It is no surprise that a significant amount of work is being done at marketing service providers (MSPs), customer engagement agencies (CEAs), and direct and digital agencies to differentiate their organizations abilities. The vendor landscape is crowded and competitive, which creates a complex environment for marketers and customer intelligence professionals. How can they choose the best partners for their key business needs?
I am happy to have joined the Customer Insights team at Forrester Research, where I will continue the research and thinking on the CI services landscape (agencies, MSPs, CEAs, and data providers) previously covered by Fatemeh Khatibloo while she builds her research on personal identity management (PIDM).
Forrester defines CEAs as: “Agencies that focus on defining customer-oriented business strategies and mapping them to tactics and execution. CEAs help clients maximize customer profitability and optimize customer experiences by applying data and analytics to every interaction.” We believe that CEAs will not be the only type of business emerging from the MSP space. My research will focus on developing trends within the marketing services landscape, as well as studying emerging provider models. I will also support the CI team’s mission to support customer-obsessed business strategies. See our mantra here: CI’s Imperative In The Age Of The Customer: Drive Business Success.
When we set out to evaluate the new breed of firm that we call "customer engagement agencies," we sent our initial screener to an incredibly long list of firms -- over sixty, in fact! -- ranging from MSPs to digital agencies to management consultancies. We felt that we needed to cast a wide net if we wanted to understand the range of approaches vendors take to customer engagement: how they use data and analytics, the channels they enable with customer intelligence, and how they service their most strategically engaged clients. As the responses rolled in, a hypothesis began to take shape in my mind: The emerging customer engagement agency model hails from two mature markets -- digital/direct agencies and database MSPs -- and, depending on provenance, these evolving agencies take one of two primary approaches to customer engagement.
Turns out, I was on the right track, though the reality is not quite so black and white.
In our final evaluation of 13 vendors in The Forrester Wave: Customer Engagement Agencies, Q4 2012, we did find different strengths and weaknesses depending on legacy business model, but ultimately EVERY firm still has a long road ahead of evolving its people and processes to support CEA clients. We also found, though, that each CEA we evaluated is working hard to connect the dots between strategy, analytics and execution in order to optimize customer experience and profitability. And that can only be a good thing for the marketers and CI leaders who are visionary enough to hire them.
We've spent a lot of time in the past year looking at how the customer intelligence services landscape is changing. For one thing, it's a heck of a lot more chaotic: everyone from management consultants to systems integrators to KPO vendors is putting a stake in the ground of CI services. We've also seen a dramatic shift in the way some digital & direct agencies and database MSPs are thinking about their most strategic client relationships. This change has been so noticeable that, a few months ago, we actually published research that defines a new business model: The Customer Engagement Agency (CEA).
It's no surprise that clients and vendors alike are excited about this model. These agencies help elevate customer intelligence within the client organization. They bring attention and focus to the importance of customer knowledge, and they work hard at infusing that knowledge throughout every customer touchpoint. They measure customer value, not just marketing campaigns. And they help clients use CI to answer questions about everything from product development to logistics and resource management.
But, this is an emerging market — the players are evolving from very different backgrounds; they offer substantially different "value-added" capabilities; and many of them have proprietary methods and models that make it hard to compare apples to apples.
That's why we've just kicked off a Customer Engagement Agency WaveTM that will publish in the fall. If you're intrigued with the idea of working with a CEA, I encourage you to: