The CRM market serving the large enterprise is mature. A great amount of consolidation has happened in the last five years. For example, Oracle, focused on providing consistent end-to-end customer experiences across touchpoints, has acquired a great number of point solutions to round out its customer experience portfolio. SAP, like Oracle, aims to provide consistent end-to-end customer experiences via its breadth of products and has also made a few key acquisitions. Similarly, Salesforce has made a series of moves to round out the Service Cloud. It has used this same tactic to broaden its CRM footprint with the notable acquisition of ExactTarget for business-to-company (B2C) marketing automation (2013).
The large CRM vendors increasingly offer broader and deeper capabilities which bloat their footprint and increase their complexity with features that many users can't leverage. At the same time, new point solution vendors are popping up at an unprecedented rate and are delivering modern interfaces and mobile-first strategies that address specific business problems such as sales performance management, lead to revenue management, and digital customer experience.
The breadth and depth of CRM capabilities available from vendor solutions makes it increasingly challenging to be confident of your technology choice. In the Forrester Wave: CRM Suites For Large Organizations, Q1 2015, we pinpoint the strengths of leading vendors that offer solutions suitable for large and very large CRM teams. Here are some of our key findings:
It's no surprise that our recent survey data shows that customers of all ages are increasingly using self-service channels (web, mobile, IVR) for a first point of contact for customer service. In fact, for the first time in the history of our survey, respondents reported using the FAQ pages on a company's website more often than speaking with an agent over the phone. Self-service gives you that "pain-free" experience that consumers want. Customers escalate the harder questions to a live agent - whether its chat, email or a phone agent - and these calls become opportunities to help build stronger relationships with your customers to garner their long-term loyalty.
What is comforting is that the 2015 survey results from Dimension Data is saying the same thing too. This report is based on responses from over 900 global contact center decision makers covering 12 industry verticals. Some of their key findings say that "Customers want a frictionless, easy, and immediate journey on channels of their choice. They want a connected omnichannel journey across channels. Complexity levels are intensifying as contact centers evolve into channel resolution hubs."
Industry analysts travel—a lot. It is, therefore, no surprise that I care deeply about airlines’ frequent flyer programs and track the changes to those programs as closely as baseball obsessives track star players’ slugging percentages. When I want information on what these changes mean practically in my situation (Will the new loyalty program make it harder for a 75k+ elite member looking to book a companion ticket’s upgrade on an alliance partner airline, for example), I typically do not turn directly to the airline. Instead, I log on to Flyertalk, a forum that bills itself as “the largest expert travel community.” The forum—populated by thousands of frequent fliers far more obsessive than I will ever be—consistently houses discussions of exactly the thing I want to know.
The lion’s share of people answering questions on Flyertalk and other forums like it—Cruisecritic for the cruising fans, TripAdvisor for travel and hospitality broadly, AutomotiveForums for car enthusiasts, etc.—are other consumers, albeit well-informed ones. But these non-brand controlled communities provide opportunities to brands to differentiate themselves through service. Because affinity communities have barriers to entry, including registrations and jargon, community members are usually deeply interested in the topic at hand. In communities that regularly discuss brands, these customers are also more likely to be exactly the type of high-value customers that companies want to provide with great customer experiences. But brands need to decide when and how to engage customers in these forums they do not control.
CRM is the foundational building block that allows empowered consumers and connected employees to do business in ways we could not imagine just a few years ago. Historically, CRM strategies have focused around operational efficiency gains like reduced marketing costs, increased revenues from salespeople, shorter sales cycles, or better customer service productivity. Its no wonder that CRM is widely deployed in all companies – both big and small.
I first noticed the creeping changes a few years ago. In college I majored in comparative literature and averaged about five novels read per week. Even when I entered the hustle and bustle overdrive of the working world, I still rapidly pounded through stacks of books every month. Over the past few years, while I still read more than the average American, the act of actually finishing a book became something of a notable achievement. My brain was more easily distracted, my ability to focus on and engage with complex information diminished, and my capacity to multitask as required by a modern work environment was seemingly illusory.
Of course, I wasn’t alone in experiencing these changes. This distracted mental state has become a common problem among knowledge workers and heavy users of Internet and mobile technologies. Excellent books such as Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age and The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains detailed the changes we are all undergoing and described much of the neuropsychological research that seeks to explain the mental modifications that have left us in such a state. At heart, the research shows that our tools have begun to shape our brains just as much as we fashion our tools--and not always for the better.
Such mental modifications would seem to pose some significant and idiosyncratic problems for customer service organizations. Indeed, a new generation of contact center agents has begun to vex application development and delivery professionals. The new agents seem reluctant to learn detailed product and service information that previous cohorts of agents had little problem with. These new agents prefer to learn where to find such information, but have little intention of actually memorizing product support details.
As 2014 winds down, I have taken the time to pause, and look ahead to what top customer service trends are surfacing for 2015 and beyond. Good service — whether it's to answer a customer's question prior to purchase, or help a customer resolve an issue post-purchase should be pain-free, proactive at a minimum and preemptive at best, deeply personalized, and delivered with maximum productivity. Here are 6 top trends - out of a total of 10 - that I am keeping my eye on. My full report highlighting all trends can be found here:
Trend 1: Customers Embrace Emerging Channels To Reduce Friction. In our recent survey, we found that web self-service was the most widely used communication channel for customer service, surpassing use of the voice channel for the first time. In 2015, we predict that customers will continue to demand effortless interactions over web and mobile self-service channels. They will also explore new communication channels such as video chat with screen sharing and annotation.
Trend 2: Companies Will Explore Proactive Engagement. Proactive engagements anticipate the what, when, where, and how for customers, and prioritize information and functionality to speed customer time-to-completion. In 2015, we expect organizations to explore proactive engagement - whether it's proactive chat, proactive offers, or proactive content - delivered at the right time in a customer's pre-purchase journey to help answer customer questions. They will use learnings from these proactive engagements to improve operational performance and to predict future customer behavior.
Early this year a host of inquires were coming in about data quality challenges in CRM systems. This led to a number of joint inquires between myself and CRM expert Kate Legget, VP and Principal Analyst in our application development and delivery team. Seems that the expectations that CRM systems could provide a single trusted view of the customer was starting to hit a reality check. There is more to collecting customer data and activities, you need validation, cleansing, standardization, consolidation, enrichment and hierarchies. CRM applications only get you so far, even with more and more functionality being added to reduce duplicate records and enforce classifications and groups. So, what should companies do?
Chat as a customer engagement channel is being used more widely today than ever before. All demographics use it widely, even the Older Boomers (ages 57 to 67) and the Golden Generation (ages 68+). Users are satisfied with chat interactions as they can be less painful than a phone call or a self-service session gone awry. Proactive chat — triggering of chat invitations based on a predefined set of visitor behaviors - is also on the rise, with 44% of US online consumers saying that they like having a chat invitation appear to help answer questions during an online research or purchase, up from 33% in 2012 and 27% in 2009.
I'm moving into covering the greater CRM space, yet still retaining a deep focus on customer service technologies. Now-retired analyst extraordinaire, William Band and I put together our top trends for CRM in 2014. These trends are all about leveraging strategies and technologies for better understanding, connecting with, serving, and delighting customers. You can access the full CRM Trends Report for 2014 here.
Trend 2: Enterprises Will Embrace Tools That Create An Outside-In Perspective. To make meaningful improvements, organizations must align their customer experience ecosystems. That requires understanding customers' deep needs, viewing interactions from the customer's perspective, and socializing customer insights - and organizations will embark on this journey in 2014.