Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) have had a great impact in the way business is conducted in the modern world. Several companies in different sectors have incorporated technology in their operational and strategic management. The research paper discusses extranets customer care service, a form of technology that continues to be used by different companies. The paper correlates its contribution to business and competitive intelligence and the impact of such intelligence in business. This is achieved by discussing the kind of intelligence gained from extranets customer care service.
According to Scheps (2007), in Business Intelligence for Dummies, business intelligence (BI) is the application of technology that works together to access, analyze and present data that can be used in better decision making on products, customers, competitors among others. For example, the credit manager of a mortgage investment firm being able to identify the clients that are about to default on monthly payments in advance. Another situation is the ability of a sales and marketing manager of a horticultural company to predict which products are going to sell most six months in advance. This kind of knowledge is advantageous to the individuals above because it provides them with a competitive edge in their industry.
Competitive intelligence is a continuous formal process in which the senior management of a company assesses the evolution of the industry and competitors abilities and strength in its current state assisting in maintaining or developing a competitive advantage it operates in (Prescott and Gibbons, 1993, p.388). Competitive intelligence ensures that the institutions have accurate, updated information about their competitors and plan with the information to their advantage (McGonagle & Vella, 1990). An example is a company that plans to launch a particular product to attract customers. The competitor who gets the intelligence may decide to slightly lower prices so that not many if any of the customers are lost.
An extranet is a private connection of various companies’ computer networks for communication and transaction amongst business partners, suppliers, and or customers to enhance trade (Eckersley, et al., 2003, p. 48). When used to offer customer care service, we talk of customer care extranets. For example, several airline companies connecting their networks to allow customers connect the airlines to reach their destinations. Access to product manuals and technical specifications is also provided in the manufacturing industry ranging from electronics to automobiles among others through extranets.
Although installation of extranet customer cares service is expensive and involving to businesses, the benefits are actually enormous especially in sourcing of business and competitive intelligence.
A key component of extranet customer care service is online operation, and hence electronic transactions leading to e-commerce. This form of business entails supplying information to internal and external customers amounting to greater business intelligence. The main objective of seeking intelligence is to have a competitive advantage and improve the business performance. Various aspects of business and competitive intelligence are developed through extranet customer care service to improve the company in different ways.
Competitive and business intelligence helps in planning and decision-making of business strategies. In cases of mergers and acquisitions, the more information gained about the company companies involved the more bargaining hand one has in the deal. Companies that use extranet systems share a lot of internal information with the others that are in the same system. This information can be acquired by interested parties within the extranet. There is likelihood that companies that share the same extranet system are depended on each other mainly through the supply and distribution chain. In the event of a merger or acquisition, the concern companies are more aware of the effectiveness of each others operations. The deal, therefore, is likely to give worth for the company and not get inflated from either side. This is possible due to the fact that inside information is shared with the company that is bidding. The decision-making process is therefore positively enhanced.
Early warning and planning
Extranet customer care services involve instant interaction with customers, suppliers, and the distribution of products. A break in this system or delay is easily notable. This can be used to detect looming crisis and take necessary steps to avert any business threat. For instance, in the event that the suppliers do not post some necessary data in the system, the distributors would already be suspecting imminent delay in the delivery of supplies. This intelligence could be gained way before any official communication is made to them and therefore planning for the eventuality in time can be achieved. The instant electronic data from customers is easy to analyze for any trends that may use such as demand of particular products over others. This kind of competitive intelligence gives constant current information on market trends and greatly helps in cost-effective production of goods. If from the data some brands of a company goods or services continue to have a high turnover rate, then the company may manufacture more of these and reduce the level of manufacturing of other products in order generate more income from the faster moving product.
Visibility and collaboration
When customers are allowed full access to the details of the products, the intelligence they provide is not limited to identifying possible faults that may be in the products. Clients help in identifying the mistakes and sometimes come up with solutions to the error. This is helpful in improving the value of goods and services offered. In addition, most services that generate business intelligence come at a fee which is revenue to the firms (Whiting, 2002, para.3). Owens & Minor Inc is one such company that made money through that method. The company allowed customers to access data that helped them in proper planning of their budgets. It then monitored the eligibility for volume rebates and the fulfillment in the placed orders. At a nominal fee to access the data via an extranet network system, the company made in excess of $60 million in a year. At the time, no company utilized the vast data they received about clients in this positive manner. The intelligence to venture into this kind of sale came from analysis of the vast data that customers were feeding in to be more comfortable.
Use of extranet customer care service helps in the gathering of information on customer satisfaction. Customer satisfaction is imperative in good business so that growth can be achieved. These kinds of information include comparison of the product being offered and what the market has for competition. Competitive intelligence should help businesses to be dynamic in versatile market environments in order to survive. Gaining of information about consumer reactions to products that compete with your products is cutting edge in overtaking other competitors in the market. If well acted upon, the risk of loosing more market share is reduced. The intelligence provided can point into the direction of customer desires, failures of competitors, or even tour own products. The risk is reduced by a margin compared to cases in which such information is not available. As a precautionary measure, business insert applications on their extranet customer care services that allow customers to give their views, or opinions on the type of services or products that they offer. This rather seemingly good gesture for interaction with customers is significant in provision of business intelligence. It is important in good business to reduce chances of risk by any margin.
Fast delivery of service
Customers do not like delays and waiting for too long to access services. The fast instant option that extranet customer care service offers is invaluable in achieving customer satisfaction. This makes them more satisfied and remain loyal to the business. Kramer (2010, para.6), asserts that this loyalty is demonstrated in different ways. An example is the existence of users who form their profiles and load them with personal details such as account numbers. In so doing, a lot of business intelligence is gathered from the constant interaction. If more customers make inquiries about a specific product and not the others, then informed decisions can be made in advertisement. The data is easily picked from the information provided by customers and then analyzed. Since businesses are shifting ICT-based transactions, competitive intelligence demands that dynamic business shift from historical conventional ways of operation. Use of extranet customer care service by a business is a shift in the right direction as per these principles.
Monitoring of performance
Supervision of employees performance is a task that every organization undertake in a bid to optimize the value of human resources. Business intelligence gained through monitoring of the input of employees is vital in management of the human resources departments of companies. No business is willing to pay individuals who do not perform well in their duties. On the other hand, those clearly undertake their responsibilities are gladly remunerated. This is always checked by immediate supervisors who could be biased either positively or negatively depending on their relationship with the employee. Extranet customer care service accurately provides this information with limited distortion. The computers forming part of the extranet system are logged into by the employees using passwords. Time spent by individuals at work and the type of job done can easily be measured every time someone logs in. The service not only provides this intelligence but also reduce the workload of supervisors.
Before companies switch over to extranet customer care system, efforts should be made to educate the target users of the system to optimize benefits. Information should also be positively regulated to avoid over-exposure of company secrets in a way that may be harmful. There should however be a trade-off so that sufficient information is supplied tom satisfy customer demands. Language barriers in self interpreted texts should be reduced and clarifications made considering individuals diversity for global companies. A good cost-effectiveness assessment should be undertaken in detail before these systems are implemented (Accenture, 2006, para.6).
Competition in every industry demands that companies look for every opportunity to improve. Business and competitive intelligence, therefore, is vital for any company that wants to move ahead and have competitive advantage. Extranet customer care service helps in the development of this intelligence. If well-made use of, intelligence gathered from this source has several benefits such as increased marketing, revenue growth, and enhanced visibility and collaboration. Customer satisfaction and loyalty are also improved in addition to business efficiency and cost-saving.
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