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Customer Care: Microsoft Moves In

Systems heavyweight broadens its industry footprint.

Fortnightly Magazine - July 2007

and order-management business systems.

CCF brings together legacy systems, enterprise applications, and custom systems, allowing customer agents to greet customers by name, and more immediately address customer needs, without asking for customer data that previously might have been entered into multiple systems.

The result: Wait times are reduced, improving the customer experience and decreasing average call-handle times.

A Package Deal

Over the years, many utilities have created a hodgepodge of their customer systems. Industry deregulation, followed by new regulations from state and local governments and a wave of mergers and acquisitions, has led to high-cost, inflexible systems, which has led to high turnover rates in call centers.

“You don’t get good customer service because the systems aren’t integrated,” Arnold says. “You get patches, with the customer- `service representative looking at multiple systems.”

The CCF makes up part of a broader set of Microsoft offerings, which have been brought together in a way that makes the company’s existing technology and products more palatable to the utilities industry. It’s a viable option, says Sapient’s Milstead. Although the consultancy considers itself vendor agnostic, it has implemented Microsoft solutions for some clients.

“I think [Microsoft has] reached a maturity stage for their somewhat generalist application structure,” Milstead says. “Over the past five years, they’ve been thinking about how to drive solutions into these industries. They’ve said, ‘What if our clients don’t want the blue-sky possibilities of our tools? What if they simply want a solution? We owe them a solution.’”

The answer was to package the company’s existing technology and services in a way that made them a viable industry alternative.

“Microsoft has realized that it has to sound a lot more like a package, because it’s competing against these other packages that have huge install bases,” Milstead says. “So they’ve taken pieces of the application portfolio and done a fairly good job putting them together from an integration standpoint. They haven’t done anything new necessarily except use the toolsets that they have.”

It’s a strategy that applies for companies interested in running the most efficient operation they can.

“You never hear a CEO talk about that, but that’s really where the value is—figuring out process by process if you need new technology or can do a better job with what you have. There’s no one answer. Some utilities have 20-year-old customer-service systems,” Milstead says. “It might make sense to look at replacing it. Some customer-service systems are only 10 years old. Maybe there’s stuff we can do for the next 5 to 10 years simply to tie it in better to other systems.

“It’s not then about technology driving change. It’s about focusing on your business processes and making the modifications to the technology that you need to make.”

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