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Our benchmark research into next-generation customer engagement finds that the top priorities in customer service for companies are to improve the customer experience (said 74%) and their customer service performance (70%). To do this, the technological steps most companies expect to improve customer engagement are to deploy collaboration systems, redesign the customer portal, deploy internal mobile applications, deploy mobile customer service apps and use social media for customer service. All of these we regard as potentially innovative and required digital technologies. Deeper analysis of the results finds key primary drivers for these priorities. Employees across the organization are handling customer interactions, but customers expect consistent responses no matter who they engage with. Customers are using more electronic channels of engagement, but here, too, they expect consistent responses. People on both sides are engaging more while they are on the move, so mobile support for employees and customers has become essential. Let’s consider how each of these five technologies can help companies meet these challenges and improve customer engagement.
Collaboration. Various established forms of collaboration are found in business systems, including file sharing, instant messaging, Web-page sharing, application sharing, discussion forums and unified communications that allow users to see who is available to take over interactions or confer with. Each of these has a part to play, but more innovative tools use Facebook-like social media techniques that enable employees to message each other or defined teams, share files, exchange ideas and generally collaborate on resolving individual or general customer service issues. They also facilitate sharing of performance recognition information, which can spur employees to perform better. Because these tools mirror personal social media use, they are likely to attract and be adopted by employees.
Customer Portal. Despite the popularity of newer methods, our research shows that many consumers still use corporate websites to look up information, find answers to questions, report issues and make purchases. However many company sites have not evolved from providing static information such as Q&A lists, and our research also shows that less than half of such visits are successful and force customers to use alternative channels. To match customer expectations, companies need portal systems that can personalize content and support dialogue with customers to help resolve their issues, for example, chat or interactive video.
Internal Mobile Apps. More employees engaging with customers today do so away from their desks; they include contact center supervisors, sales personnel and mobile customer service engineers. Each of them requires access to systems that provide alerts, advise of next best actions and supply information to help resolve customer issues. Companies therefore need systems that allow such employees to access these capabilities on their smartphones or tablets.
Mobile Customer Service Apps. These apps must attract consumers, often in forms much like games. They have to go beyond simply providing browser access to the enterprise website and at the minimum provide basic transactional capabilities; they must, for example, help customers look up the balance of an account, pay a bill, track a delivery or raise a service issue. As mobile app development capabilities improve, companies will need to do even more and enable customers to purchase goods or services, use self-service to resolve issues on their own or collaborate with customer service employees on voice calls, chat sessions or video calls. The key in moving forward is to connect such apps with internal transactional systems so they can display personalized information, remove the necessity for customers to re-enter data if they continue the engagement through another channel, and bypass system such as IVR so they can engage directly with the employee most likely to resolve their issue.
Social Customer Service. Our research shows that at present, most companies use social media for marketing, for example through a corporate page on LinkedIn or YouTube videos about its products. More advanced companies have created a team to track and respond to tweets about the company, but most of these are reactive and don’t support significant dialogue because of the confidential nature of much of the data that would need to be shared to resolve a customer issue. Others have set up social media forums where customers can engage with other customers to resolve their issues or gather information. Yet we find that companies over manage these interactions to interject with their preferred solutions. I believe that technical limitations such as accepting only 140 characters per post and insufficient security of information will prevent social media from having a major impact on customer engagement and expect companies to gain more success using less controlled forums.
Nevertheless, I do not doubt that each of these technologies can, if used properly, help companies innovate in customer engagement. But customer preferences will evolve along with technology; in particular the Internet of Things will rapidly expand human interaction with smart devices. So I believe rather than just making innovations in customer engagement, companies will have to find tools that enable them to disrupt the whole process. I think this will happen primarily through two technologies: self-service and analytics. I recently wrote that companies need to keep up with the digital age and match or even keep ahead of consumer expectations to engage through more digital channels and particularly to use these to resolve their own issues. As I outlined above this will mean that companies will have to improve IVR, make their customer portals more interactive and make their mobile apps smarter.
One instance could be visual IVR. As far as I can see most of these systems are actually smart mobile apps that are designed with menus and options that match customer expectations, rather than simply collecting information prior to a customer talking to an agent. Another is virtual agents. In simple terms this is voice-activated software designed to offer customers options that meet their expectations and provide responses personalized according to the caller and what he or she is trying to achieve. A third, the very latest advance in this area, is interactive video. It provides capabilities similar to those of virtual agents but presents the customer personalized information – for example, the latest bill – that can be used to guide the dialogue. In all these areas the application must be accessible through mobile devices, programmed with the customer in mind and connected with systems that can provide personalized information.
I have maintained for a long time that companies can’t improve customer engagement or customer service unless they know their customers, including what they buy, how many questions they ask, how many complaints they make, what channels of engagement they use, what actions they take, their intentions going forward, how they feel during and after every engagement, and many more. As the list shows, gaining this view can be complicated. The issues begin with data; the more systems a company has, the more data it generates. Likewise, the more channels of communication a company supports, the more data it generates. Our research into next-generation customer analytics finds that accessing all this data is a problem for the majority of companies. To take full advantage of their data, companies have to deploy advanced systems that ingest all sources of customer data (including transactions, interactions and events), link all data related to one customer and produce analyses in forms suitable for each type of user.
One new type of tool to provide such comprehensive views is real-time journey maps. They show the interactions a customer has with the company, the channels used and how the person crosses channels to complete each interaction. A key capability is to show the outcome of journeys, that is, not just the channels used but the outcome – perhaps a new sale, an issue resolved or an increase in customer satisfaction score. By looking at actual journeys companies can understand why they went the way they did and what must be changed to produce better outcomes, for the customer and the company. The most advanced systems include predictive capabilities, which can, for example, analyze past journeys and predict what might happen in the future.
Organizations that deploy these disruptive technologies will also be in position to change their business models so they engage with customer in new, more effective ways. Those that do can get ahead of the competition and improve business performance by exceeding customer expectations.
Richard J. Snow
VP & Research Director
Contact centers in the cloud are increasingly popular alternatives to managing them on a company’s own premises. Running many business applications on hardware owned and managed by a third party is relatively straightforward and requires less support internally. Also the payment model changes from a license to a recurring fee, and typically the vendor provides updates as part of the fee. The challenge with placing a contact center in the cloud is that it is not a single system or even a collection of similar systems. The center includes infrastructure systems to manage communication channels, a network to support telephone extensions and access points to business applications, specialist systems such as routing and IVR, business applications (such as ERP, CRM and workforce management) and performance management and analytics systems; increasingly the contact center has to support mobile and social media as well. Moving all these to the cloud in an integrated manner is a complex task.
Corvisa is one company that aims to overcome this complexity, and it does this through an interesting business model. It claims to provide a single source for cloud communications that includes both software as a service and a platform as a service. It consists of a business phone system, a contact center, a development platform and connectivity, all in the cloud. In another shift from the norm, clients can use the Corvisa platform and software to build their own systems, which within certain guidelines can include custom code to meet specific company requirements. Corvisa promises that if these developments remain within the guidelines, they will be supported by future releases of the core systems. Thus clients can get customizable software that runs in the Corvisa cloud.
A conventional on-premises contact center includes a PBX or an ACD that receives calls from the public telephone network and routes them to specific extensions based on rules that can be set by an administrator or by users on their handsets; they may include a greeting message, a busy tone, or instructions to divert to IVR, for example. The Corvisa Business Phone System replaces this with a cloud-based system. It supports capabilities to manage user profiles, recording of voice messages, call forwarding, voice mail and call division, which can be done using a browser-based app or supported handsets. It also has a soft phone so users can make calls through an on-screen dialer, which in conjunction with setting up contact profiles allows point-and-click dialing. Corvisa provides a mobile app that enables features to be carried out from a smartphone. The system is supported on Corvisa’s telephone carrier-grade network, which ensures quality of service, optimum routing of calls, scalability and reliability. Our benchmark research on the contact center in the cloud shows that telephone traffic is still the most common form of customer interaction, so companies still need to pay close attention to managing them. The Corvisa Business Phone System helps them do that in a more flexible, cost-effective and reliable way.
The CorvisaOne contact center suite builds on the business phone system to support core contact center capabilities. It is available in two versions. The Inbound version provides a software-based IVR so companies can set up flexible menus, which link to capabilities that route calls to the most skilled agent available to handle the call. It also provides the ability to set up call queues, which administrators can monitor in real time and adjust if times in one queue become too long. The Complete version supports all these capabilities and outbound features including an outbound dialer, campaign management and lead nurturing. The system also extends Corvisa’s services to support live chat between agents or agents and customer. President Matt Lutz says the company’s first objective is to support high quality, cost effective telephone services and then to develop additional channels and capabilities.
In my view the Corvisa Summit Platform is the company’s biggest differentiator. The platform enables users to customize Corvisa’s product suite and/or build new real-time communication apps specifically for their business. It goes beyond standard APIs and Web service calls, offering code-level access to the CorvisaOne suite, so users can build entirely new voice and instant messaging apps without starting from scratch. It supports integration with business application such as CRM, and its development capabilities support the end-to-end application development process. For companies that want to take advantage of this but don’t have the skilled resources, Corvisa and its partners offer them. I don’t know of any other vendor that provides such a combination of core capabilities and flexible development in the cloud.
My years of experience in the systems integration business showed me that building even a simple contact center is not easy; our benchmark research into next-generation customer engagement confirms that companies still struggle to integrate systems, to manage communication channels so they appear as one to customers and to provide consistent responses at every touch point. The situation is increasingly complex as companies have to support more channels of communications and more employees become involved handling interactions. I am convinced that the only cost-effective way forward is a contact center in the cloud. I therefore recommend that companies looking to extend and improve customer engagement assess how Corvisa can help those efforts.
Richard J. Snow
VP & Research Director