I recently presented at the 2014 ICMI Contact Center Expo and Conference and have a few insights I want to share. I was impressed by the two main keynote speeches. In the first Bill Rancic, an entrepreneur, author and TV personality, talked about “How to Succeed in Business and Life.” Bill is not in the contact center industry, but he reminded the audience that individuals and companies that succeed in life and business grab opportunities when they come along. He went on to say that consumers (which includes you and me) are changing the ways we conduct our lives and the ways we engage with each other and with businesses. As we all know, use of mobile devices has rocketed, as has use of the Internet and social media, and as a result people are less inclined to talk to each other directly, choosing instead to text, post comments to social media or use the increasing number of mobile applications available; when we do talk, it is now increasingly likely to include video. This change creates opportunity for companies; those that meet expectations about communicating in these ways can grab the attention of customers and generate more business. I couldn’t agree more, having written about these changes myself. Consumers have already made these changes, and companies need to act now to grab the opportunities.
In the second keynote, Matt Dixon spoke on “The Effortless Experience: Conquering the New Battleground for Customer Loyalty.” He is connected with the contact center industry and is best known for defying conventional wisdom in proclaiming that it is not necessary for companies to delight customers. At the time he said this, probably like many others, I was skeptical. After listening to his talk at the conference, I now get his point, and on reflection I agree with the insights from his research. The customer experience is about feelings, and people take actions because of the way they feel. When we buy a product that works as advertised, we are likely to go back to the same company for other products. Most of us are not inclined to proclaim how happy we feel about a successful experience – it is what we expect. We are more likely to express our feelings if something goes wrong, and to do so more intensely each time the company fails to fix the problem or makes it hard to engage. Eventually we may express our unhappiness by looking for an alternate supplier and/or expressing those feelings on social media. So I see two key messages here. First, meet customers’ basic needs, and all should be well. Second, if customers need to engage with you, make it easy, and that is a challenge in today’s multichannel world.
In the expo hall I counted more than 80 vendors showing products supposed to help make it easy. It was obvious which two vendors wanted to impress most. NewVoiceMedia and salesforce.com placed their booths to dominate the entrance to the expo hall and probably spent the most for those spots. NewVoiceMedia demonstrated its contact center infrastructure in the cloud, and salesforce focused on its Service Cloud. Perhaps not obvious was the partnership between the two: NewVoiceMedia demonstrated for the first time the integration of the two products to provide seamless multichannel customer interaction-handling.
Overall I spotted some significant trends. Although they don’t all offer exactly the same capabilities, there were 16 vendors showing contact center in the cloud products and services, or more precisely multichannel communications infrastructure products that run in the cloud. The list includes 3CLogic, 8X8, Avaya, Connect First, Five9, Genesys, inContact, Interactive Intelligence, LiveOps, Mitel, NewVoiceMedia, Presence Technology, USAN, Vocalcom, VoltDelta and Voxox. My research into the contact center in the cloud found 44 percent of companies planning to deploy such systems to improve interaction-handling, and this turnout shows plenty of competition for their business. Going forward, companies should carefully examine these products and vendors to determine which best support their multichannel contact center requirements.
Another densely populated category was workforce optimization. I counted four vendors that specialize in such systems: Dolphin Software, Pipkins, Verint and VPI. In addition four of the contact center in the cloud vendors provide integrated channel management and workforce optimization: Genesys, inContact, Interactive Intelligence and LiveOps, which partners with Verint. I expect that combining the two categories will be essential to support enterprise-wide customer experience management, because it allows customers to engage through the channel of their choice while helping companies plan to have the right number of skilled resources available to handle such interactions.
There was a lot of buzz throughout the conference about customer experience management, and ICMI was calling for a revolution in contact centers to provide better customer experiences. Achieving this goal is not easy as it involves connecting communication channels, business applications such as workforce optimization and customer feedback, and customer interaction analytics. The vendors in the expo hall showed that they have the technology; what is needed is a new way of thinking. My benchmark research into customer relationship management shows that very customer-focused companies use processes and technology such as customer journey maps that show customers’ use of channels, personas that show customers’ preferences in detail and customer analytics to deliver superior customer experiences. Other less mature companies should heed this message and grab the opportunity before it is too late.
I enjoyed the ICMI conference and San Diego is a cool city, but its expo center is not so cool – it was hard to find anywhere to eat or drink outside the main event, and the charges for Internet use were exorbitant. That said, it was a great event, with lots of attendees, lots of vendors in the expo hall – congratulations to Interactive Intelligence on being voted best stand at the conference – and lots of great speakers.
Richard J. Snow
VP & Research Director