New IT Resolutions

New Year’s resolutions. They seem simple in December, but by February, we’re struggling to uphold them. And retailers’ intentions are no different.

Currently, chains are trying to stick to their information-technology resolutions. However, I wonder how many chains vowed to merge call-center operations within their integration efforts—and are still on track.

We all know that systems-integration nirvana promises to replace ever-growing data streams and redundant-item files with a single, error-free version of the truth. Understandably, retailers tend to focus on integrating mission-critical systems first—especially those with a significant impact on the customer shopping experience.

That’s why I find it mind-boggling that many chains forget to add their call-center operations (a vital customer touchpoint for any retailer) into their systems-integration efforts.

Thinking about this issue reminded me of a car accident I had in 1996. A fire truck hit my legally parked car.

My story is a common one. I filed the claim with my insurance agency’s call center and then played the waiting game.

While trying to hunt down my reimbursement via phone a month later, the claims department transferred me to another division. Since the new department had no electronic record of the claim, I had to recount the accident with a new agent. Only then was the company finally able to trace and process the claim.

Sure, that was 11 years ago. Things must have improved since then, right? A recent experience informed me that the landscape really hasn’t changed much.

While trying to correct a technical issue affecting my home-office voicemail in December, I called my service provider’s help line. When the agent couldn’t solve the problem, I was transferred to technical support.

Rather than tap my file via the network, the IT agent asked me to repeat my dilemma. Realizing the issue was an internal networking problem (not a problem with my equipment), he promised to look into the issue and call me with a status report within 48 hours.

Sans my promised follow-up call, I re-called technical support a week later and recounted the problem for a third time. The issue was resolved seven days later.

I truly believe the experience was inefficient and painful due to the telecommunications company’s lack of enterprisewide integration. And leaving the call center out of the mix didn’t help.

The experience also immediately made me wonder how many retail chains are operating with similar networking silos.

As the retail industry consolidates on what seems like a daily basis, chains are clearly pursuing stronger brand recognition across their channels. Yet, only systems integration can support a seamless customer experience as consumers shop across channels. And the call center is the one common denominator linking all channels.

If my experiences hold any merit, they should remind retailers how frustrating and detrimental disparate systems—and uneducated call-center operators—can be.

If a chain is willing to take the time to make an IT resolution regarding systems integration, I urge it to review its intentions. Forgetting the importance of the call center will make or break that resolution.

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