Go From Transactions to Interactions

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As efficiency becomes the mantra for companies, e-commerce systems must move from simply managing transactions to providing personalized, real-time, customized service to customers.


In the early days of e-commerce, companies used the Internet to expand the markets for their products and services and to streamline business processes, reducing product and labor costs. The supporting e-commerce technology let companies interact with customers on a basic level through simple transactions such as ordering, fulfilling a service request or billing.


With the new demands of profitability from e-commerce operations, companies need to maintain and grow strong personal relationships with their customer bases. After all, companies receive higher returns on their investments by providing targeted, high-quality, value-added service. Companies need to create customer interaction management systems that not only manage transactions, but also provide advice and recommendations based on an understanding of customers' needs.


Customer interaction management systems offer huge potential for meeting the service demands of consumers and businesses. Using the Web, companies can collect vast quantities of information in real time, sharing it throughout the organization to better understand customers. However, that information lies in disparate systems, making it difficult to organize and analyze.


Also, there is no simple way to capture internal corporate knowledge to apply to the information and send it across multiple media in the electronic channel. As a result, comprehensive customer information has not been available for use in analyzing customer requirements without major application integration projects that could take three years in a Fortune 1,000 company.


Moreover, personalization applications that offer added value to customers by making product recommendations have been rudimentary at best. Most such systems have made simple recommendations based on preferences of customers with similar interests.


To realize the promise of advanced customer interaction management systems, companies must gather from and dispense information to all customer touch points, as well as consolidate and analyze information in real time. Since most companies doing business on the Web lack the time or resources to build a data warehouse from scratch, the ideal solution is to leverage the information they collect without completely reworking existing corporate information technology infrastructures.


The technologies required to turn existing stovepipe systems into a modern customer interaction management system include the following:


• Data access. The IT infrastructure needs to support standards such as JDBC, JMS, Jini and EJB to enable access to and a combination of data from disparate and heterogeneous sources, including the Web, relational databases and VSAM or IMS files.


• Intelligent agent technology. Intelligent agents allow organizations to seamlessly access and process key data without disrupting the flow of information among systems. Such agents can independently analyze data structures, identify bad data and keep track of changes from any Java-compliant data source on the fly, without the need to pre-process information.


• XML for data exchange. XML is the de facto standard content description language. XML acts as a lingua franca, allowing organizations from different industries to communicate easily.


• Business modeling. Such a system should define business rules and predictive models for use in analyzing data to produce insight and knowledge about the customer. Organizations can more accurately predict and address the needs of customers in a sophisticated and personalized manner. The system must look at past customer behavior and market conditions and extrapolate to future possibilities in order to make the right recommendation to each of these customers.


By incorporating a customer interaction management infrastructure that uses the data access, intelligent agent, XML and business modeling technologies, businesses can gain the comprehensive data access and analysis capabilities they need to provide the most effective services to their customers.


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