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Salesforce.com began with a simple message: On-premises CRM has come to the end of its useful life, and the way forward is cloud-based CRM. I have written several times that the company has won this argument, and my research into contact center in the cloud confirms this: 63 percent of participating organizations said that adopting systems in the cloud is one of the key ways to improve customer engagement. Furthermore, this vendor’s success pressurized  many other companies to move into the cloud, and not just for CRM. Salesforce.com itself expanded from cloud-based CRM to create clouds for sales, marketing and service.. This transition continued in the middle of last year when it surprised the market by announcing it would add a development platform in the cloud to provide tools for creating mobile apps. To further these aims, it recently announced the first release of Salesforce1 Service Cloud, calling it the “Service Platform for the Internet of Customers.” I had several questions about what this really means going into a recent briefing.

First, what is the Internet of customers? This seems to be a variation on a theme I discovered in my benchmark research into next-generation customer engagement and wrote about late last yearvr_NGCE_Research_08_all_channels_for_customer_engagementThe research finds that because consumers have changed their communication habits, companies now support an average of seven or eight channels of communication and some as many as 17. Unlike the long-established channels of telephone, email and printed letters, many of the emerging channels are electronic and rely on the Internet, mobile devices or both. The research also finds that most business units in an organization now interact with customers. Therefore it has become essential for companies to connect their communication channels and employees across business units; if they don’t, customers will not receive consistent, accurate responses to their interactions and become frustrated. Salesforce1 is salesforce.com’s response to help organizations achieve these connections.

Salesforce1 is a major undertaking, comprised of a platform, a set of development tools, core services such as workflow and identity management, and APIs with which companies can develop mobile apps. Those mobile apps enable users to access other systems and information through an intuitive user interface while on the move. This has potential to simplify the complexity of accessing all the systems most companies now use. They have business application such as ERP and CRM that employees use every day to carry out various tasks; communication systems that manage the different interaction channels; third-party systems used by partner companies; and increasingly smart machines that produce data useful for interacting with customers (for example, a mobile phone producing location information). Each of these systems has a different interface and produces data in its own formats; connecting them and making them accessible through a mobile app is thus very complex.

Other vendors have tools that allow access to systems and data, and still others help companies build their own smart mobile apps. Salesforce1 brings these two diverse capabilities together so users can develop mobile access to connected systems. The apps can be used by employees requiring information and/or access to systems while on the move, including salesforce.com systems such as Sales Cloud and Service Cloud, and apps available in third-party online stores; alternately, apps can be built to give consumers similar access while mobile. They therefore support a dual purpose because as consumers become familiar with mobile apps, even if only to search for information or play games, they come to expect the same capabilities at work so they can work away from their desks but have access to systems and information at the touch of an icon.

The Salesforce1platform goes a step further. My research finds that most companies recognize the customer experience as the only true differentiator – the competition can replicate products and services almost at will, so it is how companies engage with customers that makes the difference. This engagement requires two essential features for customers: ease of engagement, which includes multiple channels, especially mobile, and consistency, receiving the same information, ideally up to date, regardless of the channel. One way Salesforce1 addresses the issue is to provide capabilities to create internal communities. These, for example, help a user find an expert no matter where the person sits within the organization and share information to resolve a customer inquiry. Doing this quickly can improve the customer experience, increase efficiency because more interactions are resolved at the first point of contact, and increase effectiveness because the customer gets the right answer at the first attempt.

More than three-quarters of companies in my research said it is very important to improve customer engagement; to do that many vr_NGCE_Research_06_changes_to_improve_engagementare investing in collaboration, in their customer portal, in mobility and in social media. Connecting their business processes and these technologies to deliver high-quality customer experiences is no easy task, but the Internet, mobile technology and social media have made it necessary for companies trying to keep up with customer expectations. The same is true of supporting employees who want to work on the move. In all of this, for me the critical requirement is to build mobile apps with the user in mind and not just automate an existing, perhaps outdated process. Gaining insight from analytics is also critical. In this area salesforce still needs to invest more to better support these needs and connect this type of information with the applications that our research finds essential to promote engagement and improve the customer experience. Even so, Salesforce1 is a progressive cloud platform that can help enterprises interact directly with customers. If you are looking for new approaches to build and use applications in the cloud and on mobile devices, Salesforce1 is one to evaluate.

Regards,

Richard J. Snow

VP & Research Director – Customer Engagement

In my benchmark research into next-generation customer engagement three-quarters (77%) of participating companies said it is necessary to improve the way they engage with customers. The main vr_NGCE_Research_01_impetus_for_improving_engagementdrivers for doing that are to improve the customer experience (74%) and improve customer service (70%). However, neither is an easy task because companies now have to support more channels of communication, and more customer interactions are handled by multiple business units within the organization. The combined impact of this complexity can be inconsistent responses that depend largely on which channel the customer uses and which person handles the interaction. This is situation is likely to get worse as customers continue to use existing channels but increasingly add new means of engagement such as mobile apps, voice-activated applications and social media posts.

The research shows that companies to expect keep on adding channels, including, despite predictions to the contrary, small numbers of companies expecting to add traditional channels such as the telephone, email and written documents. While innovative channels such as social media (40%), chat (41%), mobile business apps (37%), mobile customer service apps (29%) and video calls (29%) are currently used by a minority of companies, they are the ones more companies expect to support in the next two years. This is especially true of mobile customer service apps, which an additional 40 percent expect to deploy, mobile business apps (38%) and social media forums (35%). They are also where companies expect to see in the most increase in the volume of interactions: 30 percent of companies expect significant growth in social media, and 24 percent expect growth for each type of mobile apps. At the same time companies cannot afford to forget more established channels; for example, more than one-fifth expect significant growth in the use of Web-based self-service, their customer portal and email. In total, the research makes clear that companies must support as many channels as possible; if they haven’t already begun supporting social customer service (as opposed to using social media merely as a cheap form of marketing) and mobile apps, they should start to do so soon.

Among companies that now support social media, only one-fifth said their efforts have been successful. As a pointer to others thinking of supporting social media, these companies said that to be more successful they must provide more information (48%), link social customer service processes with other processes (41%) and personalize more responses (41%). Although support of mobile apps is in its infancy, just under one-third of companies said their customers provide positive feedback about such apps; perhaps even more pleasingly they have seen improved customer satisfaction (42%) and customer effort (40%) scores and fewer calls to the contact center (33%). It is early for truly social customer service and mobile apps, but these results show they are likely channels for the future. Our advice is not to waste time and begin supporting them but very importantly, design them with the customer in mind.

There is a lot being written about the “omni-channel customer experience” today, but until companies fully integrate management of all their communication channels, I don’t believe customers will receive consistent experiences across them. And as I indicated earlier, there is another barrier. This research confirms what I have seen in previous benchmarks: Nearly all business units, except for IT, are now involved in handling customer interactions, and these business units are as disconnected as are the communication channels. Marketing, sales, customer service and other business units all typically do their own thing, and this is another reason why customers are likely to get different information and experiences depending on who handles their interaction; it also makes it less likely that interactions will be resolved at the first attempt. vr_NGCE_Research_06_changes_to_improve_engagementThe solution is for business units to share information and collaborate more on the resolution of customer issues. The research finds that to improve engagement, most (19%) plan to deploy collaboration systems. Furthermore although the research finds that today companies mostly use traditional tools such as file sharing, workflow and alerts, these are likely to replaced with systems that support Facebook-like wall capabilities for more real-time sharing of information and dialogue between employees. Most interactions need handling in real time, and such capabilities can help improve first-contact-resolution rates and provide better customer experiences and outcomes.

My research agenda for 2014 is focused on helping provide the best possible customer engagement methods using technology. The pace of change in the way consumers interact with each other and companies continues to accelerate, and companies that don’t keep up risk losing business. This and other consumer research shows that more interactions will be based on electronic channels, yet not many companies are prepared to meet these challenges. The technology is available, especially as more vendors support cloud-based systems, so I recommend companies don’t rest on their laurels but take the next steps toward a true omni-channel experience. If you want to learn more about how to best in class for customer engagement, let me know as we have the research and expertise to ensure you can do so.

Regards,

Richard J. Snow

VP & Research Director – Customer Engagement

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