How ERP can deliver a modern customer experience
ERP was initially designed to help employees, but how can it be used to deliver exceptional customer experiences? Welcome to the world of genuinely flexible ERP.
ERP systems were initially designed and built for internal processes of product-focused businesses. They were not intended to help customers directly, and especially not those of people-centred organizations delivering services.
So, can your ERP solution be used to deliver a modern customer experience for your customers if you are a project-focused, B2B organization? The answer is, if you’re still using a traditional, legacy ERP system, it probably cannot.
But with the right system for service-orientated companies like Management Consultancy, Engineering, Architecture or IT Services, you can. Welcome to flexible ERP — a world of almost infinite possibilities which will help you stay agile, responsive, innovative and 100% customer-centric.
The rise of B2B customer experience
Now in its third decade, today’s e-commerce seems an age away from the pioneering days of Amazon. And what started as a purely B2C practice has edged its way into the B2B world, thanks to considerable advances in enterprise technology.
In both sectors, customer experience has grown increasingly more sophisticated. And since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rate of adoption for these technologies has grown faster than anyone could have imagined — with good reason.
“The recent shifts in consumer behaviors and expectations brought about by COVID-19 are forcing companies to change how they connect with and serve customers,” says McKinsey.
“History clearly shows the value of investing in customer experience during a downturn. In the last economic recession, companies that prioritized customer experience realized three times the shareholder returns than the companies that did not.”
How can a technology originally designed for product-focused businesses' internal processes help professional services organizations deliver an outward-facing experience for their clients?
From legacy systems to cloud-based ERP
Older ERPs weren’t designed to be changed, augmented or integrated regularly and rapidly. But developing new functionality fast and often to meet customers' unpredictable wants and needs is fundamental to the success of every business today.
Professional services businesses trying to deliver a modern customer experience using legacy ERP have run into many problems. They’ve been forced to invest in quick-fix workarounds and complex bolt-ons, which require vast amounts of manual effort, time, expense and maintenance. This makes organizations slow to react to change, and it worsens People Experience (more on that later).
Those running on-premises face even more difficulty. Luckily, most are now realizing the new demands, as more than three-quarters of global decision-makers believe traditional on-premise IT systems and enterprise applications cannot react to rapid change, according to recent research 86% saying the cloud offers more flexibility. More than two-thirds expect to be entirely cloud-based in the next two years.
ERP for enhanced customer experience
The right technology for today’s professional services firms is not only cloud-based, but it features microservices and APIs, it’s supported by a flexible core ERP platform and comes with inbuilt analytics.
Microservices and APIs to build new functionality
Microservices enable people to build apps with whatever functionality they need, then independently deploy and organize them around the fast evolution of customers’ requirements.
An ERP with a microservices-based architecture enables you to take a quick, modular approach to technology, rather than undertaking lengthy implementations of huge, rigid systems.
It also means that a working system can be assembled from a library of pre-existing components, which is much quicker and cheaper than writing code from scratch.
If there is a need to build from scratch, simplified coding and intuitive environments allow non-IT-savvy employees to build their own applications.
Another component of these inherently adaptable ERPs is open APIs: universal software connectors that allow one program to interact. The combination of microservices and APIs makes these systems easy to change and re-integrate when circumstances require.
Flexible ERP as a core platform
While microservices provide the agility, you need to scale to customer demands; they are not the answer by themselves. Microservices need to be attached to a core platform with a single source of truth that provides a holistic data view of what is happening in the market.
This is what we call flexible ERP. In our definition, flexible ERP must be:
- agnostic to integration so it can exchange data with any microservice
- specific to professional services with baked-in good practice
- out-of-the-box customizability so it can be updated to the latest functionality quickly
- easily configurable to help you adapt to constant change
AI and data analytics tools
McKinsey lists one of its three building blocks for executing customer-experience transformations as “thoughtful deployment of new capabilities, particularly advanced analytics”.
To adapt business processes (and microservice development) to meet customers’ rapidly changing needs and wants, you need insights into their individual and collective purchasing behavior. This will help you identify the trends that drive buying decisions so that you can adapt accordingly.
To do this, you need the right technologies: intuitive, visual dashboards, predictive analytics, forecasting tools, artificial intelligence and machine learning, among others.
By gathering and managing data about customers' historical preferences, purchases and other historical activity, you can interpret the data to predict future actions and create personalized journeys. You can do this on-the-fly as you innovate and change current modes of operation to improve customer experience and satisfaction and loyalty.
Free your people to focus on customer experience
There’s one final way that professional services organizations can use ERP to deliver a modern customer experience. And that’s by enhancing what we call People Experience.
With every person in your organization stretched to capacity, modern ERP should not only be flexible but people-friendly. It should free your people from admin-heavy processes and repetitive tasks that slow them down.
This means they can spend more time on the value-added work that matters: attracting, supporting and retaining clients.