Despite the recession, 2012 was a busy year in the contact center, customer service and customer experience markets. Ventana Research completed four benchmark research studies into customer relationship maturity, contact center in the cloud, customer feedback management and agent desktop. Overall these show that organizations are slowly maturing in the processes, people, information and technology they use to support customer-facing activities. However, they also show many of the old issues have not gone away, and companies have still have lots to do in order to meet customer expectations and deliver on business goals.
At the start of a new year, many people make resolutions about ways they want to improve their lives. Here are a few resolutions your organization can make to improve your customer and contact center management focus.
Optimize customer relationships and experiences across all touch points
All of my research points to the fact that customers now want to interact with companies through more and more communication channels, creating more experiences at more touch points that need to be optimized. All my research, experience and conversations tell me that the only practical way to optimize all communication is by adopting communications in the cloud – that is, systems in the cloud to manage all types of inbound and outbound interactions. The alternative – using on-premises systems – has many drawbacks: they’re too expensive, companies can’t find the right skills, integrating systems is complex, and there isn’t the time left before customers look for alternative suppliers. This complexity and set of customer service challenges were found in our recent research as silos and lack of coordination impact customer experience.
Optimizing the customer experience requires information about customers, their channels of preference, their propensity to recommend or criticize, and their likely future actions. My research into customer and contact center analytics shows that producing a single, complete view of their customers is a real headache for organizations, as they now have to process higher volumes of customer-related data, in more formats (structured and unstructured), including operational data such as network alerts. The same research shows that companies are slowly adopting tools to handle speech, text, social media, desktop, predictive analytics and operational intelligence so that they can produce the elusive 360-degree view of the customer. This means that contact centers, like most other parts of the organization, have to wrestle with big data and find tools that can process high volumes of data and analyze the information in near-real time. We plan to perform more research into analytics for 2013 to help further advance this practice but also investigate the potential of big data and predictive analytics.
Customer relationship management has been a high-profile topic for more than three decades, but still companies complain that their CRM initiatives have not produced the results they expected. Organizations are therefore turning their attention to techniques and tools that go to heart of the customer experience and building longer-term relationships. Customer-centric organizations have begun producing customer journey maps so they know when, why and how customers contact them and can be better prepared. Other companies are offering subscription-based services, the most high profile of which is cloud-based software provision. This has the benefit of locking customers into longer-term relationships, but it brings with it the challenges of providing excellent customer service and getting billing right.
Improve the effectiveness of interactions by adopting innovative technology
The move to multichannel customer engagement has not helped to make the contact center agent’s role any easier. Our research into the agent desktop shows that agents have to access more communication systems, applications and dashboards as they try to resolve interactions, leaving companies with the thorny issue of how to reduce average interaction-handling times while not impacting the customer experience. The research shows that innovative companies are adopting desktop technologies that include access to social media, inbound interactions resulting from customers using a click-to-call button on a mobile phone and collaboration systems as means of improving agent satisfaction and the outcome of interactions. The focus on more effective customer engagement will be part of a new research endeavor for 2013.
2012 saw the great BYOD debate begin as more employees started bringing smartphones and tablets to work. The contact center hasn’t escaped, and organizations now have to consider not only how to deploy workforce optimization systems for supervisors and agents, but also how employees can access such systems from smart devices. We are busy assessing the maturity of next generation workforce optimization (WFO) to determine how to help customer service manage agents to the best possible results.
In addition, companies shouldn’t forget that customers now want to interact when they are on the move, making social media and mobility key factors when organizations consider how to provide excellent customer experiences.
Another hot topic for 2012 was voice of the customer, which largely comes down to either collecting customer feedback or using speech and text analytics tools which are very outdated as our research finds in use of spreadsheets and reports. Sadly, too many of these initiatives fail to close the loop and tell customers what actions have been taken based on their feedback, and even fewer link feedback to agent performance so companies can take action to improve agent performance.
Innovate for the next generation of customer self-service
Self-service means getting customers to use alternate channels that don’t include speaking with anyone. The research into customer relationship maturity shows these initiatives have largely been unsuccessful; customers keep reverting to the option of calling the contact center. Social media tools and mobile customer service apps allow companies to finally address these issues, providing they keep the customer in mind and deploy such services so they meet the customer’s, not the company’s, expectations. Mobile apps offer a real opportunity to provide customer-driven self-service and to provide a seamless and effective channel into the contact center if the need arises.
Another technology impacting the customer experience is voice recognition. This technology has advanced considerably over the last few years, and services such as Siri on the iPhone are creating the expectation that consumers can talk to devices rather than click buttons. This presages voice-controlled software agents that are programmed to follow predefined call flows and thus deliver consistent customer experiences that don’t depend on agent intervention.
Companies can use all these exciting developments to improve the ways they engage with customers. However, my research shows that many companies are so tied up resolving day-to-day issues that they don’t have time to keep track of new developments that could not only resolve their problems but also address key issues such as improving the customer experience. During 2013 I will be tracking vendor developments in all these areas, and I hope to help you handle both your current and developing issues. So please collaborate with me in 2013 to help improve customer interactions and experience.
Richard J. Snow
VP & Research Director