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

Read more

Where Do You Go From Here, CRM Technology?

MyCustomer.com recently asked me what my thoughts were about CRM — why initial CRM projects failed, what has changed to make deployments successful, and what the future holds for CRM. Here is the third and last part of my answers, as well as a link to the published article.

Question: It has long been suggested that ‘CRM’ is becoming increasingly opaque, with some ‘CRM vendors’ sharing few common features. Lithium, for instance, is categorized by Gartner as a ‘Social CRM’ player yet has no sales or marketing functionality at all. Has CRM become too much of a ‘catch-all’ category in your opinion, and what are the dangers of this?

Answer: I think back to the situation that happened a decade ago when the new “e” (electronic) channels became available as customer service channels. There was now customer service, and eService. Fast-forward 10 years. Electronic channels are now just another way of servicing our customers. What matters more is for a company to provide a consistency of experience across the communication channels in order to reinforce and preserve the brand.

I see this happening with social CRM. Social is just another way of selling, marketing, and servicing your customers. The vendors in the CRM landscape will change, with a tremendous amount of consolidation in the vendors landscape. The communication channels will change, but the fundamental value proposition of a CRM system will remain intact.

Question: How do you envisage CRM will continue to evolve as a technology and category?

Read more

The Evolving Successes Of CRM - Part 2 Of 3

MyCustomer.com recently asked me what my thoughts were about CRM — why initial CRM projects failed, what has changed to make deployments successful, and what the future holds for CRM. Here is the second part of my answers, as well as a link to the published article.

 

Question: What has improved/changed to make CRM implementations more successful now?

Answer: My flip answer is that we’ve all grown up. Our technology has matured, we now have best practice processes to scope, implement, and deploy CRM systems, and we understand the organizational commitment and achieve the ROI that CRM has been promising us for the last decade.

A more factual answer is that CRM systems are now feature-rich, with best practice and industry-specific workflows built into them. This means that customers can choose to adopt these best practices without needing many man-months of customization work. The CRM architecture has evolved to make them immensely scalable, more easily integratable with other IT systems, as well as easily changeable to keep in step with changing business needs (think about all the mergers and acquisitions that have happened in the past several years, and the IT changes that have had to quickly happen to preserve the customer experience). There are also SaaS solutions available to achieve a rapid time-to-value, and we see a significant uptick in SaaS CRM adoption. Vendors and system integrators have a proven track record of deploying, tuning, and optimizing CRM projects to achieve quantifiable ROI, and this knowledge can be easily leveraged.

 

Question: What typically characterized a CRM project 10 years ago? And what do you believe typically characterizes a CRM project today?

Read more

CRM: The Challenges We've Had; Our Issues Today - Part 1 Of 3

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. )

Read more

Categories:

A Good Customer Service Experience Is Easier Said Than Done

Customers today are empowered. They want to decide how they interact with companies that they do business with. That means that not only does a company need to provide the goods and services but also the tools and culture to make customer service a value-add to their customer base.  

Here are some basic but key steps to take to move in that direction.

Know Your Customer

When a customer contacts a company, agents should have full access to the customer’s information. They should be able to view past and pending requests made across all available communication channels that you support (like the phone, email, chat, SMS) as well as interactions over social channels like Twitter and Facebook.

If a request has been escalated from a Web self-service session, agents should have access to the full session history so as not to repeat questions or searches that the customers has already performed.

Couple Your CRM System With Others

CRM systems should be more than just the front end of a database of customer information and cases — they should also be integrated with back-office applications. Real-time data integration means that the system can make calls to third-party systems to retrieve a real-time answer to a question such as “When did my order ship?”

Some companies deeply couple knowledge management with CRM. While agents are gathering the details of the customer’s issue, under-the-covers searches are being executed so that an updated list of relevant solutions can be presented to the agent, which helps minimize handle time.

Make Search Smart

Read more

Clear Messaging And Execution Strategy With Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011

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.
Read more

Is email dead? Perhaps in the SCRM world. If not, follow these email best practices

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.
Read more

Customer Service Via Facebook - Engage Your Customers Where They Spend Their Time

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.
Read more

Taming The Social Voice With Consistency Of Process Between Communication Channels

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.
Read more

Customer Service Vendor Spotlight: KANA Makes A Move

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.

Read more