Best face forward: Improving companies' service interfaces with customers



In the face of increasingly demanding customers and a shortage of skilled workers to serve them, companies are facing a crisis in customer interaction and relationship management. At the same time, networked technologies— from Web sites to kiosks to interactive voice response units—are enabling managers to “recruit” machines into front-office roles that drive down the costs of consumer interactions and deliver satisfying customer experiences. Successfully integrating technology into the work force requires a wholesale reengineering of the front-office to determine the appropriate division of labor between humans and machines. Here we examine the origins of what we call the “front-office revolution” and the need for businesses to manage coordinated interface systems. We suggest that companies do an audit of their interfaces and optimize them over three phases, which we call separate, relate, and integrate phases. We argue that these interface systems, and the more efficient and effect customer relationship management they enable, represent the next frontier of competitive advantage for many businesses.