Forrester's Top 10 Trends For Customer Service In 2011

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

Management of the universal customer history record will evolve to include customer communications done over traditional and social channels such as Facebook and Twitter. This will involve mapping of, at times, multiple social identities to a traditional customer record.

Trend 3: Knowledge Management Becomes The Linchpin For Outstanding Service

Companies will be either offering for the first time or realigning their customer- and agent-facing knowledge management offerings with best practices. The focus will be on contextual, personalized knowledge delivery during the service resolution process, as well as leveraging customer input to evolve knowledge to make it more in line with customer demand.

Trend 4: Business Process Management Extends Its Reach To The Front Office

In 2010, we started to see organizations using BPM in the front office in an attempt to formalize agent actions in an effort to standardize service delivery, minimize agent training times, ensure regulatory and company policy compliance, and control costs

Expect to see continued focus on guiding agents through the service resolution process as well as focus on the end-to-end process that may involve back-office tasks.

Trend 5: Customer Communities Grow In Importance For Customer Service

Customers increasingly expect to be able to interact with companies through community-based interactions, and best practices to do this have emerged. In 2011, expect more success stories with quantifiable results about customer communities to emerge. Expect as well for companies to focus on the processes that they use to manage these communities.

Trend 6: End-To-End Customer Feedback Processes Across Channels Rise

We predict that companies will be doubling-down on their efforts to put end-to-end feedback processes in place across all communication channels — both traditional and social. Expect vendors to provide the next generation of collaborative communication tools, sentiment analytics, and the ability to close the loop with the user.

Trend 7: Mobility Becomes A Must-Have Capability

Expect mobile customer service solutions to become more comprehensive, but not equally supported on all popular mobile operating systems currently available. 

Trend 8: Customer Service Adopts Real-Time Methods

Customer service organizations will strive to offer more personalized, contextual service. Organizations will investigate methods to recommend agent “next-best actions” during the service resolution process that include if and when to offer cross-sell and upsell products or services. More customer service and support organizations will also use real-time analytics to best match agents to customers.

Trend 9: Best-Of-Breed Solutions Are Challenged To Prove Value

We see more suite solutions from a single vendor being deployed for customer service. Buyers will be in a strong position to push best-of-breed vendors to demonstrate differentiation and measurable business value.

Trend 10: SaaS For Customer Service Becomes A Credible Option

Our most recent research tracks the continued adoption of SaaS CRM solutions. Our surveys show that nearly half of apps professionals are actively engaged with SaaS assessments or deployment. In 2011, many first-time customer service technology buyers will look first at a SaaS solution to see if this approach can meet their needs before seriously considering an on-premises solution.


These are some great points

These are some great points for companies looking to standardize their customer service processes cross-channel. And the one that ultimately wins will be the customer. Social technologies provide companies with so much more information that can be used to resolve customer issues, and head them off. It will be exciting to watch the continued evolution of this, as companies really use both traditional and social channels together to create outstanding customer experiences. Thanks for a great post!

trend 5: social communities for custy service

Where do you think Facebook will fit into this picture for social-based customer care?

- answers for simple questions and then triage to proprietary customer communities for more complex problems ?

or will proprietary communities rule the roost?

Social communities for customer service

There are already 500M users on Facebook, and Facebook surpasses Google in number of hits and minutes spent/day. I believe that you want to engage customers where they spend their time. This means that you will see not only more fan pages from companies, but the ability to sell and get customer service from Facebook.

For example, 1-800-flowers allows you to place your orders from their Facebook page. Customer service will follow. Many vendors such as RightNow, Parature, GetSatisfaction offer an app that creates a tab on your FB page. These apps allow the ability to post and find answers via a discussion board, and escalate answers to an agent via email or chat. See my post on customer service via Facebook at:

KM back in the spotlight?

Hi Kate -

I really enjoyed the post and it's super-interesting to see how social is working its way into many of these trends. Of course I am particularly fond of Trend #3, and totally agree that KM is (still) a linchpin for great service. In fact, I see two related trends:

1) Service and support as a beachhead for social models in large, service-oriented enterprises (SCRM first, then more general social business?)

2) The blending of user-generated, informal content with more formal rules and processes as the 'front-lines' of the new KM

Will this alone bring KM back into the spotlight? Perhaps. But, if we also look at benefits of 'mashing up' the best parts of Web 2.0, communities, self-service and KM: keeping users on lower-cost channels, extending value/reach of KB and community content, better insights into customer needs (+ more engagement), there's a pretty good argument for KM (and BPM) being the right place to start as companies go down the path to Social CRM.

I'd love to hear your thoughts and see how this fits with what you are seeing in your research.


KM back in the spotlight

Hi Allen - Its great to hear from you. ANd, I would agree with your two points.
1) Its SCRM first, then more general social business. IBM, SAP and ORacle agree. Check out our webcast at:
2) I do believe that KM is seeing a new day, and I believe it is the confluence of company generated content and user-generated content that is at the root of this resurgence. You don't have to look further that Lithium's tribal knowledge base, and their successful implementations to see the ROI of this model. (look for example at Lenovo's knowledgebase: My next research due out in Q1 2011 will be on best practices in Knowledge Management, and the confluence of social and traditional KM will be one of the highlights.

Trends for 2011

It will be interesting to see how these trends play out over 2011. Working within the social customer care field, the interesting ones for me are mobility (trend 7), real-time (trend 8), communities (trend 5). It's going to be interesting to see how Facebook emerges as a customer service platform over the course of the year. And perhaps many of the trends you talk about will converge on Facebook as a customer service platform that brings together the social and traditional worlds. What we need to be careful about, however, is not simply thinking that the setting up of a customer service tab on Facebook as anything other than a traditional customer service approach on a social platform. Where it becomes interesting is when a company goes beyond the 'tab' approach, and actually thinks about the characteristics of the platform and how social customer care can be applied in an effective and relevant manner to meet these characteristics.

I think 2011 will continue to see companies experiment with social and traditional customer care channels, as well as try to identify the most appropriate/effective organisational structures for integrating social.

Like Allen, I definitely think KM will be a key strategic area. It's an area often overlooked.

However, I'm also a realist, and I think there will also be a great deal of time spent on 'same old, same old'.

2011 Trends will Challenge Customer Service

One thing we know for sure is that delivering high quality customer service is getting more and more challenging with the rampant growth in complexity and diversity of new products, technologies, environments and customer expectations. Customer service organizations are faced with all the trends mentioned in your blog, and will have to make some tough decisions as to where to put their 2011 investments.

I am seeing leading organizations coming to the realization that they need to provide their customer service representatives with more just-in-time knowledge if they want to be successful. The challenge for these organizations is that this knowledge does not come from one spot, but a whole host of sources within the company’s knowledge ecosystem. In the resource challenged world of IT, now is not the time to request huge integration projects to consolidate knowledge into one place. It is my belief that these organizations have to find a way to provide ubiquitous access to their knowledge ecosystem without moving the data. Given the vast amounts of data and information that is being collected by the best of breed silo systems which include CRM, case tracking, knowledge bases, bug tracking, social media, blogs, and forums, customer service representatives need a robust interface that correlates the appropriate content based on a request for information.

Companies deploying Enterprise Search 2.0 technologies with its unified indexing mechanisms that harvests data from existing systems and then provides ubiquitous access to this information as actionable knowledge via dashboards, role based analytics and knowledge mashups, are seeing significant productivity and customers satisfaction benefits. There’s no need to move data; access is based on users context and is updated in real-time based on the collection of data from the best of breed systems. In fact they are able to realize value from trends #2,3,4,5,6, 8 and 9 you outline, without significant investment in time or IT resources.

Understanding what you need

Hi Ed

You raise some really interesting points. I've got a couple of observations.

Real time: I think businesses need to be careful about real time. Many tools now exist that give companies the capability to receive real-time updates about what people/customers are saying about them and identify those that need to be responded to, resolved on the spot, escalated, ignored etc. However, what is key to this is for a company to understand how these customer interactions need to be dealt with. Just because you receive real-time updates, does not mean that you are actually resourced to respond to them, nor does it mean that every message needs responding to. I have found that what we might on face value identify as a complaint might actually be someone letting off steam etc and not necessarily require a response. There's also a distinction to be made between acknowledging a customer's tweet and the actual resolution of it. Often what customers want is a simple acknowledgement that they have been heard. The resolution is a secondary matter.

My second observation is around the perceived increasing complexity of what companies need their crm systems to do. It appears we are increasingly asking them to be more and more sophisticated providing us with this dashboard and that dashboard, the information on which we can wave under the nose of our line manager for 30 seconds once a week. I'm generalising I know, but we've all got to be careful that just because we can capture the data doesn't escape the question we must always ask: what are we trying to understand? Often, we're not sure, but our paranoia drives us to the need to capture it all.

Understanding what you need

Hi Guy,

I am fully aligned with both of your comments. Real Time should not imply that you react to every comment or situation, what is important is that you have access to that knowledge and use it appropriately, for example, maybe it is in a voice of the customer mashup that is looking for trends over the past hour.

With respect to your complexity point, I believe that we are asking too much from best of breed solutions to expand beyond their core functionality often confusing the purpose of the tool itself. Organizations should be looking for solutions that unify access to the data from the best of breed applications across the enterprise without moving the data and provide ubiquitous access to the knowledge collected through a variety of easy to use interfaces.

Understanding what you need

I think we'll both also agree that companies often overlook the KM issue until it's too late. The time spent upfront really trying to understand what content needs to be generated, will be generated, how it needs to be accessed, distributed etc pays off down the line.

It's the same if companies use social, if not more so, what do you do with all that information that is generated via Twitter, Facebook, blogs etc. They tend to focus on the tools and only realise the problem when they're faced with a mountain of content, data etc.

Understanding What You Need

Guy- I could not agree with you more. Companies must get the basics right before moving to more complex models. A solid foundation of getting content that agents/customers need is one of these basic housecleaning tasks. How you entails a needs assessment and a decision on what the best way to generate this content is based on the company and space that they operate in - Either via structured KM, or KM with user generated content, or with enterprise search 2.0 where data and content is not moved. I dont believe there is a single right answer for all companies

Trend 2: The Universal Customer History Record Becomes A Reality

Thoughtful post, Kate. One of the things that greatly improves the 'Universal Customer History Record" is using a call tracking solution to understand how prospects who use the phone flow through the sales funnel. By understanding which advertising sources drive phone calls, marketers gain a greater understanding of how to optimize their marketing spend. Additionally, phone call data can easily be integrated into a CRM system as well as Google Analytics and many other web analytics dashboards to further illuminate the full conversion picture.

We recently wrote a blog post about the "5 Ways Digital Marketing Agencies Use Call Tracking" which details how using a call tracking solution provides insights into how prospects and customers interact with a business.

Interaction of the trends

Your outline of the trends is interesting - thanks. But what about about the interaction of the trends and how one trend affects another in either a positive or negative way?

For example, I will be keen to see how #3 (Knowledge Management) impacts and is impacted by #5 (Communities). It is one thing to access knowledge from within a company and to use it to better respond to discussions within a community but how do we harness the knowledge that emerges from a community discussion and use it both within a company as well as within future community discussions? How, where and by whom does a community's knowledge get stored and accessed?

Trend 6: End-To-End Customer Feedback Processes Across Channels

Yes feedback is close the most important tool for any business.
Following up the client not only makes the client happy but might be able to put a stop to social media complaints and turn them into raving fans instead.

Our customer service documents packs popularity shows that businesses are starting to realize the importance of the follow up process

top 10 list

This list is very accurate in my opinion.. The root cause or driver of adopting this list is Agility- something that has become a MUST for Business sustainability. Heavy's out. Agility is in.

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