After reviewing the benchmark research I carried out during 2011 into customer and contact center analytics, the use of technology in contact centers and the adoption of cloud-based contact centers and systems, I have come up with a list of critical investments that I predict will distinguish customer and contact center management in 2012.

Multichannel Customer Service 

All my benchmark research projects show increasing growth in the use of alternative channels of communication, including instant messaging, mobile text messaging, social media and video. However the results do not show less use of the traditional channels of telephone, email and Web-based self-service. Despite predictions that social media and other forms of electronic communication will kill off one-on-one telephone conversations and face-to-face meetings, I see no indications this will happen during 2012. Therefore companies need to gear up to support growing volumes of interactions in newer communication channels while continuing full support of the older ones. In addition our research into agent performance management found it to be essential in managing customer service effectively.

Customer Collaboration

My research, supported by a number of user case studies, shows that organizations are employing more people outside the traditional contact center to handle customer interactions:  in lines of business such as sales, marketing, customer service, finance and HR; home-based, typically part-time agents; and in onshore outsourcing companies. To manage this virtualization of contact-handling, organizations need to adopt collaboration technologies that help employees work together on resolving customer issues. I therefore predict growth in the deployment of technologies such as unified communications, social media-style collaboration, workflow and alerts; I also see more organization looking to cloud-based systems to support these requirements.

Cloud-Based Contact Center Systems

My research into cloud-based contact centers and systems shows that so far only a small percentage of companies have adopted them, mostly for applications such as CRM. The needs to support more channels of communication, greater mobility, and more efficient contact-handling processes, as well as budget pressures, make it likely this trend will accelerate during 2012, led most likely by the adoption of communications systems in the cloud.

Business and Customer Mobility

Our busy lives, the proliferation of smartphones and tablet devices, and the virtualization of contact-handling will combine to increase the need for organizations to support more mobile employees and customers. To do this organizations will need to look for systems that can be easily be accessed via the Web (for example, cloud-based systems) and applications that support easy access to information and at least basic control capabilities, such as changing the availability status of an agent.

Customer Analytics

My research into customer and contact center analytics shows limited adoption of analytics to support customer-facing activities and contact center performance; spreadsheets still are the main tool used in organizations. However more mature companies have recognized the value of information in unstructured formats such as call recordings, text-based data, event data and social media. This recognition is increasing adoption of speech, text and social media analytics, and operational intelligence that can combine event-based data with transactional data to produce more complete pictures of both customer activities and operational performance. I expect this trend to continue and for more organizations to adopt cross-channel analytics so they can see how customers are using different channels to resolve their issues, and predictive analytics so they can better plan future approaches to customers.

Customer Experience Management

My research into customer experience management shows that organizations are beginning to recognize the limitations of CRM systems and have begun to look at technologies that can impact the customer experience in real time. I predict this will lead to wider adoption of technologies such as a smart agent desktop and natural-language-based self-service. In parallel I predict that mature companies will adopt tools such as customer journey maps to help them plan how to improve the customer experience at all touch points and throughout the customer life cycle. I also see early adopters beginning to use complex event processing technologies to track events across all channels, so they can improve the customer experience and with it improve first-contact-resolution rates.

Social Media and Customers

This year the use of social media by both organizations and consumers has continued its frantic growth, and I don’t see this abating. However many companies have not been able to use social media effectively, and I expect more of them to adopt social media analytics to better understand consumers’ use of social media and how they can turn it to business advantage.

Big Data on Customers

There was a lot of talk about big data processing and analysis during 2011, and my colleague David Menninger has well-informed commentary on the subject. To date it has had  limited impact on customer and contact management, but during 2012 I predict some of these organizations will apply big-data techniques to make better use of the very large volumes of data they collect in the forms of call recordings, text, customer feedback and social media.

Call Avoidance

This is a popular topic around contact center operations, as organizations look to lower costs by finding ways to handle more calls without using a live agent. This has led to the deployment of systems such as IVR (both touch-tone and voice-activated) and more Web-based self-service. My research into customer experience management shows these tools have had limited success: Almost 70 percent of users eventually talk to an agent. I expect increased use of analytics to help organizations better understand why customers are contacting them and thus allow them to improve related processes and products, thereby reducing the need for customers to call. I also predict the emergence of better tools to support automated customer self-service such as natural-language-based Web applications, improved knowledge management systems and even voice-activated virtual agents.

Customer Feedback

Since the customer is supposed to be king, organizations need full understanding of customer sentiment and likely behaviors. Typically organizations have relied on agents to score customer sentiment, or they have processed surveys manually. These have had limited success; instead more mature companies have improved their customer insights by using text analytics on completed surveys. I predict this trend will increase and leading-edge companies will begin to use text and speech analytics to understand customer sentiment and likely behaviors by analyzing other forms of text data (text messages, chat messages and social media) and call recordings. I am starting new benchmark research on customer feedback to kick off 2012.

I don’t usually expect much change in the contact center market as the majority of organizations are slow to take advantage of the latest technologies, mainly because they lack budgets. More affordable cloud-based systems are changing that dynamic and offer even small companies the opportunity to innovate in the ways they handle customer interactions.

I will be following these developments throughout 2012, so please come and collaborate with me on social media.

Regards

Richard Snow – VP & Research Director