INOVO's Thinus Janse van Rensburg: Four ways customers should drive a CFO's IT spend

CFOs have traditionally not had to engage with IT. The CIO or other IT execs would simply recommend that the company adopt certain technologies without explaining how those technologies benefit the company. Buzzwords about technology and business processes can be impressive or baffling, depending on the level of communication between departments. It has become increasingly apparent that CFOs can benefit from engaging with IT, and that this engagement has a direct impact on profitability.

Thinus Janse van Rensburg, Managing Director at INOVO, a leading contact centre business solutions provider, suggests five ways CFOs can get closer to understanding how the customer relationship is their ultimate responsibility and how IT plays a role in producing the desired outcome.

Making sense of buzzwords

Omni-channel, actionable intelligence, cloud, big data: these are all components of IT. Their roles and usefulness can be defined in ways that describe how these contribute to the efficiency and productivity of the company. While a CFO may not need to understand all of the complex processes in place, a general description that lays out how these assist in boosting accuracy and speed within processes to benefit staff and customers is useful.

Companies are no longer buying IT because it is trendy or fun. There must be practical, measurable benefits to the capital outlay. Research done by Techtarget shows that 85% percent of companies have adopted Business Intelligence (BI), while 52% of companies have deployed more than one BI tool.

This trend underscores the shift away from IT departments being insular, adopting IT for use within the IT department alone. BI is shifting the uses for and necessity of IT throughout the company for the benefit of management, team members and customers, and the engaged CFO can no longer isolate their role to be just about financial, budgetary or company spending. The co-engagement of CFOs and CIOs ensures that IT is optimised in ways that increase the bottom line.

Before business solutions are implemented there must be agreement between the CFO and CIO in terms of what the desired outcomes are and how the business solutions will be evaluated. Since these outcomes will tap into many areas within the business, the input from both CFO and CIO will ensure that the business solution caters for all those requirements.

For example, these agreements could aid in defining:

  • What type of data sources must be connected to in order to have all the data available for reporting and how this data will be displayed;
  • What data must be real time and what data only needs to be updated hourly or daily;
  • Who will have access to what data; and
  • From where and with which devices the data must be accessed.

From these kinds of questions, a list of requirements can be created in order to identify or develop a business solution that meets those needs. Doing this ensures that costs are saved in the long term, improving the return on investment (ROI).

ROI is critical when it comes to budgeting for IT: the best solution may not be the cheapest one, but the one that in the long term offers the best ROI. When purchasing a business solution, implementation is important - it is important to buy from companies that implement their solutions with a focus on offering a real return rather than from companies that only sell on features and functionality. More often the latter would implement a solution that "can do what the brochure says" without making it work for the business, whereas the former would put you in a position where ROI can be measured and ultimately result in an increase in the bottom line.

Customer experience and the CFO's IT budget decision

It is not possible to maintain growth in a company if customers are disenchanted with the service they receive. Customer experience (CX) is a powerful force in driving profitability up or down, depending on how well it is provided. When the CFO and CIO are taking a look at how to improve on CX there are key factors to consider. The challenge here is to view your business as your customers see and experience it.

Your customer wants their needs understood

A specialist business analyst should be brought in to examine the business processes that lead to customer service in the customer service environment itself. The most effective method of doing this is for the analyst to interview everyone in the company, from executives such as CFOs and CIOs right down to contact centre agents to find out what expectations exist, what they do and how they do it. Through this process frustration points are revealed and also expectations for what a business solution should provide that improves CX.

Make sure that your contact centre meets all regulatory requirements first, then move forward in a process to implement solutions that will improve the quality of your customer's experience.

Understanding the relationship between technology, efficiency and the bottom line

In a contact centre environment the main cost to the business is time spent on calls. Any business solution that reduces the frequency or length of calls is increasing the efficiency and productivity of the contact centre. This doesn't just reduce costs but also enhances the CX. Even if the calls originate from the contact centre, the customer does not want to spend too much time speaking to agents. Automated processes such as intelligent routing (sending the customer directly to the most suitable agent) or self-service options save time on calls and free up the customer to do the things they enjoy, while simultaneously driving down costs.

The role of "Big Data"

A company should have as many options as possible for customers to contact them according to their preferred methods: SMS, email, phone, social media, online, chat, or text. But more than that, to work towards providing a seamless customer experience across all contact channels ("omnichannel") by aggregating customer interaction data into a single, accessible profile. So if the customer contacts the company by social media, the database is updated. If that same customer contacts the company by email, the social media information about that customer will already be there, and this will help provide a holistic view of the customer's interactions with the company.

This is a starting point. From hereon in, BI and analytics tools need to be used to determine trends, patterns, and insights gathered from the data. Using these insights to positively influence business outcomes demonstrates the true value of "big data" and how it can directly drive profitability in a business. Once the true business value is derived from a technology or business solution, it becomes less about the IT budget and more about working together to drive business success.

The business solutions provider should include the CFO throughout the process. Since the solutions are outcomes-based, the solutions provider will be able to provide projected improvement figures based on improved efficiency, increased productivity and eliminated frustration points. Let's not forget the positive impact on the overall customer experience either, which directly drives satisfaction and loyalty - a key driver of long-term revenue.

Performance is essential, and improved IT leads to better performance. If the CFO engages with IT implementation from the start, the CFO will have a more rounded view of the value of business solutions, informing the justification for IT within the company's budget.

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