I recently wrote about customer experience lessons I learned during 2014 and the technologies required to deliver EPIC experiences. Both of these analyses focus on the people, processes, information and technologies required to improve the customer experience at every touch point, and these themes will also be at the heart of our customer technology research agenda for 2015.
Looking back at our benchmark research into next-generation customer engagement, I am reminded of the need for companies to rethink how they engage with customers, from marketing to customer support. They must realize that customers have changed the ways they communicate, and this has changed the customer engagement paradigm. I often use my 22-year-old daughter to illustrate this point. She never watches TV in real time, so she can skip those advertisements; the news she wants is delivered to her iPad so she never reads a newspaper; she doesn’t use email and opens postal mail only from people she knows. The net result is that none of the traditional marketing channels will reach her. Like almost everyone else these days, she searches for products she is interested in on the Internet and when possible will buy on the Internet as well, preferably using a chat window; that said, she does still go to shops, so at least one channel stays the same. Support is another issue. She lives on her iPhone and iPad, so she expects support to be available through one of these whenever she wants it. She is thus predisposed to use self-service technologies such as voice-activated IVR, virtual agents, corporate websites, text, chat or social media.
The impact for businesses hoping to sell to her and millions like her is threefold:
- Our research into next-generation customer engagement shows that organizations have to support multiple channels of engagement ranging from telephone (which 94% of companies support) to virtual agents (only 10%). All of these channels must be connected.
- The same research shows that in a clear majority (71%) of organizations the contact center is still the most common business unit handling interactions, but every business unit except IT must be prepared to engage with customers; they all must work from the same customer information, and their efforts have to be aligned.
- Providing responses requires access to multiple systems, including transaction systems such as CRM and ERP, communication management systems such as email, chat and social media, and dashboards and performance analysis.
With these needs in mind, our customer technology research agenda for 2015 will focus on benchmark research addressing three themes:
- Optimizing the customer experience across all touch points.
This research will examine how organizations are using and intend to use cloud computing to accelerate omnichannel customer engagement. It will investigate how organizations can improve alignment between marketing, sales and service to make the customer experience consistent and how big data analytics can help optimize interaction handling and the customer journey.
- Improving the effectiveness of interactions through innovative technology.
This research will examine how innovative technology can improve interaction handling and employee and customer satisfaction. It will investigate technologies such as smart agent desktop systems to optimize interaction handling and employee satisfaction, mobility-enabled workforce optimization systems that managers and supervisors can use to work away from their desks and respond faster to alerts, and collaboration to improve alignment between business units.
- Establishing the next generation of customer self-service.
This research will examine how organizations are planning to improve customer self-service. It will investigate how mobile apps can improve self-service and integration with the contact center, the use of voice recognition, real-time voice analytics and virtual agents to empower customer self-service, and replacing FAQs with interactive, Web-based self-service, visual IVR and smart mobile apps.
Each of these research projects will include analysis of how organizations are using or will use innovative technologies to improve customer engagement.
Cloud Computing – Our benchmark research shows organizations increasingly prefer cloud-based systems as they strive to improve customer engagement, especially integrated communications management (often called the contact center in the cloud), workforce optimization and analytics. We will follow this trend and determine whether it is extending into other systems such as self-service. Our new contact center in the cloud research in 2015 will specifically examine this trend and how organizations are advancing their interactions and operations to the cloud.
Big Data and Analytics – These related technologies have become critical to customer engagement because more channels produce more data types and greater volumes of data. Customer engagement typically happens in real time so organizations need big data analytics systems that can process all customer data sources (structured and unstructured) and provide to any employee handling a customer interaction a full picture of the customer, do it in real or near real time, visualize the information in forms and on devices specific to different users, and provide the ability to drill down to the root causes behind the data and produce predictive models of potential future customer behavior. Our research into next generation of customer analytics has found that analytics is essential to optimizing all customer related processes.
Business and Social Collaboration – In our research into next-generation customer engagement the largest percentage (19%) of participants cited deploying an internal collaboration system as the action most likely to improve customer engagement. Such systems can enhance communication between employees, enable managers and supervisors to coach agents in near real time to improve responses to customers, and enable agents to collaborate with subject-matter experts to improve the likelihood of resolving customer issues at the first attempt. Collaboration with customers through social media forums is also becoming popular not just to improve customer service but also to research potential products and service improvements.
Mobile and Wearable Computing – Mobile computing is having a double impact on customer engagement. One is the “bring your own device” (BYOD) movement as more organizations look for systems that its employees can access on mobile devices. This includes enabling more employees to handle customer interactions such as supervisors away from their desks, mobile customer service employees and home workers. The second is customer demand for self-service using mobile apps. Organizations must consider systems that help them build smart mobile apps that can automatically connect to a contact center agent at the click of a button without losing the context of what the customers was doing in the app. By their nature, wearables are likely to impact customer engagement, so we will seek to understand what organizations expect the impact to be and how they will address it.
Much has happened in customer engagement in the last 12 months, and I expect those changes to continue and perhaps accelerate. We will continue to assess customer engagement market maturity to gain insight into how many organizations intend to maintain the status quo and how many have adopted and will adopt innovations in people, processes, information and technology. We will identify best practices that can help organizations grow in maturity. I am excited about tracking how customer engagement is evolving and how companies are using innovative technology to keep up with customer expectations. Do not forget to come and download our customer technology research agenda for 2015. So please connect with me and share your insights.
Richard J. Snow
VP & Research Director