One of the biggest issues that 62 social housing respondents in our customer service survey said they faced in 2008 was managing the integration of new software with existing business systems. Indeed, they have every right to be worried. Organisations are under increasing pressure to update their IT systems in order to meet their operational needs and those of their customers. Furthermore, they are also under pressure from outside influences, such as the soon-to-be-announced Oftenant, to show good delivery of customer service.
So why does the integration of old and new systems keep contact centre managers awake at night? It usually stems from a mismanagement of expectations, a lack of lateral thinking and unclear ownership.
Due to the uniqueness of the social housing sector, organisations have little comparable experience of IT systems and are therefore unsure of their requirements. Customer service and contact centre managers are frequently exposed to developments in the private sector, but their high expectations and desire to effect changes in service provision are let down by the systems in place.
There are two factors to consider here:
1. Legacy systems – the majority of existing IT systems were originally designed as asset and stock management systems. Customer front-end modules for existing systems have been developed and introduced gradually but many don’t appear to meet the needs of the provider. Managers complain about functionality and unfriendly interfaces that do not support their customer transactions because very often these systems do not have the required capabilities. For instance, your monitor might be able to show how many contacts you have had with a customer but it may not show you the level of detail required or be compatible with all legacy systems.
2. Specification of business requirements – many organisations are not sure of their business needs and are therefore unable to provide clear requirements. It is very easy to criticise IT departments and applications for not delivering, but this is unfair if there has never been accurate guidance in the first place.
In our view, both the contact centre and the IT department should source solutions together as a team with a clear demarcation of roles. The contact centre should first detail how it wants to operate and interact with customers before developing business processes that meet those needs. They should then outline and specify the requirements for a system that meets the business objectives.
Leave the integration and technical issues to the IT manager. IT departments should be concerned with taking the specification and overlaying their own technical needs such as interconnectivity and security. We see too many IT departments having to decide the business solutions and dictating how businesses operate. The final decision on system selection should be owned and taken by the end-user department but with technical input from IT. This approach will go a long way to resolving the issues.
Martin Jukes is director of mpathy Customer Experience.