From its history of managing postal mail, Pitney Bowes has expanded into products for data management, analytics and location intelligence, as my colleague Mark Smith noted. Continuing this expansion through internal development and acquisitions of vendors such as Portrait Software and RTC, it has added to its portfolio products that include customer information management and customer engagement.
I have long maintained that companies can’t really improve customer engagement unless they know their customers. To get to know them they need systems that can extract from all their data stores and analyze all forms of customer data. In this effort, our benchmark research into next-generation customer analytics shows, the most common impediment (for 63% of organizations) to applying such tools is that the data is not readily available. Pitney Bowes addresses this and related issues through Customer Information Management, a suite of products that provide data management and integration, data quality and customer analytics and enable companies to do customer analysis based on a range of data sources. As yet it doesn’t work with many unstructured sources of customer data such as call recordings and text-based records, which are needed to complete the full view of the customer to support information-driven decisions and actions.
For me the most interesting features are found in its suite of Customer Engagement products, which although having document management at their core are being developed to include an array of channels of engagement and handling of interactions across the enterprise. Pitney Bowes says that it has a five-year plan to create a single platform that will support omnichannel customer engagement across assisted and self-service channels throughout the customer life cycle and across the enterprise; the primary goal is to help users increase customer lifetime value. Recently the company announced the latest release of a key component, EngageOne Server 4.0, which will be the foundation for the complete platform. EngageOne Server enables companies to manage all aspects of producing electronic documents and delivering them to customers through a variety of channels. It includes capabilities to create and manage document templates, author and approve text-based content, produce required content as a batch process, on demand or interactively, and deliver the content in print, fax, email or SMS forms or on the company’s website. All of this content can be stored securely for later retrieval and use. Release 4.0 adds several new features to enhance functionality and make it easier to use, more scalable, accessible and secure, and cloud-ready.
The first non-text-based channel it supports is personalized interactive video (PIV). This comes by way of the acquisition of RTC and to my knowledge makes Pitney Bowes the first vendor to support this as a self-service channel. The concept is simple: Instead of making a phone call customers connect to a voice-activated video that enables them to have an interactive dialogue in much the same way as talking to an agent. The dialogue can include a real person or an animated character asking questions or presenting answers, video clips, links to other shared content such as a website and presentation of content such as a document. It can change dynamically depending on information provided or the customer’s responses to questions, so that with the right programming the interaction can be personalized for the caller and the issue.
The interaction thus can take many forms – a Q&A session, a request for information, a complaint about a product or a query about a bill. Here is a relatively simple example: The caller provides his or her name, asks a question about the latest bill, is presented with an image of the bill and then engages in a Q&A session to resolve the issue using the bill to focus the dialogue. In trying the system, I found it easier to use than touch-tone or visual IVR, more engaging than a video call and more satisfying than speech-activated software-based agents. However, I caution companies choosing to work with this channel to create such videos with the customer in mind, ensuring that it supports what customers want to do and how they want to do it, rather than as a means of trying to reduce the cost of handling interactions.
Our benchmark research into next-generation customer engagement shows that companies have three main challenges in providing customers with the omnichannel experiences they expect: It is difficult to integrate systems (for 49%), channels are managed as silos (47%), and responses to customers across channels are inconsistent (39%). Addressing all these challenges is not easy, as I explained in a recent perspective about the technologies required to deliver EPIC customer experiences. The Pitney Bowes products have capabilities that can help address these issues, including tools that integrate with third-party products and other tools for collaboration that enable users to share information and join in the resolution of issues, which has the potential to improve consistency in interaction handling.
EngageOne Server has more work to be a complete omnichannel product, but Pitney Bowes says it is committed to developing it into a comprehensive customer engagement platform that supports consistent handling of interactions across all channels and throughout the customer life cycle. My research shows that video calling is a channel likely to take off as consumers use video calls to engage with each other. PIV innovatively builds on video calling and has the potential to accelerate adoption of interactive self-service.
As I recently wrote I advocate customer lifetime value as a key customer experience metric, but it is not easy to calculate. Pitney Bowes has a development program in place to create products that should help companies meet these objective so I will keenly watch how it develops both its customer information and customer engagement products and recommend that companies seeking to improve these aspects do likewise.
Richard J. Snow
VP & Research Director