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Six Key Technologies Impact Customer Service

At the start of this year we at Ventana Research identified six technologies that we viewed as likely to impact software development and consumption significantly during 2012: collaboration, mobility, business analytics, cloud computing, social media and big data. Now, almost six months through the year, I see that each of these is having even greater impact on customer service and related activities than I expected.

It appears to me that the biggest impact has been from social media. Spurred by reports that social media usage has gone through the roof, numerous horror stories about the effects of bad comments (and videos) on companies, and salesforce.com’s marketing efforts around the social enterprise, organizations have rushed to develop their social media presence. Our research into customer relationship maturity shows that much of this early commercial effort has been by marketing departments, which have created sites and videos to advertise products and to a much smaller extent establish a dialogue with customers. 

Overall, though, effective use of social media for customer service seems to me still to come as companies search for ways to build it into their customer service process. However, it is notable that adoption of social media analytics is accelerating, enabling companies to at least see what their customers are “saying” about them in this channel. As more companies understand how to use social media I expect it to become part of their customer engagement strategies.

Three of our benchmark research undertakings – in customer relationship maturity, the adoption of cloud-based contact centers and the use of technology in contact centers – all arrive at two similar conclusions: that an organization’s customer engagement strategy must be based on the use of multiple channels of communication to interact with customers, and that these interactions will be handled by several business units. The expanding use of smartphones and tablets is having a major impact on the way consumers communicate and has changed the way customers expect to interact with companies. Reliance on these mobile devices is leading to increased use of electronic channels such as Web-based self-service, text messages, instant messages, image and video sharing, and collaboration. Software vendors in this market, including  Genesys, Holdfree, Interactive Intelligence, Jacada and NICE Systems, have recently announced new tools that help companies build apps for mobile self-service and easier collaboration with live agents if the need arises. 

The fact that more business units are getting involved in handling these interactions is driving the need to adopt internal collaboration tools. Salesforce.com is responding aggressively to this need, rolling out Chatter to more companies so that different groups can collaborate on solving customer issues. Other vendors also are taking up the challenge, and more tools are emerging to support collaboration both internally and with customers.

Our research into the adoption of cloud-based contact center systems shows that "the cloud" is also having a big impact. CRM is of course one of the most commonly used customer service applications, and it is the one most companies are deploying via the cloud. This move is so strong that the research suggests cloud-based deployments will overtake the number of those on-premises within the next few years. The results also show an increasing number of companies adopting communications systems residing in the cloud. The most popular trend is to replace or supplement on-premises systems that handle discrete communication channels with an integrated, multimedia solution in the cloud from a vendor such as Echopass, Genesys, inContact, Interactive Intelligence or LiveOps. I believe this is the only practical way to support multiple channels since the costs to purchase and integrate stand-alone, on-premises systems are too high and the implementation too complex.

Our research into contact center analytics shows that companies have been slow to adopt the specialized systems that have come to market. Companies have remained focused on basic efficiency metrics and so have been content to rely on systems provided by their infrastructure providers or, all too often, on spreadsheets. However, the customer maturity research shows that this will need to change as companies increasingly focus on effectiveness or outcome metrics. These require accessing more sources of data, many of which are unstructured, and more integration to produce complex analyses such as lifetime value of customers and first-contact resolution. This is an area where big-data technology becomes useful because companies need to include voice- and text-based data sources, and the volumes in these sources can run to millions of items. These requirements are driving greater adoption of analytics for speech, text, social media and processes as companies try to understand customer service performance and predict its impact going forward.

Customer service or customer engagement is now a key business differentiator. Each of these six technologies is having a major impact on how effectively companies can provide differentiated customer service, and we advise them to take all six in account as they plan their future customer-facing strategies.