Communication Channel Preferences For Customer Service Are Rapidly Changing. Do You Know What Your Customers Need?

Consumers’ preferences for customer service channels are rapidly changing. And it’s not just the younger generation of consumers — there’s disruption and change across all ages and  demographics. Our 2013 data about communication channels that customers use for customer service is available in my latest report. Here are some key data points:

  • Customers want companies to value their time. 71% of consumers say that valuing their time is the most important thing a company can do to provide them with good service.
  • Voice is the most used communication channel for service. Voice, which 73% of customers use for customer service, is still the most widely used channel. However, web self-service and digital channels like chat and email are following close behind.
  • Chat is increasingly popular. Online chat adoption among customers has risen from 30% in 2009 to 43% in 2012. In addition, it has the highest satisfaction rating of any channel used, after voice.
  • The demise of email is premature. Email remains the third most widely used communication channel among US online adults. In the past three years, email usage has increased by two percentage points, from 56% to 58%.
  • Social channels are increasingly important. Online communities and Twitter have seen increases in usage rates in the past three years. However, satisfaction remains low for these channels, as companies have not invested in best practices for managing interactions on these channels.
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Four Steps For Optimizing Customer Service Operations

This post originally appeared on destinationCRM.

 

Customers want efficient, effortless service from the touchpoint and communication channel of their choice. They want to receive accurate, relevant, and complete answers to their questions upon first contact with a company. Forrester data backs this up: Sixty-six percent of customers agree that valuing their time is the most important thing a company can do to provide good service. Forty-five percent of US online adults will abandon their online purchase if they can’t find a quick answer to their question.

Why is it so important to deliver on customer expectations?  Customer satisfaction correlates to customer loyalty, and loyalty has economic benefits. Forrester calculates that a 10-percentage-point improvement in a company’s customer experience score can translate into more than $1 billion in revenue. Conversely, poor customer experiences are costly: Our data shows that 75% of consumers move to another channel when online service fails, which can incur a cost of many millions of dollars.

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More Changes Afoot In The CRM Space: Sage Drops SageLogix and ACT! To Focus On Core Products

Yesterday, the UK-based Sage Group said it had agreed to sell seven of its noncore products, virtually divesting itself of its North American operations. Notable divestitures in the CRM space are:

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Forrester's Top 15 Trends For Customer Service In 2013

2012 is still a vivid memory for most of us. But it’s time to look ahead to 2013 and focus on the key trends that customer service professionals need to pay attention to as they plan for success this year. Here are the top trends that I am tracking. My full report is here.

PERSONALIZE CUSTOMER SERVICE

Trend 1: Channel Preference Is Changing Rapidly

Across all demographics, voice is still the primary communication channel used, but is quickly followed by self-service channels, and digital channels like chat and email. Channel usage rates are also quickly changing: we’ve seen a 12% rise in web self-service usage, a 24% rise in chat usage, and a 25% increase in community usage for customer service in the past three years. Expect customer service organizations to better align their channel strategy this year to support their company’s customers’ needs. Expect them to also work on guiding customers to the right channel based on the complexity and time sensitivity of interactions.

Trend 2: Mobile Solutions Are Becoming A Must-Have

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Nuance Acquires VirtuOz. What Does This Really Mean?

The word on the street is that Nuance is buying the online virtual agent company VirtuOz for an undisclosed sum (see the TechCrunch article here). So what does this acquisition mean?

Let's start with Nuance. Nuance’s solutions help engage customers with what it terms “smart, automated conversations.” Its customer service solutions revolve primarily around the voice channel and support both inbound and outbound interactions. Nuance’s main building blocks focus on speech and touch-tone automation solutions, speech-enabled call-routing solutions, voice authentication, and outbound notifications. Recently, it launched Nina, a virtual assistant product targeted at the enterprise for mobile customer service. Again, Nina leverages much of Nuance’s core expertise in voice biometrics, speech recognition, text-to-speech rendering, and natural language understanding to empower customers to ask questions and receive relevant answers to questions like “Did my last check clear?” without tortuous back-and-forth conversations between the customer and the service organization.

What Nuance does not have is a complete customer service solution, being so focused on voice interactions. Specifically, Nuance lacks web self-service solutions to support the increasing popularity and usage of these digital channels. This is where VirtuOz comes in.

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Customer Service: Why It Matters — And How To Do It Right

For many companies, customer service is a cornerstone of their customer experience strategy. It’s an area of increasing importance because:

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Build, Buy, Or Outsource Customer Service Solutions? Here's An Approach To Help You Decide

How do you choose the right customer service solution for your needs? It’s always best to take a systematic approach: (1) benchmark your current operations using our Assessment Framework to pinpoint areas for opportunity and (2) pragmatically investigate options to source your missing capabilities. Options range from repurposing technologies used elsewhere in your company, to outsourcing, to purchasing suites or vendor point solutions. I recommend using the following process to step through the choices: 

  • Step 1: See if your company is using similar technologies that you can leverage. Web self-service, mobile, social, email, and chat solutions, for example, are often deployed by sales and marketing. If you choose to leverage existing technologies, make sure that they can scale and operate at the level of performance and reliability to support customer service operations. Also make sure that the experience that the customer receives when interacting with these technologies is consistent across functional organizations.
  • Step 2: Consider outsourcing. If there are no existing technologies that you can leverage, consider outsourcing this entire capability, or perhaps a portion or all of your customer service operations, to a third-party organization. In a recent Forrester survey, we found that 10% have already outsourced some or all of their operations or are very interested in doing so. Outsourcing can help reduce cost of operations, but can also improve the quality of services delivered and allow you to focus on core business activities that are mission-critical to your company.
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Siri Is Shining A Spotlight On Virtual Agents

Siri, Apple’s voice-activated virtual agent (VA), has raised the profile of this technology category. Siri provides the right engagement paradigm: ask a question and get an answer - a right answer. Because of Siri, companies focused on increasing customer satisfaction scores to move the needle on customer loyalty often ask “Why can't we offer Siri-like experiences on our web or mobile sites to help customers ask questions in their own words?”

Let's look at the facts: customers today are trained to go online to get answers to their questions by navigating a company’s FAQ list, or by typing in keywords to surface the right piece of content. In fact, 66% of customers use this channel. But at 51%, the satisfaction ratings for this channel are the lowest of all the communication channels that Forrester tracks. It's because keeping content in line with customer demand and making it easily accessible to customers is very hard to do.

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Market Consolidation In The Customer Service Space - A Slew Of Companies That No Longer Exist

I know the customer service market is consolidating as it matures. I’ve been tracking the consolidation of the knowledge management, multichannel management and EFM space for a while. However, at no time has this consolidation been quantified as when I recently helped my colleague William Band update his maturity model of the CRM space, known as a Forrester TechRadar.

Have a look at this partial list of vendors that have been acquired or have merged with another entity:

Field Service:

  • Dexterra acquired by Antenna Software (2009)
  • Sybase iAnywhere acquired by SAP (2010)
  • Servigistics acquired by PTC (2012)
  • Syclo acquired by SAP (2012)

Enterprise listening platforms and community platforms:

  • Radian6 acquired by salesforce.com (2011)
  • Overtone acquired by KANA Software (2011)
  • Leverage Software acquired by Telligent (2011)
  • Collective Intellect acquired by Oracle (2012)
  • Cymfony acquired by Visible Technologies (2012)
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How To Build A Business Case For Customer Service Investments

We know that investing in customer service is good for business and can positively impact your revenue. However, building a business case for customer service investments is challenging, as you must understand the benefits and associated costs of the investments.

For some customer service technologies, such as workforce management, email, and chat, the business benefits are very clear. For other customer service technologies, such as social customer service or knowledge management, the business benefits are more difficult to precisely quantify. Yet in all cases, business benefits fall into one of three categories: reducing operational costs, improving productivity, or enhancing the customer experience. Examples include:

 

Technology

Business benefit

 

Reducing operational costs by…

Improving agent productivity by…

Increasing customer satisfaction by…

Chat

- Resolving customer issues with shorter average speeds to answer (ASA)

- Reducing the average interaction cost

Reducing re-contact rates

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