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.
KANA Software, most well known for its suite of enterprise-class multichannel customer service software (email, knowledge) released last year a new type of solution: Service Experience Management (SEM). This product allows the extension of business process management to the front office and is poised to compete with solutions offered by Pegasystems and Sword Ciboodle. BPM coupled with customer service is a trend that Forrester is seeing, as it enforces agent consistency, productivity, and compliance with policy; we have just published a research paper about this trend.
KANA announced today that it has reached a definitive agreement to purchase a company called Lagan, which is a leader in case management solutions for government, specifically local governments. Lagan has solutions for Web self-service and case management that are used in cities like Toronto, Boston, and Vancouver for 311 (informational) calls.
This acquisition holds geographic coverage promise — it will allow KANA to increase its European footprint, which has recently been very small, and Lagan to gain a good foothold in the US and compete in larger government opportunities.
Your service processes must be the same across all communication channels – traditional and social – in order to deliver a consistent experience and value proposition to your customer base. At the moment, this is downright hard to do, as almost no company offers a solution that tightly integrates the social and traditional communication channels. RightNow saw this need and has delivered a solution that allows customer support agents to engage with customers on Facebook.
Facebook has 500 million registered users that spend more than 3 billion hours a month on their site, says Nielsen. It’s a veritable interaction hub, where many businesses have a significant presence. Some have hundreds of thousands of fans. Other businesses have smaller, yet very loyal followings.
RightNow’s CX for Facebook product, to be released in November, will allow companies to install an app that creates a “Support” tab on their wall. Once a user (customer or prospect) clicks on this tab, they will be able to find answers from community content or from the corporate knowledgebase, ask the community questions, follow, participate and track discussions, propose an idea, ask an agent (either in a public or a private conversation), and more without leaving the Facebook site. Agents as well will be able to monitor and respond to wall posts: RightNow’s SmartSense sentiment analysis will be able to detect the tone of posts and flags high-priority comments for immediate follow-up.
We’ve all heard about ideal customer service — the mantra of customer service vendors as they tout their wares. But what does this actually mean? Service at all costs (ideal for the customer)? Service at minimal cost (ideal for the business)? Or does “ideal” to a customer service manager mean the ability to deliver “good enough customer service” — where the cost of doing service is balanced with the ability to satisfy and retain a customer? Or is it something else — like providing a customer service experience that parallels a company’s business model?
Think about Saks Fifth Avenue — High-style, high-cost apparel. You would expect their customer service to be in line with their business model: Customer service on the customer’s terms — where you can arrange a phone call with a shopping consultant. You can talk with them now or later, at your convenience. You can email them and they will get back to you very quickly, or you can chat with them at any time of day or night.
Now think about IKEA — the provider of “affordable solutions for better living.” You shop at IKEA because you are comfortable with serving yourself — from pulling furniture off shelves to self-checkout to assembling them yourself. And, IKEA’s service mirrors their brand. They have exhaustive web self service in a multitude of languages, a chat bot, some email support and limited phone support. You are not disappointed with their lack of white-glove service because you would never expect it from IKEA — it is not their business model.
Hello customer service world – I’ve just joined at Forrester Research, responsible for customer service and call center business processes. I’ll be watching the customer service vendors – both the traditional multichannel ones as well as the new social/community ones. I’ll be working with clients to justify new customer service projects and to recommend best practice adoption as well as sharing my thoughts and opinions of the impact of the customer service experience on your brand.
Even though I am new to Forrester, I am not new to customer service, having spent years at KANA and as a regular contributor to the CRM magazine and blog-sphere.
One topic that has interested me is how the customer service manager must balance the needs of his ever-evolving customer with the economic constraints imposed on him by the business. Customers today demand instant service on-the-go, and are quick to voice their displeasure when service doesn’t meet their expectations. And in this world of social media, this displeasure is easily amplified, which can negatively impact your business.
So what are the tools and business processes that a service manager must embrace to be successful? New knowledge tools? New delivery channels for the mobile customer or the impatient one? More process in the front office to help standardize the experience? A better cross-channel customer experience? More sophisticated analytics to microtarget your customer?
I know there are a lot more answers to this question. I hope you will start reading my blog, offer your suggestions and feedback, and pass on a good word if you like what you see. I look forward to your insights.