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Business process nanagement (BPM) has undergone rapid evolution over the last few years.

In its infancy, BPM primarily focused on moving documents and information from "system to system" while largely ignoring human factors. BPM has continued its evolution by progressively incorporating more "human-centric" and role-based capabilities across the process lifecycle. This enables the people within an organization to take the appropriate action at the right time and to more directly drive the creation and management of the processes themselves with less dependence on IT.

However, while organizations have recognized the value of "human-centric" BPM solutions, these human interfaces have remained primarily focused on empowering decision makers to manage internal company processes from underwriting to risk management to approval. To date, little attention has been paid to customers and how their interactions fit into the business processes.

As organizations look to leverage BPM capabilities to interact directly with customers -- to manage business transactions, drive loyalty and retention campaigns or promote new product offerings -- they will be challenged to synchronize disparate corporate systems and integrate those across a multitude of communications channels. Customer-oriented communication channels began with the Web, but now include smartphones, chat programs, SMS, social networking and Interactive Voice Response Today, perhaps more than ever, organizations are recognizing the importance of enabling customers to directly engage with the business in an effort to stay ahead of the competition. Price and products alone no longer set the company apart.

Instead, the quality of customer experience and ease of access can mean the difference between a loyal customer for life and one that takes his or her business elsewhere. In fact, some sources claim that up to 70% of the identifiable reasons why customers leave typical companies has nothing to do with the core offering; instead, it's poor quality of service that's driving people to switch.

This isn't to say that product offerings are no longer a factor in a company's success. Instead, as companies continue to look for ways to enrich the customer experience, they must also be prepared to provide a steady stream of new and innovative products, whether a unique combination of existing services coupled with new price points, or perhaps an entirely new line of products or services. Each offering should be tailored to target market segments and individual customer communication preferences.

Of course, customers have always been an important consideration for any successful business. But today's customer looks vastly different from the customer of five--or even two--years ago.

Customers are increasingly tech-savvy and expect 24/7 access to their accounts and services across a variety of applications and communications channels. They expect to do business with their providers whenever and however they want, and they expect that their interactions will provide them with immediately actionable information that is never out of date. In short,they expect more than ever from the companies with which they do business.

What's more, it's increasingly easy for customers to take their business from one provider to another, and they're not afraid to do so. More provider options, combined with more ways to communicate and daily changes in how customers consume information, is making it more difficult and more expensive to attract new customer while also making it easier for existing customers to take their business elsewhere. That situation provides organizations with any number of new challenges when it comes to winning customers and keeping them happy for life.

COMPANIES INCREASE FOCUS ON CUSTOMER ENGAGEMENT
These factors, together with a difficult financial environment, have companies focusing more than ever on customer engagement: maintaining customer loyalty, developing cross-sell, up-sell and partnering programs and, especially, on acquiring new customers more efficiently. Companies are spending billions of dollars on systems in an attempt to engage customers and prospects in conversations that are richer and more consistent than their competitors.

Yet even with a concerted focus on improved customer engagement, the overall customer experience can easily be in jeopardy as a result of disjointed and poorly integrated business systems, along with traditional enterprise models that are ill-equipped and failing to keep pace with today's accelerated rate of change.

Many companies are attempting to address the customer engagement challenge by piecing together traditional enterprise tools, such as CRM, BPM, BI and custom-built portals, only to find that these traditional technologies are not able to keep up with the rapid addition of new communications channels and the way customers expect to do business today. Most of these applications rely on hard-coded portals and unique integrations to back-end systems, requiring specific implementations for every new initiative, across every communication channel. With the continuous introduction of new channels in recent years - including Web, mobile and social networks such as Facebook and Twitter - innovating and promoting new products effectively and quickly becomes increasingly difficult.

BPM's system-to-system focus, coupled with individually maintained portals across a growing number of channels, is creating complex maintenance challenges that are a burden to the business and ultimately put the customer base at risk. To "delight customers," BPM should be enhanced to incorporate human factors into interactions that can be consumed across any number of channels from a single implementation. Yet it can be difficult, if not impossible, for any organization to anticipate what the next great social media channel will be for customers. For organizations using technologies that require hand-coding to develop new customer campaigns, this challenge can be even more risky. Writing a specific program for each communication channel can be time-consuming and costly, and the company has no guarantee as to which channel will be embraced by the customer for any given campaign.

That leaves a company with two less-than-desirable options: Invest a lot of time and money in developing a campaign for a specific channel - Twitter,for example - without knowing whether customers will embrace it. Or wait to see if a channel takes hold before developing a campaign around it, in which case you're no longer ahead of the competition.

By putting the customer first, organizations can focus on ensuring the real-time synchronization of data and processes across all media channels. Automated processes allow all data entered by customers, employees, suppliers and business partners to be available immediately across every communication channel, ensuring that customers never have to be asked twice for the same information.

Successful companies today are embracing a new way of thinking about BPM--one that combines the necessary business processes to drive successful campaigns while also still focusing on true customer engagement. This new BPM puts customers first, communicating with them when, where and how they specify, but does so in a way that is efficient and profitable for the business. This new style of BPM allows an organization to anticipate and respond to customer preferences, global events and industry changes quickly, while always staying one step ahead of the competition.

Satisfied customers have always been the key to any successful organization. The BPM of today and tomorrow embraces this fact, allowing businesses to engage with their customers in a way they never have before.



About the Author

Brenton Farmer, chief executive officer and co-founder of Interactive Softworks, brings more than 20 years experience building companies that deliver innovative and award-winning software products. Brenton co-founded Interactive Softworks in 2001 with an interest in improving how people and business systems exchange information and in new and evolving models of business interaction, Brenton is pioneering fully integrated multi-channel communications solutions that improve the way businesses, customers and partners interact. Brent’s strong entrepreneurial spirit and extensive technology background provides the driving force behind Interactive Softworks’ strategic vision.

More by Brenton Farmer

About Interactive Softworks

Interactive Softworks customer engagement solutions improve the way organizations engage customers by synchronizing critical real-time data with back-end processes and driving individualized customer interactions across multiple communication channels (voice, Web, IVR, chat and social media). Interactive's solutions represent the next step in Business Process Management (BPM) and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems, enabling smarter and more consistent customer experiences that leverage partner and market-driven opportunities. Today, Interactive Softworks optimizes business performance and delivers successful customer acquisition, loyalty and retention campaigns for innovative Fortune 500 companies. For more information, visit www.interactivesoftworks.com or call 703-669-2800.

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