NICE Systems was one of the first vendors I started to cover when I joined Ventana Research more than 11 years ago. Back then it was a pure-play vendor of workforce optimization (WFO) systems and was creating a portfolio of products by developing its own systems and acquiring niche vendors of call recording, quality management, workforce management, performance management and analytics. Over the years its portfolio has grown with new features, improved integration between the component parts, centralized administration and management capabilities, and a standard, modern user interface. The latest version of its core Workforce Optimization product was rated a Hot vendor in our 2015 WFO Value Index. It is still undergoing development, and a new version is being marketed as Adaptive WFO as it uses analytics to become more information-driven.
This transition started in late 2012, as NICE added support for big data analytics through a partnership with IBM. This arrangement enables NICE to support organizations wanting to use, in real time, big data gathered from customer interactions across multiple communication channels, such as voice, e-mail, chat and websites. A more recent step in this journey came in January through the acquisition of Nexidia, a vendor of customer analytics that brings advanced capabilities to gain deeper insights from speech and text interactions.
NICE continues to look for acquisitions, some to enhance its workforce optimization portfolio, some to support its transition to being a cloud-based vendor, and others to support additional channels of engagement such as video. The latest is inContact, which provides cloud-based contact center infrastructure systems that directly manage voice and other channels of engagement and are paid for on a usage basis, giving NICE the ability to support omnichannel customer experiences. The systems manage multiple channels of communication in the cloud “as one” – that is, all channels are managed by a single set of rules to ensure interactions are routed to the most-qualified person to handle a specific customer. InContact also offers voice services through its carrier-grade global network and connectivity with several telecommunications companies, ensuring high-quality voice for users such as contact center agents. This acquisition won’t become final until the end of the year, but at the company’s recent Interactions 2016 conference in London, spokespeople asserted that work is already under way to integrate inContact’s capabilities into the NICE portfolio, including the Nexidia products.
Representatives of both Nexidia and inContact attended this conference, with both companies marketing themselves under their own brands but also as “NICE companies,” which allowed NICE to maximize their existing reputations while promoting the value of the combined capabilities to customers and prospects. I see two advantages of this triple-play combination. First, capabilities from each product set can be used to enhance the other two; for example, the output from Nexidia’s speech analytics can make interaction routing more sophisticated, and at the same time identify agent coaching that in turn can be scheduled by the NICE workforce management system. Second, the combination of products supports an enterprise-wide customer experience by managing all channels as one, which makes it easy for customers to interact with companies through the channels of their choice, whenever they choose. It also ensures that properly skilled and empowered employees are in place to handle any type of interaction and provide personalized, consistent and in-context responses. For the company, it produces comprehensive views of customers, their interactions and business journeys with the organization and the outcomes of those journeys, which allows it to optimize future interactions and journeys.
The strap line for the conference was “the power of knowing,” and NICE CEO Barak Eilam kicked off the event by stressing the importance of customer experience in today’s highly volatile markets, and the need to know customers in order to provide experiences that match their expectations. Our benchmark research into next-generation customer engagement confirms that improving customer experience and customer service have become top priorities for companies. Similarly our research into the use of next-generation customer analytics shows the most widespread use of customer analytics is to improve customer experience.
The challenge as I see it is that most companies don’t emphasize that customer experience is ultimately about how customers feel during and after they engage with a company, and this involves a complex set of issues. It should be easy to connect with the company and use the technology, and to receive a satisfying response from an agent or a self-service system. The company ought to recognize each individual and the issue at stake. If the customer interacts with an agent, that person must be skilled and knowledgeable enough to provide the correct answer, and the answers must be the same no matter which channel the customer uses. All these things impact those feelings. My assessment is that no one technology can support all these requirements. At the very least companies need systems to manage communication channels in a common way, other systems to manage the people handling interactions, another kind of systems to provide information to employees or technology providing the answers, and analytics to show what went on, the business outcomes and what might happen in the future. Furthermore, these systems should be connected to support processes that flow across lines of business (such as marketing, sales, service and finance), that allow data to flow seamlessly across them, and that give both internal users and customers a common experience.
The combination of NICE, Nexidia and inContact covers these requirements, so I recommend that organizations looking to support enterprise-wide customer experience assess how they together can help those efforts. In any such evaluation it is important to remember that meeting customer expectations is not about technology alone; it probably requires a cultural shift, several process changes, a new approach to employee training and coaching, and a reassessment of key performance metrics. As Barak Eilam remarked at the conference, it’s worthwhile to look at how other industries are doing this because today many customers will compare companies to others in unconnected markets, and one of them might beat you by doing what you do in an entirely different way.
Richard J. Snow
VP & Research Director, Customer Experience