Customer Relationships: Staying connected across different networks

Like many of us, I spend a great deal of time on the road even though I work many hours in my home office. To keep in close contact with customers and prospects, I have various communication systems: an office landline, mobile phone, corporate e-mail account, and a BlackBerry. Because it?s equally important for family and friends to be able to reach me, I also have a few personal e-mail accounts and a second mobile phone with a private number.?

These technologies help us stay connected, but they often are not as efficient or effective as we would like. I get terrible cell phone coverage in my house, so those who try to reach me by cell phone while I?m at home are forced to leave a voicemail or try my office. Others leave voicemails on both my mobile and office lines and even lob an e-mail to me as well, knowing I have a BlackBerry.

Having the identical message on three different systems is hardly a good thing. With each communication channel I open up, a new ?database? is created that I will have to monitor. More importantly, how will all this tech-mailing impact my relationships with customers and prospects?

Network Disconnect
This dilemma is the result of network divergence. Our office phones and cell phones work on separate networks with completely different infrastructures. Chances are our computer network also runs on its own IP-based infrastructure. Each of these different networks has applications created specifically to work with them. Consequently, our cell phone voicemail application won?t work with our office voicemail application to allow us to retrieve all our voicemails from one place. Moreover, each application is built specifically for that network (voice, data or cell) and typically calls for specific devices to access them. For example, you need a Nextel phone to take advantage of Nextel?s Direct Connect service, which allows a Nextel customer to push a button to instantly connect to a colleague who also has a Nextel phone and subscribes to the service.

Wouldn?t it be great to have that same ?push-to-talk? functionality work from a cell phone to an office phone in order to reach a customer? Such capability would require the huge base of wired telephone networks to work with wireless cellular networks, something both networks were not designed to do. However, technologies based on open standards are now in place that will make it possible for us to more effectively interact with customers and prospects, while remaining connected to our personal lives.

Converging on IMS
The IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) is a standards-based next-generation networking architecture that will allow providers like Sprint, Cingular, Verizon and others to deliver the services we need (voice, data, video, etc.) in any format we need.? And because the network allows us to access it from either office phone, cell phone, laptop or PDA, we need only a single account with one voicemail box and address book to store contacts.? IMS even has the ability to track where we?re accessing the network from and provide services based on our location, in addition to providing services based on the device we are using at the time.

IMS will allow voice and video services over IP to be accessed via mobile phones, paving the way for lower costs and the convergence of fixed and mobile networks. This is crucial, as 99 percent of new voice connections and 70 percent of total voice connections are expected to be wireless by 2009.

At some point in the not too distant future, the IMS-powered next generation networks carrying services from leading vendors will allow us to interact with the world in a way that?s more compatible with how we live. Imagine starting a voice call on your home phone and transferring it to your mobile so you can drive to work or to the store; or having a ?push-to-talk? conversation with colleagues on your cell phone and simultaneously sharing a video of a conference presentation you are attending. Imagine this taking place with a single account, using multiple devices over any kind of network.

These services can positively impact our ability to build stronger business relationships while making our personal lives a little more manageable. This may have the greatest impact on our productivity and our ability to add value to the people with whom we
do business.???

Brent Leary is the award-winning co-founder and partner of CRM Essentials, a customer relationship management consulting and advisory firm, and host of ?Technology ? for Business Sake,? a weekly radio program on