Our benchmark research into next-generation contact centers in the cloud confirms what many others are writing and talking about – that customer experience is now the business differentiator. This means that organizations need to get customer engagement right at every touch point, be it assisted by employees or digital. The same research shows that while organizations are supporting more channels of engagement, many are struggling to integrate systems and engagement channels; fewer than half of companies can offer omnichannel experiences. Making matters worse, many of their employees don’t have the full range of skills needed to handle all channels and types of interactions. To overcome these challenges, organizations need a systems architecture that integrates assisted and digital channels, workforce optimization and other business applications such as CRM and multidimensional analytics. Several vendors are working to provide such a suite, most focusing on in-system integration of channels, WFO and analytics, and integration with third-party CRM systems.
One U.K. vendor, mplsystems, who I assessed previously is the only one I am aware of that includes CRM as part of its portfolio and thus is able to provide a suite that includes an omnichannel contact center, Customer Service CRM and Field Service Management. The mplsystems contact center in the cloud includes routing of telephony, email, chat, social and self-service channels based on the same rules, as well as extensive tools to manage email and chat, messaging apps, outbound dialing and campaign management, workforce optimization, contact center analytics and tools to create dashboards and wall boards. Its Customer Service CRM application has core CRM capabilities, a unified agent desktop, text-driven self-service (by way of a third-party product integrated into the suite), social customer service, knowledge management, AI-driven robotic process automation of customer service tasks and tools to design and create omnichannel processes. Field Service Management includes service desk capabilities, workforce management for field service employees, a mobile workforce app so employees can work on the move, a customer portal so customers can manage their contracts in real time, field service sales capabilities, parts and inventory management, business intelligence and service analytics. Customers can choose from and then build upon any of these capabilities. Each feature might not include all the bells and whistles of equivalent stand-alone products, but each has a range of capabilities and the suite is closely integrated, which not only facilitates administration and management but also data entry and use and cross-functional processes. The company has improved its user interface, and the suite is available through all supply models – private, public and hybrid clouds, as well as a version available on the Microsoft Azure platform, which enables mplsystems to support customers on a global basis.
Beyond this extensive range of integrated capabilities, some of the key capabilities of the suite are the agent desktop, automated self-service, 360-degree analytics and the process development tools. The combination of more channels, more systems and more employees handling interactions makes it hard for organizations to optimize interaction handling and ensure consistent responses at all touch points. I have long said that a smart, unified agent desktop system can help overcome these issues. A process-driven system can simplify login and access to systems, automate presentation of information, suggest the best next actions, present the same information for all users and can be easy to use, speeding up processes without impacting customer or agent satisfaction. Such systems have been around for some time, but our research into next-generation contact center in the cloud shows that adoption has been slow as users don’t seem to appreciate the benefits they can deliver. However, given all the systems employees now need to access to handle interactions, I think unified systems are a key way to deliver an omnichannel experience.
The same research shows that more organizations reported that they expect to compete though the use of digital self-service channels. Mplsystems has increased its capabilities in this area and is working to make these channels smarter using AI technology. Some observers wonder whether robots or digital self-service will reduce the need for agents – I think not, but if they are implemented in a way that satisfies customers, companies can make simple interactions work faster and thus better meet customer expectations. I fail to see how any organization can make omnichannel engagement work unless it understands its customers better. The mplsystems analytics go a long way toward reaching this goal and, unlike some systems, provide data access across all applications within the suite and produce a more complete 360-degree view of customers. I believe that organizations must have tools to develop common processes. I am an IT person through and through, but I have come to recognize that omnichannel engagement is mostly about people and processes; systems are just the enabler.
Everyone knows consumers now use more channels of communication than ever before. To meet these expectations organizations must follow suit. However, our research into next-generation customer engagement shows that this obligation causes multiple issues, chiefly integration of systems, channels managed as silos and inconsistent responses; the mplsystems suite helps organizations address each of these three problems. For this reason I recommend that organizations striving to offer omnichannel engagement start by working to better understand their customers, then identify issues that are getting in the way of customer satisfaction and use tools such as those in the mplsystems suite to reinvent processes so they meet customer expectations as well as business objectives.
VP & Research Director, Customer Engagement