One is Silver and the Other's Gold...

Startup company Silknet Software and American stalwart Bowne Co. strive to balance service and tradition.

Inside boardrooms and over martinis, customer service pundits, analysts, and consultants toss around acronyms like beach balls in the bleacher section of Fenway Park. CRM (customer relationship management), it seems, has grown passé. eRM (eRelationship management) is perhaps too disposable or even myopic. And CMR (customer-managed relationship) looks a lot like Courtney Love — new wardrobe, same woman.

Underlying all the gibberish, however, stands one principal and prevalent concern: how to design customer service now.

The widespread dissemination of e-commerce technology has both enabled and handicapped retail and business-to-business companies who are learning that conventional rules mean very little in the new world of customer service. Standard operating procedures no longer operate effectively. Organizational charts no longer flow. Internal departments no longer make sense.

Today, customers dictate the how, when, and where of business. Companies that don't alter their structure and mindset to serve their customers accordingly will no doubt lose those people quickly, and forever. At the same time, total disavowal and destruction of tradition could do even more damage by compromising a company's precious brand and image.

So the question becomes this: Is tradition a liability or commodity when devising a customer service solution for the 21st Century?

For Silknet Software, Inc., a 4-year-old company that develops and markets electronic business solutions for clients like 3Com and Bank of America, the importance of creating effective and efficient customer service mechanisms far outweighs any consideration for "the way its always been done." For Bowne Internet Solutions, the descendant of a 224-year-old printing company, reputation and heritage are absolutely fundamental in a financial industry where trust is hard earned and closely guarded. They are two wildly different companies with one common fixation: outstanding customer service.

Read on to learn how these two diverse companies are designing their customer service now.

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