating customer and employee engagement.

First, Dynamic Customer Engagement (DCE), which is the key to differentiating your organisation against your competitors — delivering the best customer experience and nurturing that consumer to become loyal and an advocate of your brand.

Achieving DCE requires a combination of different factors. Not only must businesses be able to accommodate multiple communication channels, but they must be able to organise their employees to deliver through them. This involves more detailed management of the workforce, especially skills, so that the workload can be effectively distributed throughout the enterprise.

The final piece of the customer engagement puzzle is to apply knowledge of the customer to the interaction.

Knowledge is power and 80 per cent of an organisation’s knowledge actually exists inside the heads of its employees. Dynamic Employee Engagement (DEE) is essential to encourage innovation from employees throughout the enterprise and sustain competitive differentiation.

Conversation between employees through tools like unified communications and collaboration solutions enable the enterprise to share and implement knowledge, as well as bring greater context to all customer engagement. Not only does this approach increase employee productivity and empowerment, but it also positively impacts the customer experience and the bottom line — because a single employee can collaborate in a homogeneous customer service approach across the enterprise, to make a real difference in a range of business situations.

Presence information, instant messaging and multiple media devices — seamlessly linked whether wired or mobile, office-based or remote — are all key capabilities in empowering Dynamic Employee Engagement.

What’s driving the change?

Millennials — 96 per cent of whom have joined a social network2 — are used to increased and more contextual interaction with their friends and family. Facebook alone sees 60 million status updates and 800 million pieces of content3 shared every day!

Consumers communicate with their peers anytime and now anywhere — 50% of the mobile Internet traffic in the UK is for Facebook. This shapes their communication expectations, but also means whatever impact your brand has on them can be shared with hundreds of others…immediately.

If you’re in any doubt on the brand damage that can be caused, reference events such as “United Breaks Guitars” — the YouTube campaign which has had almost 10 million hits across three videos, which are each 4.5 minutes of negative publicity for United Airlines. Estimates are that this PR ‘incident’ caused United’s share price to drop by around 10 per cent — losing it somewhere in the region of $180 million.

Homogeneous Customer Service Approach

Organisations have more insight into their customers now than ever before because relevant events, for example product repair or visits to a store, are often shared online. A Facebook status that says “Was let down by ‘Company X’ today”, should inform future interactions: now, complaints can be pre-empted to create a strong customer experience.

In order to deliver on this insight and conduct a continuous conversation with customers, organisations must have an enterprise-wide involvement in the conversation. Barriers between different parts of the organisation cannot exist and employees must be able to collaborate on any interaction.

This homogeneous approach to customer service — throughout the front and back offices — is a major adaptation to the current customer service approach that businesses must undertake.

Building the Dynamic Enterprise — no need to Rip and Replace
The Dynamic Enterprise has four building blocks — People, Process, Network and Knowledge. Knowledge is the key to delivering the customer experience that will truly lead to long-term, sustained differentiation. However, to unleash that knowledge from within employees and processes requires interconnected people, network and processes.

And it is precisely this sort of integration that will enable organisations to develop the Art of Conversation throughout their enterprise and deliver on the customer experience expectations of their consumers.