W hy do e-business initiatives fail? Poorly deployed technology, you might say. However, in reality most times the technology is the easy part. You may have the best system, technologically, that can be built. The system may perform faster queries and transactions, but still not deliver increases in your sales volume and customer retention/growth rates. Why? Because the system, for all its technological soundness, is not customer focused enough to enable you to delight your customers. These days, when competitors literally spring up overnight and innovation is as commonplace as bread on store shelves, businesses cannot afford to only competently serve their customers. The customer must literally be delighted by your services and products.

To make your e-business system customer focused, you need more than technologically sound information systems. Your organization's processes, people and systems must function symbiotically to meet and exceed customer needs and wants. All parts of the organization must interface ­ must be aware of and supportive of the functions of other parts ­ to ensure that you can continually delight your customers in an ever-changing marketplace. There are three steps your organization can take to form that symbiotic relationship between people, processes and systems. They are:

  1. Employ customer- focused people at every level of the organization.
  2. Build processes that are simple to execute and flexible enough to change with changing times.
  3. Build information systems that are supportive of your nimble business processes and that enable your customer-focused people to help delight your customers.

Sometimes executive management assumes that employees at all levels and functions of the organization will be customer focused. Unfortunately, this is not always ­ or even usually ­ the case. The reasons are myriad. Some employees may simply not care, some may not think their jobs have anything to do with serving the customer and some just may not understand how their actions can ultimately affect the way the organization serves its customers.
Whatever the reason, it is critical for executive management to sound a clarion call to let every employee in the entire company know that their actions do affect customer service. Employees everywhere (such as those in accounting, customer service, procurement, etc.) must understand that the focus of their jobs is to make the customer is happy. Management at all levels must foster a culture of service, not just pay lip service to it. This first step, however, is just the beginning. Once the people are in place, they must have the use of business processes to support their efforts.

No matter how good the organization's people are, if they are frustrated in their efforts to delight the customer by old, slow, nonfunctional business processes, your e-business effort has a better than average chance of not providing a solid ROI. However, if the people and processes work together to serve the customer, the results can be astounding both in customer and revenue growth.

Good processes in today's e-business marketplace are nimble ones. They can change as needs dictate. Instead of providing a narrowly threaded path with only one right way, they provide a general framework with limits and procedures ­ but with the agility to allow employees to make decisions about what will work best in certain situations. These situationally dependent processes must have two general characteristics: flexibility and simplicity. They must be flexible enough to allow for the fact that all customers do not have the same needs and desires, and they must be simple enough to be followed and changed with a minimum of organizational red tape. People and processes don't function in a vacuum, however. They need sound technological support. That's where information systems play a critical role.

Technologically robust information systems are not enough to ensure e-business success. Information systems must be completely supportive of your customer-focused business culture. They must provide timely, reliable information on individual customers as well as on customer trends and habits. They also must accomplish these feats while being easy to use. If all levels of your organization are to be customer focused, all levels ­ and all types ­ of employees must be able to use the systems to help the customer. The systems need to accommodate many levels of computer knowledge and ability. These robust, but easy to use, information systems are the final key to delighting your customers.

If you take these three steps of integrating customer- focused people, processes and information systems to form a symbiotic relationship, your e-business initiative has a good chance of success. If not, the road becomes more treacherous. Integrating these components is not always easy, but it will serve your organization enormously in the long run. It will also enable you to concentrate on your customers, rather than nagging internal problems and inconsistencies. That's what it's all about: having your business house in order so that your entire focus can be on serving the customer better than your competition and growing the business in the process.

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