Call Centre Expo 2012 Reveals Some Surprising Trends


Call Centre & Customer Management Expo has been running for several years now. The event provides an opportunity for contact center and customer service managers in Europe to catch up with all the latest and greatest going on in the market. At this year’s event earlier this week, as usual, I found the normal mix of presentations, vendor exhibition stands and other side events. The vendor show included a mix of core contact center vendors (interaction management, CRM, WFO, customer experience management, customer and contact center analytics), supporting vendors such as headphone suppliers and post code software, contact center media players and associated professional bodies. My primary interest is in the core multi-channel contact center market and vendors, and having attended for more years than I can remember, I look for emerging trends on what vendors are present and what they have to offer.

The clear winner this year was the customer interaction management space, with a mix of established, primarily on-premises  players such as Aspect, Avaya and Cisco and the rapidly emerging cloud-based vendors, of which there were more than ever – including AltitudeEnghouse Interactive, Interactive Intelligence, Genesys, mplsystems, NewVoiceMedia and Vocalcom. Each of these provides cloud-based systems that manage inbound and outbound interactions through different communications channels – telephone, email, chat, web, text and social media. Each of course has slightly different sets of capabilities and different strengths and weakness. However, they all support a growing trend that emerged from my recent research into the contact center in the cloud, in that companies must now support multimedia customer engagement (service), and the only practical and affordable way to do this is by using fully integrated, cloud-based interaction management systems as offered by these vendors. Indeed, after better, more focused training for employees who handle interaction, the next best action for nearly half of companies that responded to the research was to investigate using such services. That’s good news for these vendors and not so great for on-premises vendors that are struggling to come up with a cloud-based strategy.

The other technology category to stand out falls within what I term customer experience management; that is, systems that directly impact the customer experience at the point of engagement. The most common on show was the agent desktop – systems that support agents or other employees as they engage with customer to try and solve their issues. These desktops came in many guises. The two truest stand-alone desktop vendors were Kana with its newly acquired Ciboodle products and Oracle with its relatively newly acquired RightNow product. Both have systems that allow organizations to build a desktop that makes it easier for agents to access the systems and information they need to resolve customer issues, including the capability to guide agents on the next best action. Two of the cloud-based interaction management vendors, Altitude and mplsystems, also offer desktop systems that support similar capabilities; in particular they allow companies to surface multimedia interactions onto agents’ desktop. Last but not least was Salesforce.com with Service Cloud. The company doesn’t market Service Cloud as a desktop, but at its core is a desktop that allows companies to surface Salesforce.com information and interaction details (including social media) to agents or other employees handling interactions. Just as with the interaction management products, each of the customer experience management products includes slightly different capabilities and has different strengths and weaknesses. However, as my research into customer relationship maturity shows, managing the customer experience is vital to retaining customers and driving repeat business, so these systems and services are ones companies should take a careful look at.

These two sets of vendors so dominated the show that no other category really stood out for me in my analysis for those that lead customer service. There were very few core workforce optimization who help with managing agent performance vendors present – Calabrio and NICE Systems were the only ones I spotted. I also saw few analytics vendors; one I did see was Avaya, with its Aurix speech analytics product, and I found some interaction management vendors that have analytics embedded in their products and services. The lack of WFO vendors perhaps reflects my research into agent performance management, which shows that the WFO market is now quite mature and most companies have deployed their call recording, quality monitoring and workforce management products. The dearth of analytics vendors reflects my research into customer and contact center analytics, which shows this market is at the other end of the maturity model and is at yet quite immature.

Although I wasn’t surprised to see these two categories dominate, I was surprised not to see more vendors promoting mobile customer service apps. After a flurry of announcements early this year, I expected such applications to be more visible. Although vendors such as Aspect, Genesys and Interactive Intelligence were present, they weren’t featuring mobile apps as prominently as I expected.

In a slightly different space, Nuance Communications clarified what Nina really is – Siri for mobile apps. In the same way that Apple has built Siri into the iPhone, Nuance provides tools that allow companies to embed voice activation into their mobile apps, so for example a user could just say “pay this bill on this date using this credit card” without having to tap on a smart device’s screen.

After all the hype at Salesforce.com’s Dreamforce conference, there wasn’t nearly as much at the show about the social enterprise. Overall I would say this was a more down-to-earth show with vendors showcasing how to support multi-channel customer engagement and how to improve the customer experience.

The final highlight for me was a tremendous customer experience. I have always used headsets from Sennheiser. A pair I recently bought went wrong, so as the company had a stand I thought I would ask if it was a known problem and where I could send them for repair. Instead, within minutes I walked away with a new pair. That’s a great customer experience, and a great way to get a positive acknowledgement on social media. If you missed the event, this will provide you some of the highlights, and if want more details, just let me know.

Regards,

Richard J. Snow

VP & Research Director

Other Side of the Pond Takeaways from Salesforce Dreamforce


Saleforce.com puts on a marketing event that no other software vendor can come close to. Any CEO that can get MC Hammer rapping about your company as an introduction to your keynote has to be admired. The actual content got mixed reviews; my colleague Mark Smith saw some shortfalls in how Salesforce.com supports analytics, while Robert Kugel felt the company’s cloud-based software could help midsize companies.

I wasn’t able to attend, but from what I saw the event was similar, though on a bigger scale, to the company’s U.K. event not so many months back. Salesforce.com’s main message has moved from “the cloud” to “social.” As far as Salesforce.com is concerned, everyone, every company, every thing has gone social, and if companies that haven’t done so as yet don’t follow suit then they will struggle to survive. My recent benchmark research into customer feedback management shows this might not be quite as true as Salesforce.com would have you believe, but social tools certainly have an impact on how companies collaborate internally and how they engage with customers.

Alongside the main keynotes, there were several sessions that illustrated that Saleforce.com is not standing still and has been investing in Sales Cloud, Service Cloud, Chatter and its development platform, Force.com. In addition the company made announcements around Marketing Cloud (although I am sure I heard those in London) and Work.com, which means that Salesforce.com has pretty much got the enterprise covered.

What interests me most are Service Cloud and Desk.com, which seems to me very much the poor relation. However, both fill a critical hole as companies try to improve customer engagement and the customer experience. All my recent benchmark projects leave me in no doubt that customer engagement (service) is now a multi-media challenge that includes social media. Companies now support an average of four or five channels through which they interact with customers. Having a view of those interactions, and other related customer information, is critical to resolving customer issues, providing excellent experiences and keeping customers loyal so they buy more. Cut away all the hype and this is what both Service Cloud and Desk.com do, and companies should see them in that light. By themselves they do not constitute a contact center in the cloud, as they don’t do the tricky bit of managing how interactions are received and delivered. However, Salesforce.com has several partners that do this, such as Five9, Genesys, Interactive Intelligence, LiveOps, NewVoiceMedia and Vocalcom. By using products in combination companies really can get a grip on customer interaction management and the customer experience.

One final takeaway: Personally, I like it when Salesforce soft-sells products and services through case studies. I find companies are still tentative about moving to the cloud, and hearing about other companies that have “been there, done that and been successful” will go some way to overcome those fears. Like Rob, I think it a little sad that Salesforce.com concentrates on large or high-profile companies to illustrate its successes, as the cloud opens up the same opportunities for small and midsize companies too.

In a relatively short space of time Salesforce.com has grown into a major global corporation. It has finally gotten companies to accept sourcing its products off-premises. It has products and partners that supply all manner of products; enough to support most organizations. It has made us all think social. What comes next? All we can say for sure is that no company, whether vendor or end user, can ignore Salesforce.com, and we can only wonder what the next Dreamforce will be like.

Regards,

Richard J. Snow

VP & Research Director