Call Centre & Customer Management Expo has been running for several years now. The event provides an opportunity for contact center and customer service managers in Europe to catch up with all the latest and greatest going on in the market. At this year’s event earlier this week, as usual, I found the normal mix of presentations, vendor exhibition stands and other side events. The vendor show included a mix of core contact center vendors (interaction management, CRM, WFO, customer experience management, customer and contact center analytics), supporting vendors such as headphone suppliers and post code software, contact center media players and associated professional bodies. My primary interest is in the core multi-channel contact center market and vendors, and having attended for more years than I can remember, I look for emerging trends on what vendors are present and what they have to offer.
The clear winner this year was the customer interaction management space, with a mix of established, primarily on-premises players such as Aspect, Avaya and Cisco and the rapidly emerging cloud-based vendors, of which there were more than ever – including Altitude, Enghouse Interactive, Interactive Intelligence, Genesys, mplsystems, NewVoiceMedia and Vocalcom. Each of these provides cloud-based systems that manage inbound and outbound interactions through different communications channels – telephone, email, chat, web, text and social media. Each of course has slightly different sets of capabilities and different strengths and weakness. However, they all support a growing trend that emerged from my recent research into the contact center in the cloud, in that companies must now support multimedia customer engagement (service), and the only practical and affordable way to do this is by using fully integrated, cloud-based interaction management systems as offered by these vendors. Indeed, after better, more focused training for employees who handle interaction, the next best action for nearly half of companies that responded to the research was to investigate using such services. That’s good news for these vendors and not so great for on-premises vendors that are struggling to come up with a cloud-based strategy.
The other technology category to stand out falls within what I term customer experience management; that is, systems that directly impact the customer experience at the point of engagement. The most common on show was the agent desktop – systems that support agents or other employees as they engage with customer to try and solve their issues. These desktops came in many guises. The two truest stand-alone desktop vendors were Kana with its newly acquired Ciboodle products and Oracle with its relatively newly acquired RightNow product. Both have systems that allow organizations to build a desktop that makes it easier for agents to access the systems and information they need to resolve customer issues, including the capability to guide agents on the next best action. Two of the cloud-based interaction management vendors, Altitude and mplsystems, also offer desktop systems that support similar capabilities; in particular they allow companies to surface multimedia interactions onto agents’ desktop. Last but not least was Salesforce.com with Service Cloud. The company doesn’t market Service Cloud as a desktop, but at its core is a desktop that allows companies to surface Salesforce.com information and interaction details (including social media) to agents or other employees handling interactions. Just as with the interaction management products, each of the customer experience management products includes slightly different capabilities and has different strengths and weaknesses. However, as my research into customer relationship maturity shows, managing the customer experience is vital to retaining customers and driving repeat business, so these systems and services are ones companies should take a careful look at.
These two sets of vendors so dominated the show that no other category really stood out for me in my analysis for those that lead customer service. There were very few core workforce optimization who help with managing agent performance vendors present – Calabrio and NICE Systems were the only ones I spotted. I also saw few analytics vendors; one I did see was Avaya, with its Aurix speech analytics product, and I found some interaction management vendors that have analytics embedded in their products and services. The lack of WFO vendors perhaps reflects my research into agent performance management, which shows that the WFO market is now quite mature and most companies have deployed their call recording, quality monitoring and workforce management products. The dearth of analytics vendors reflects my research into customer and contact center analytics, which shows this market is at the other end of the maturity model and is at yet quite immature.
Although I wasn’t surprised to see these two categories dominate, I was surprised not to see more vendors promoting mobile customer service apps. After a flurry of announcements early this year, I expected such applications to be more visible. Although vendors such as Aspect, Genesys and Interactive Intelligence were present, they weren’t featuring mobile apps as prominently as I expected.
In a slightly different space, Nuance Communications clarified what Nina really is – Siri for mobile apps. In the same way that Apple has built Siri into the iPhone, Nuance provides tools that allow companies to embed voice activation into their mobile apps, so for example a user could just say “pay this bill on this date using this credit card” without having to tap on a smart device’s screen.
After all the hype at Salesforce.com’s Dreamforce conference, there wasn’t nearly as much at the show about the social enterprise. Overall I would say this was a more down-to-earth show with vendors showcasing how to support multi-channel customer engagement and how to improve the customer experience.
The final highlight for me was a tremendous customer experience. I have always used headsets from Sennheiser. A pair I recently bought went wrong, so as the company had a stand I thought I would ask if it was a known problem and where I could send them for repair. Instead, within minutes I walked away with a new pair. That’s a great customer experience, and a great way to get a positive acknowledgement on social media. If you missed the event, this will provide you some of the highlights, and if want more details, just let me know.
Richard J. Snow
VP & Research Director