In our benchmark research into the next-generation contact center in the cloud more than two-thirds (69%) of organizations said they need to improve customer service, and market dynamics require them to do this is in new ways. Whereas today most (83%) compete on the services they offer, over the next two years 70 percent said they expect customer experience to be the top way they will compete, and nearly half (46%) said they expect to compete through self-service, digital channels. There is no doubt that consumers have changed the ways they prefer to communicate with each other and with companies. Mobile devices have become ubiquitous, and many consumers prefer to use chat-based technologies and mobile apps to engage. That is not to say that phone use is obsolete, as the research shows it and email are the most widely supported channels (each by 92% of companies), and while use of the corporate website (cited by 41%) is expected to show the greatest growth, more than one-fifth (22%) of participants said that the volume of inbound calls will show significant growth. Thus organizations must handle customer interactions across a variety of communication channels to maintain the business of all demographic groups.
With such a variety and number of channels – the research shows that the average number supported has grown by one to eight since our previous benchmark in late 2014 – this is no easy task. Indeed more than one-third (35%) of organizations said their customers don’t think they handle interactions to their satisfaction, and more than two out of three (69%) said they need to improve the way they handle interactions. The most common causes of this dissatisfaction are that customers have to repeat information (cited by 50%), responses are too slow (48%), customers cannot use their preferred channels of communication (43%) and responses are not consistent across touch points (41%). These findings support our assertion that customers expect engagement to be easy, personalized, in-context and consistent across all channels; that is, they expect omnichannel customer engagement, but many don’t feel they are getting it. In contrast the research finds that nearly half of companies said they provide omnichannel experiences; many companies don’t seem willing or able to face up to this shortcoming. Those desiring to provide omnichannel experiences face a number of challenges, chief among them being that their systems lack functionality (73%), communication channels are not integrated (68%), responses are not consistent across touch points (44%) and business systems cannot share data because they are not integrated (39%).
To overcome internal and customer-related issues, we assert that organizations need coordinated action across the enterprise in each of four areas: people, process, information and systems. This research confirms that, as we have found in two previous projects, handling interactions happens across the organization as every business group except IT handles inbound interactions. Along with providing employees with systems that enable them to do a better job, organizations need to improve the training and coaching for everyone who handles interactions. However, we have also seen that many business groups have their own processes and systems to support doing things as they are accustomed, and there is little sharing across groups. Such isolated behavior can be a barrier to better customer service. Today’s customers use multiple channels to go through a journey of interacting with various departments including marketing, sales, operations and service, and often the contact center for information, issues and complaints. Companies therefore need to assess their service processes and not only improve specific ones – such as how to handle certain types of interaction – but also ensure that processes flow across business groups so that actions in one group don’t negatively impact performance in others.
The same situation pertains to metrics. Typically each business group has its own metrics to assess performance, and these often don’t relate to key customer goals. For example, the research shows that the most common metric to assess customer service remains customer satisfaction (cited by 68% of participants), but that is followed by average call-handing time (65%), a metric associated with contact center performance. The next two most popular metrics also relate to internal operations, and only the fifth (customer retention rates, 31%) and sixth (customer effort scores, 28%) are truly customer-related. For organizations to become more customer-centric, most need a balanced set of metrics that are shared across the whole organization.
The research shows that few organizations will be to address these people, process and metrics issues without adopting new technologies, and no one system is likely to meet all their needs. Most have to consider new communication systems, business applications, analytics and digital self-service systems; research participants rated analytics (58%) most likely to have an impact, followed by self-service (47%), business applications (45%) and communication systems (40%), but fewer than one-quarter (22%) said the Internet of Things will have a major impact. Since our previous research into the adoption of cloud-based systems, the new research shows as well as increased adoption of advanced analytics a trend toward adopting more cloud-based, self-service technologies such as chat, mobile apps, social forums, interactive virtual agents and voice-activated video.
There is little doubt that technology has had and will continue to have a major impact on how companies provide customer service and handle interactions, and I will continue to cover adoption of such systems. I recently wrote that many organizations need to radically change their contact center to keep up with customer expectations and move toward providing omnichannel experiences as quickly as possible. In my experience change of this magnitude is never easy, especially when it involves enterprise-wide shifts in people, processes, information and technology. However mobility, cloud computing and the Internet of Things are changing business models and customer expectations, and we recommend that companies commit to grasping the changes I have outlined; those that don’t do it risk innovative competitors disrupting their markets.
Richard J. Snow
VP & Research Director, Customer