Today, salesforce.com announced the intent to acquire Radian6, a leader in the social media monitoring space. You can find the details of the definitive agreement here. What I want to focus on is what this acquisition means to customer service.
First, the social listening vendor landscape is crowded and ripe for consolidation. Salesforce.com has just picked off the best vendor in this category of vendors, according to a recent Forrester Wave™ report. Radian6 helps salesforce.com extend its core customer service capabilities to the social channels like Facebook and Twitter, which are becoming increasingly important for companies looking to offer a differentiated customer service experience. This is not the first acquisition of this type; however, it is the most significant one, based on salesforce.com's market share and customer base. Expect to see similar acquisitions by CRM and customer service vendors in the future.
You have to admit that knowledge management (KM) is hard — it’s hard to explain, hard to implement, hard to do right. It’s not just technology. It is a combination of organizational realignment, process change, and technology combined in the right recipe that is needed to make KM successful. And when it is successful, it delivers real results — reduced handle times, increased agent productivity and first closure rates, better agent consistency, increased customer satisfaction. Check out the case studies on any of the KM vendors' sites to see real statistics. Yet despite these success stories, and despite there being commercially viable KM solutions on the market for over 10 years, I am unsure whether KM really ever crossed the chasm.
Why is it then that we are seeing renewed interest in KM in 2011? I believe it’s attributed to listening (and acting on) the voice of agents and customers, coupled with loosening the strings of tightly controlled content that has breathed new life into KM. Most common trends include:
Using more flexible authoring workflows. In the past, knowledge was authored by editors who were not on the frontlines of customer service, who foreshadowed questions that they thought customers would ask, and who used language that was not consistent with customer-speak. Authored content would go through a review cycle, finally being published days after it was initially authored. Today, many companies are implementing “just-in-time” authoring where agents fielding questions from customers, not backroom editors, create content that is immediately available in draft form to other agents. Content is then evolved based on usage, and most frequently, used content is published to a customer site, making knowledge leaner and more relevant to real-life situations.
I got a lot of feedback from my last blog post, and I’d like to share my thoughts on each of these statements about customer service. I am sure my point of view is contentious, so please keep comments coming. It will force me to rethink my stance. I’ll cover each of my categories in a separate blog post.
Social Customer Service Myths
Reason behind my POV
Social CRM is giving customers control
Paul Greenberg defines social CRM as the The "company's programmatic response to the customer's control of the conversation." Its about the company taking hold of the reins of the conversation, not the other way round.
Have a look at what Paul Greenberg says here about this topic:
Twitter works for customer service
It sometimes does if the answer can be communicated in 140 characters. It shows that you, as a company are listening and acting on comments.
However, instead of engaging in customer service over Twitter, it is often more effective to take the conversation offline to a more suitable communication channel based on the issue at hand and the customer’s channel preference.
In 2011, organizations will ramp up their multichannel customer service initiatives. This will be harder to do than in the past, as customers now expect more: They are increasingly online, want self-service options, and demand responses in real time, often through their mobile devices. Social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, has also grown to be an important new channel for interacting with customers and engaging in innovative ways.
Navigating the complex customer service solution ecosystem is difficult, as there are many good solutions available. One category of solutions to consider is the customer service capabilities provided by leading CRM suite software solutions providers. These vendors provide core customer service transactional and data management capabilities. There are also many specialty solution providers that provide best-of-breed capabilities that are good options to fill specific gaps in your customer service technology infrastructure.
To help you sort though the choices, I recently investigated 24 specialty customer service solution providers that offer solutions for cross-channel interaction management, knowledge management for customer service, business process management for customer service, customer communities, and customer feedback management, both traditional and via social listening platforms. In summary, I found that:
eGain, Genesys, Moxie, Parature, and RightNow offer mature and comprehensive solutions for multichannel management. LivePerson and FrontRange also provide multichannel communications capabilities, if your needs match their offering.
With 2011 still bright and full of hope for most of us, what are the key trends that customer service professionals need to pay attention to as you plan for success this year?
Here are the top trends that I am tracking. My full report will be published in January.
Trend 1: Organizations Standardize Customer Service Across Communication Channels
In 2011 and beyond, customer service management professionals will continue to work on standardizing the resolution process and customer service experience across communication channels (e.g., web self-service, chat, email, Twitter, phone).
Trend 2: The Universal Customer History Record Becomes A Reality
MyCustomer.com recently asked me what my thoughts were about CRM: Why initial CRM projects failed, what has now changed to make deployments successful, and what the future holds for CRM. Here is the first part of my point of view, as well as a link to a series of three published articles from MyCustomer.com.
Question: Nearly a decade ago, estimates suggested that a very large proportion of CRM projects were failing. What were the main problems undermining CRM projects in those days?
Answer: The main problems undermining CRM projects a decade ago were mismatched expectations with reality in three categories: technology, process and people.
The first CRM systems were not fully baked and had large feature holes that were not always communicated to the purchaser. The technology was not intuitive or easy to use. It was hard to implement with long time-to-value and hard to become proficient in its use. It was even harder to change the business processes that had been implemented — changes that were necessary to stay in line with evolving business needs.
CRM systems were also difficult to integrate with a company’s IT ecosystem, which meant that many actions needed to be repeated in multiple systems. (For example, consider a CRM system that was not integrated into a company’s email system. This means that a sales person would have to cut and paste a customer communication from their email correspondence into the CRM system, which was labor intensive and often not done. )
Microsoft was kind enough to invite me to Microsoft's Dynamics Fall Analyst Event — a two-day event packed with product, strategy, customer, and partner information. The focus was clearly on Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011. This product and the go-to-market strategy are clear and focused. Here are my thoughts:
The Dynamics CRM 2011 product is good. Today, Microsoft Dynamics CRM is used by 23,000 customers, 1.4 million end users in 80 countries and 40+ languages. That in itself is impressive. However, Microsoft wants to do better. It has focused on the user experience and UI in the 2011 product in hopes of driving increased adoption. Dynamics CRM 2011 is deeply integrated with Outlook, Office Communicator, SharePoint, Office 365, and Bing. It can be easily personalized. A business user, without the help of IT, can set up a dashboard. It has rich reporting analytics. It works on mobile devices, including the iPhone. Microsoft realizes that this product still has limitations, especially around Web self-service customer service capabilities. Its near-term plans are to address this, as well as adding capabilities around support for the phone channel and for social customer service. However, right now, these holes offer a chance for specialty customer service vendors to make inroads.
Consumers generally hate email for customer service - so much so that some analysts have said that email is dead, and has been replaced by the live assist channels like chat or SMS/MMS. Or in the new world, there is Twitter and customer service from Facebook.
Why does email get such a bad rap? It's because we don’t trust this channel – we have all had the experience of emailing a company’s customer service department and not getting an answer back. Or getting an answer that addressed only half of our question.
Email’s poor performance as a customer service channel is typically a result of the tool’s history. These systems were typically deployed years ago and have had little care and feeding to maximize their productivity, or align operations to best practices.
Yet, customer service managers want you to use email. It’s a cheaper alternative than live-assist channels. And the automation features built into modern tools make email processing quick and reliable.
So, even with history working against you, if you are offering email to your customers, make sure it works. Follow these these basic steps to restore your customers' faith in this communication channel.
Make email part of your multichannel strategy - Don’t think of email as a siloed channel. Provide escalation pathways between your web self-service site and email, and be sure to have a single source of knowledge that is used across all your communication channels. That means that your customers will get the same answer across all touchpoints.
Wired Magazine states that the four most heavily trafficked sites on the Internet are Facebook, Apple, Amazon, and Google. Facebook alone has 500 million users, and users collectively spend more than 3 billion hours on this site, or more than 55 minutes a day per person. It’s a vertitable interaction hub, where many businesses have a significant presence, and their pages are an integral part of their brand identity.
Many of these fan pages offer information pertinent to their consumers, as well as coupons to entice customers to their brand. Dell, for example, has done a great job with its social media resource for small businesses. Understanding that small business owners buy computers, by offering them this resource, small business owners interested in social media keep Dell top of mind.
As consumers spend more time on these Facebook pages, a natural extension is for companies to be able to provide sales and customer support directly from these pages. Check out, for example, 1-800-Flowers’s Facebook page, where you can do just that.
Multichannel customer service vendors understand that Facebook is now a shopping and service destination, and they're extending their core multichannel products to offer apps that install a “Support" tab on a company’s wall.
Once a user (customer or prospect) clicks on this tab, they can engage with the community or a customer service agent without ever leaving the site. Capabilities that will become standard include:
Searching for an answer in forum posts as well as in a corporate knowledgebase.
Rating forum and knowledge posts.
Recommending forum posts to be added to the corporate knowledgebase.
Part of managing your brand is making sure that your customer service experience is consistent across all touchpoints that you use to interact with a company – traditional ones such as voice, email, chat, web self-service and now the social interaction channels.
What does a "consistency of experience" mean? It means that:
The knowledge a customer or agent has access to must convey the same message across all touchpoints. The voice will understandably be different for, for example, a chat session and an email session.
The agent must have a full view of the customer’s interactions across all touchpoints — traditional and social ones. Another way of saying this is that customer data should not live in independent technology silos.
The processes that an agent follows must be the same for interactions coming in across all touchpoints — traditional and social.