At the beginning of 2012 Ventana Research predicted that six major technologies would have an impact on the provision and supply of IT systems, and that these would bring about innovation in the way organizations support their business. Each of the six – business and social collaboration, mobile, analytics, cloud computing, social media and big data – has affected how organizations engage with their customers, but I don’t believe the full impact has yet been fully realized. Indeed, in some areas, their impact will accelerate.
Business and Social Collaboration
No one can ignore the fact that consumer use of social media has gone crazy, and our research shows that things are unlikely to slow down. The big question for me is “how much of this is really about business and how much is purely people being social?” My recent research into customer relationship maturity shows most business use of social media is managed by marketing, and its dominant use is to provide information about products and services. During 2013 I expect more companies to use social analytics to better understand how their customers and prospects use social media. Once they know this, they can start building processes that embed social channels into their customer service strategy. This is likely to include the use of more social forums to help resolve customer issues and crowdsource new product and service ideas. My recent research into the agent desktop shows that incorporating internal collaboration technologies has become essential to enabling better handling of customer interactions across multiple communication channels and lines of business. I see no slowdown in the adoption of more channels of communication or the distribution of interaction handling to wider groups of employees; during 2013 I expect to see the adoption of more social forms of intra-line business collaboration.
Much of the discussion around mobility to this point has focused on BYOD. While that topic is an important issue from security, capability and cost perspectives, two other developments are even more important. First, all my research shows that interactions are being handled by more types of employees in more locations, including by home and mobile workers. These workers need to be supported with systems and information to resolve interactions, so organizations need applications that are mobile-enabled and easy to use so that employees are not tethered to their desks. Equally important, earlier in the year, we saw several vendors announce tools that allow organizations to build smart mobile customer service apps. As I suggested in an earlier blog post, it is early days and only early-adopter organizations have yet to test what they can build and what will meet customer expectations. However, I see more apps being developed during 2013 and I hope organizations heed my warning to design these apps with customers in mind; otherwise I fear they will not achieve the success many expect.
My research into contact center analytics shows that contact centers have not been heavy users of specialist analytics products but have relied more on reporting systems from their infrastructure providers and on spreadsheets. However, during 2012 companies began to recognize the value of information locked up in unstructured data such as call recordings, CRM notes, surveys and email. The research shows a growing trend of organizations unlocking this information using speech, text and process analytics. The most mature organizations are also beginning to understand the value of operational intelligence and how it can be used to proactively engage with customers, thus preventing possible downstream issues, as for example using it to advise customers of network outages. There has also been a lot of noise about social analytics, which in reality is applying text analytics to social media sources. My research shows this field too is in its infancy, and the majority of organizations have yet to move on from using social media as a low-cost form of marketing. My wish for 2103 is that more organizations understand the value of analytics and how it can underpin programs such as customer experience management, voice of the customer, and tying agent quality monitoring more to customer-focused activities.
Cloud computing has been one of the hot topics over the last couple of years. My research into the contact center in the cloud shows it has moved on from early adopters to become mainstream. CRM has led the way, but as companies look for practical ways to support integrated channels of communication, the research shows that for nearly half of companies, adopting communications in the cloud is the only answer. I expect adoption in this area to accelerate, putting the on-premises ACD and PBX vendors under pressure.
The challenge I see for 2103 is how to build the accelerating use of social media into an integrated strategy for multichannel customer engagement. The first step is for organizations to use social media analytics to better understand their customers’ use of social media, and when they have done that to define processes that bed social tools into their customer service processes. They must train people in how to use the available tools and how to respond to customer posts, and should reexamine the metrics they use to measure customer success.
Over the last several months numerous vendors have been positioning themselves as providers of big data tools. For me big data boils down to processing unstructured data: call recordings, text messages, IM scripts, social media posts, clicks on a website or indeed on the agent desktop, and event data such as network alerts. These are where organizations have multiple millions of records or events, and they need to process and analyze them in real time; for example, it can be too late to save a customer that has a bad experience on a phone call if that analysis is not available during the call, or at the very least immediately after it completes. Likewise it might be too late to stop a negative comment going viral if the analysis is not available as the post is made. 2013 will see more organizations adopting analytics on unstructured forms of data and using tools that provide analysis in real time.
My final observation for the new year is that in 2013 a real opportunity is opening up for organizations to address some fundamental issues people have been talking about for years:
- balancing customer satisfaction and average handling time
- finding ways that customers can accept to avoid one-on-one phone calls
- increasing first-contact resolution rates
- reducing the number of agents in contact centers without queue time going through the roof.
The best hope for addressing those issues lies in what I call next-generation customer self-service. My research into customer relationship maturity shows that traditional methods using IVR and web-based self-service work for only about 30 percent of interactions. As consumers go more electronic, technologies such as mobile customer service apps and virtual (software) agents that are programmed to match best practice interaction-handling processes offer the chance for customers to self-serve more, making them happier and thus addressing these fundamental issues.
During 2012 I saw more change in the contact center, customer service and customer engagement markets than I have seen in the previous 10 years. I expect that pace to continue into 2013 and fall right in line with my research agenda that I have already published my personal perspective to the industry. I hope some of your thoughts align with mine and I would love to share these, so please come and dialogue with me on technology innovation in contact centers and customer interaction.
Richard J. Snow
VP & Research Director