I recently wrote about customer experience lessons I learned during 2014 and the technologies required to deliver EPIC experiences. Both of these analyses focus on the people, processes, information and technologies required to improve the customer experience at every touch point, and these themes will also be at the heart of our customer technology research agenda for 2015.

Looking back at our benchmark research into next-generation customer engagement, I am reminded of the need for companies to rethink how they engage with customers, from marketing to customer support. They must realize that customers have changed the ways they communicate, and this has changed the customer engagement paradigm. I often use my 22-year-old daughter to illustrate this point. She never watches TV in real time, so she can skip those advertisements; the news she wants is delivered to her iPad so she never reads a newspaper; she doesn’t use email and opens postal mail only from people she knows. The net result is that none of the traditional marketing channels will reach her. Like almost everyone else these days, she searches for products she is interested in on the Internet and when possible will buy on the Internet as well, preferably using a chat vr_NGCE_Research_08_all_channels_for_customer_engagementwindow; that said, she does still go to shops, so at least one channel stays the same. Support is another issue. She lives on her iPhone and iPad, so she expects support to be available through one of these whenever she wants it. She is thus predisposed to use self-service technologies such as voice-activated IVR, virtual agents, corporate websites, text, chat or social media.

The impact for businesses hoping to sell to her and millions like her is threefold:

  1. Our research into next-generation customer engagement shows that organizations have to support multiple channels of engagement ranging from telephone (which 94% of companies support) to virtual agents (only 10%). All of these channels must be connected.
  2. The same research shows that in a clear majority (71%) of organizations the contact center is still the most common business unit handling interactions, but every business unit except IT must be prepared to engage with customers; they all must work from the same customer information, and their efforts have to be aligned.
  3. Providing responses requires access to multiple systems, including transaction systems such as CRM and ERP, communication management systems such as email, vr_NGCE_Research_05_who_handles_customer_interactionschat and social media, and dashboards and performance analysis.

With these needs in mind, our customer technology research agenda for 2015 will focus on benchmark research addressing three themes:

  1. Optimizing the customer experience across all touch points.

This research will examine how organizations are using and intend to use cloud computing to accelerate omnichannel customer engagement. It will investigate how organizations can improve alignment between marketing, sales and service to make the customer experience consistent and how big data analytics can help optimize interaction handling and the customer journey.

  1. Improving the effectiveness of interactions through innovative technology.

This research will examine how innovative technology can improve interaction handling and employee and customer satisfaction. It will investigate technologies such as smart agent desktop systems to optimize interaction handling and employee satisfaction, mobility-enabled workforce optimization systems that managers and supervisors can use to work away from their desks and respond faster to alerts, and collaboration to improve alignment between business units.

  1. Establishing the next generation of customer self-service.

This research will examine how organizations are planning to improve customer self-service. It will investigate how mobile apps can improve self-service and integration with the contact center, the use of voice recognition, real-time voice analytics and virtual agents to empower customer self-service, and replacing FAQs with interactive, Web-based self-service, visual IVR and smart mobile apps.

Each of these research projects will include analysis of how organizations are using or will use innovative technologies to improve customer engagement.

Cloud Computing – Our benchmark research shows organizations increasingly prefer cloud-based systems as they strive to improve customer engagement, especially integrated communications management (often called the contact center in the cloud), workforce optimization and analytics. We will follow this trend and determine whether it is extending into other systems such as self-service. Our new contact center in the cloud research in 2015 will specifically examine this trend and how organizations are advancing their interactions and operations to the cloud.

Big Data and Analytics – These related technologies have become critical to customer engagement because more channels produce more data types and greater volumes of data. Customer engagement typically happens in real time so organizations need big data analytics systems that can process all customer data sources (structured and unstructured) and provide to any employee handling a customer interaction vr_NGCE_Research_06_changes_to_improve_engagementa full picture of the customer, do it in real or near real time, visualize the information in forms and on devices specific to different users, and provide the ability to drill down to the root causes behind the data and produce predictive models of potential future customer behavior. Our research into next generation of customer analytics has found that analytics is essential to optimizing all customer related processes.

Business and Social Collaboration – In our research into next-generation customer engagement the largest percentage (19%) of participants cited deploying an internal collaboration system as the action most likely to improve customer engagement. Such systems can enhance communication between employees, enable managers and supervisors to coach agents in near real time to improve responses to customers, and enable agents to collaborate with subject-matter experts to improve the likelihood of resolving customer issues at the first attempt. Collaboration with customers through social media forums is also becoming popular not just to improve customer service but also to research potential products and service improvements.

Mobile and Wearable Computing – Mobile computing is having a double impact on customer engagement. One is the “bring your own device” (BYOD) movement as more organizations look for systems that its employees can access on mobile devices. This includes enabling more employees to handle customer interactions such as supervisors away from their desks, mobile customer service employees and home workers. The second is customer demand for self-service using mobile apps. Organizations must consider systems that help them build smart mobile apps that can automatically connect to a contact center agent at the click of a button without losing the context of what the customers was doing in the app. By their nature, wearables are likely to impact customer engagement, so we will seek to understand what organizations expect the impact to be and how they will address it.

Much has happened in customer engagement in the last 12 months, and I expect those changes to continue and perhaps accelerate. We will continue to assess customer engagement market maturity to gain insight into how many organizations intend to maintain the status quo and how many have adopted and will adopt innovations in people, processes, information and technology. We will identify best practices that can help organizations grow in maturity. I am excited about tracking how customer engagement is evolving and how companies are using innovative technology to keep up with customer expectations. Do not forget to come and download our customer technology research agenda for 2015. So please connect with me and share your insights.

Regards,

Richard J. Snow

VP & Research Director

Customer Experience was one of the subjects most talked and written about during 2014, and I expect this to continue in 2015. Many observers and analysts, including me, believe it can be the difference between companies succeeding or going out of business. Yet debate continues to define what customer experience is and how to manage it. Some think the best tools are “voice of the customer” information and systems that enable companies to track and understand customer sentiments and likely actions. Others advocate customer or interaction analytics that provide a complete view of the customer. For others it is all about social media and how it changes the customer relationship, and many diehards still insist customer relationship management (CRM) systems are the key. Indeed, as it is with CRM, ask 100 people what it is and you may get 100 different answers. I go back to basics. For me the customer experience is how customers feel and act during and after any engagement with a company. Of course, there are many ways of interacting these days, whether it is seeing an advertisement, receiving an email, talking to an agent in a call center, having a service engineer visit your house, looking for answers on a company’s website, trying to navigate through IVR menus, using the company’s mobile app or watching a YouTube video. These all impact customers’ perceptions of a company, affect their emotions and drive their reactions. In all, the customer experience is determined by the combination of how employees behave, how well processes work, how complete the information about the customer is and the impacts of diverse types of systems, all of these at any point of engagement throughout the customer life cycle.

I recently shared some lessons I learned about the customer experience during 2014. One is that customers want EPIC (easy, personalized, in-context and consistent) experiences. This provides a starting point for further thought about the technologies that are likely to impact customer engagement most during 2105.

My benchmark research into next-generation customer engagement Untitledprovided insights into what kinds of systems companies believe will help them improve customer engagement over the next 24 months. The most often mentioned is a collaboration system in which employees can work together on resolving customer issues. This and other research confirms that today almost every business unit within an organization engages with customers; however, not all of them have the skills and access to the right information to resolve issues at the first attempt – something that customers have come to expect. Modern systems with Facebook-like posting capabilities facilitate sharing of information and collaborative effort. Three of the next four most often mentioned – redesign the customer portal, deploy mobile customer service apps and deploy social customer service – support the trend toward self-service, but customers want self-service to be much easier than it has been up to now. Specifically they want websites that go beyond FAQs to become natural-language-based Q&A sessions. They want mobile apps that work in ways they are used to, and if they don’t work, they want to connect immediately to a person who can help them. They want social media to go beyond marketing videos and messages to actually help them resolve their issues. Companies also plan to deploy mobile apps internally to help employees access customer information and systems on their smartphones and tablet so they can help resolve issues without having to wait until they are back at their desks.

From these initial insights I developed a conceptual architecture that I believe is required to deliver EPIC experiences, and I used it in a webinar I gave about the three waves of customer experience. It includes six key technical components, all of which I will be following in 2015:

  1. Integrated multichannel communication infrastructure. These systems manage multiple communication channels, including assisted channels such as voice, email and chat, and self-service channels such as customer portals, mobile apps, social media and virtual agents, and manage them in a connected way, including the capability to route interactions based on a single set of customer-related rules. Several vendors provide such systems, all of them cloud-based systems; they include 8X8, Corvisa, Enghouse Interactive, Genesys, inContact, Interactive Intelligence, NewVoiceMedia and Verint/Kana.
  2. Analytics. You can’t provide EPIC experiences unless you fully know your customers, and to do that requires advanced analytics. The key in choosing a system is the number and types of data sources the analytics works on; the more it uses, the fuller the customer view. The volume and diversity of data sources thus puts customer and interaction analytics in the big data arena, and companies should look for systems that process every form and high volumes of interaction and transaction data. A diverse set of vendors provides customer or engagement analytics, including IBM, Nexidia, NICE Systems, Salesforce.com, SAS, Transera and Verint.
  3. Smart agent desktop. Handling customer interactions has become complex. Contact center agents and other employees handling interactions have to access multiplevr_db_benefits_realized_from_unified_desktop communication channels, business applications, notice boards and dashboards, and the process varies depending on the customer and the type of interaction. My research into the agent desktop and customer service shows that the most advanced companies have deployed smart agent desktop systems that make the process more consistent, efficient and effective. Vendors providing such technology include Cicero, Jacada, ManyWho, NICE Systems, OpenSpan, Panviva and Salesforce.com.
  4. Business applications. A diverse set of business applications is required to deliver EPIC experiences. They include workforce optimization to manage the people handling interactions; customer feedback or voice of the customer systems to collect and analyze customer opinions; CRM systems to manage customer-related activities and transactions; accounting systems to manage the financial side; and others. A variety of vendors offer some or all of them.
  5. Collaboration. As mentioned above, the most advanced companies have deployed collaboration systems so that more than one employee can work on resolving an interaction and employees can share information more easily. I expect this trend to increase during 2015. With it will come the dilemma of whether to choose stand-alone systems such as are available from Cisco, Interactive Intelligence and Salesforce.com, or business applications that have such capabilities built in. Regarding the latter, our 2015 Value Index on Workforce Optimization shows that vendors are not yet advanced in adding collaboration.
  6. Mobile apps. About 18 months ago there was a flurry of announcements from vendors pitching systems to support building mobile apps. This seems to have died down, and my research into next-generation customer engagement conforms that such products are not being widely adopted yet. However, I expect this to change during 2105 as more consumers demand apps on their smart devices so they can self-serve while on the move. Vendors such as Genesys, IBM, Interactive Intelligence, NICE Systems and Salesforce.com offer systems to help build such apps.

As I explained in my 2014 lessons learned perspective, managing the customer experience is not easy. It involves almost everyone across the enterprise, multiple processes and multiple systems for communications, business and analytics. To get it right you need to think four dimensions: where each customer is in the customer life cycle (researching, buying, using or seeking support), who in the organization is engaging with the customer, which channel of communication is being used for the engagement, and which product or service the engagement is about. At the same time you must keep track of tens of vendors. This year looks like it will be another challenging one as companies fight to win and keep customers. One thing we know is that the customer experience will be the key differentiator. So please connect with me at @rjsnowvr or on LinkedIn at http://uk.linkedin.com/in/richardjsnow to share your views and keep track of developments.

Regards,

Richard J. Snow

VP & Research Director

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