In today’s competitive world, the source of competitive advantage for a firm lies in selecting one of the three generic strategic options: 1)Operational excellence: delivering high quality products quickly, in an error-free manner and for a reasonable price; 2) Customer intimacy: delivering what customers want with highly personalised service and superior value, and 3) Product leadership: delivering products and services that push performance boundaries and delight customers.
The main question still remains unanswered: how to achieve competitive advantage from a firm’s value chain? Kotler et al. (2008) have tried to provide answer to this question and suggested firms use a combination of three elements: 1) delivering the core promise, 2) meeting and exceeding customer expectations, and 3) service recovery. However, in reality the judgement of product/service delivery can be made only by the customer himself, as his perception of the experience becomes his reality after consuming products/services. Therefore, the elements of a firm’s customer service delivery which are mainly intangible become the key factor to be understood by firms’ managements. Though firms cannot see it, yet every time a customer experiences a company’s product / service or interacts with their staff, it becomes a classical “moment of truth”. Though a number of factors determine customer service perceptions, yet knowing customer preferences in ‘real-time’ is very important for a firm and its value chain members to provide the correct information to customers in real time, emphasise the benefits of products and services, or communicate effectively and execute operations effieciently.
Over the years, information and communications technology has made rapid inroads into the lives of Indian consumers. For instance, in the total India population of 1.2 billion, nearly 65-90% people own mobile phones (depending on the view you subscribe to), approximately 13 million use Broadband, almost 45 million individuals use Facebook actively and close to 13 million are members of LinkedIn. In the marketplace, the customers’ previous experiences from other service encounters influence their expectations for the future. At the same time, they also build their expectations through word-of-mouth communication from colleagues, friends and very often through their social media contacts.
To provide the same supply chain service levels to all customers could result in key customers being under-served while non-key customers, who give lower value, would be over-served. By deploying suitable enterprisewide solutions, it is important to understand the true ‘lifetime value’ of a customer in order to manage variability for delivering better customer service. The selected ICT solution should help the enterprise value chain members analyze the arrival pattern of customers, the requests / orders made by them, members’ capability to serve customers through innovative means and devise an appropriate supply chain / customer service plan. Firms need to understand that in order to exceed customer expectations, the necessary condition is to evolve their supply chains at a faster rate than the rate of evolution in customers’ adoption of ICT and related technologies. While some firms have and do succeed in improving customer service levels through technology and better process management techniques, given the fast rate of adoption of ICT tools such as smartphones by consumers and the sudden rise of social media, customer expectations have shown a tendency to accelerate at an even faster rate. This, therefore, necessitates firms to adopt highly scalable tools at the lowest cost of ownership. The selected tool / solution should also enable real-time access to social, institutional, behavioural and commercial information. Enterprisewide applications and solutions help the value chain members coordinate their efforts to avoid standards gaps, redundancies and inconsistencies. As the integration of social media with ERP is very significant to capture consumer behaviour, Oracle CRM takes a lead in this context by providing full integration with leading social media such as Facebook and LinkedIn.
At the same time, Infor is better in providing project based, industry specific solutions for Supply Chain Management (SCM) in complex manufacturing environments as compared to SAP and Oracle. However, one can not underestimate the advantages that smaller vendors bring to the table to solve the pain areas of enterprise managements. For instance, as Indian SMB enterprises’ dominant pain areas lie in affordability of a solution, to address this, Tally Solutions offer their ERP at a very affordable price point. Another relatively smaller vendor, Godrej Infotech eNcompass leverages on the built-in Indianised Taxation features in its ERP.
Enterprises may also consider deploying solutions on the cloud as this saves time and cost, which can be utilized for improving their basic computing infrastructure and business processes. As with any IT community that has elastic computing requirements or a requirement to deploy applications at low cost, the conventional in-house tools have very limited relevance.
To sum up, businesses can gain competitive advantage by implementing industry-specific enterprise applications and solutions that enable a good understanding of consumer behaviour in tune with the changing ICT usage trends of customers. This would also enable the required social, institutional, behavioural and commercial information to be available to decision makers in real-time, enabling them to improve operations, drive growth and quickly adapt to changes in business demands.