The Customer Service Market Keeps Consolidating: Consona And CDC Software Merge

Or perhaps I need to title this blog "Another One Bites The Dust" as this is just one more merger in the multitude of mergers and acquisitions that are happening  in the customer service space.

On August 7, CSC Software merged with Consona Corporation to form a new entity called Aptean (see the press release about the news here). There have been no details communicated about the go-forward plan for both companies’ products, but here are my views about their respective CRM assets.

Consona, founded in 1986, has its roots in ERP. Over the years, it has acquired a number of ERP solutions, which include DTR, Cimnet Systems, AXIS, Encompix, Intuitive, Relevant, and SupplyWorks - which have good strengths in a variety of vertical markets. More recently, it has acquired an open-source, SaaS-based ERP software vendor, Compiere. In 2006, it made a foray into the CRM market by acquiring Onyx CRM and then KNOVA for knowledge management (2007) and SupportSoft (2009), a support automation vendor. Its recent CRM focus has been on customer support automation application for the high-tech vertical, as there is good synergy between CRM, support automation, and knowledge management for this user base.

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The New Knowledge Management: What Does A Collaborative Content Hub Look Like

66% of customers say that “valuing their time is the most important thing a company can do to provide good service.” A knowledge base is typically used to empower agents and customers with answers to customer questions. But traditional knowledge management is a difficult because of the confusion around the term and its checkered reputation.

Instead of a knowledge base, companies should be investing in a collaborative content hub that looks like this:

 

It includes the following capabilities:

  • Easy content capture. You should be able to flag information from any source (email, discussion forum thread, social media interaction) and kick it off to be included in your collaborative content hub.
  • Democracy. Everyone within an organization, and customers as well, should be able to recommend information to be included in the content hub.
  • Flexible authoring environment. You must be able to create and publish content without arduous workflows. Not all content should be subjected to the same workflows. Some content must be able to be published instantly, for example a service alert. Other content should be able to be routed through review or legal compliance flows.
  • Social content: Anyone who comes into contact with content should be able to rate and comment on content.
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Our Forrester Wave™: How The Top 18 CRM Suite Customer Service Vendors Stack Up

During the past five years, the customer service capabilities of CRM suite solutions have matured as vendors have focused on solidifying the foundational building blocks of customer support capabilities. Vendors have folded new technologies such as social computing, business process management, decisioning, business intelligence, and mobility into their solutions to allow organizations to offer more-personalized customer service experiences. This maturation makes it, in a way, increasingly challenging to be confident of your technology choice. In The Forrester Wave™: CRM Suite Customer Service Solutions, Q3 2012, we pinpoint the strengths of 18 leading vendors. Here are some of our key findings:

  • Oracle Siebel CRM, salesforce.com, SAP CRM, and Microsoft battle for the lead. Although Oracle Seibel CRM and SAP CRM are better suited for large customer service deployments that demand high levels of customization and integration and salesforce.com and Microsoft Dynamics CRM offer faster deployment times with a greater ease of use, you have to dig deep to find differences in their core customer service capabilities.
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More Market Consolidation As KANA Software Buys Sword Ciboodle. It's A Sound Strategy, But The Proof Will Be In The Execution

It’s exciting to see the news of yet another acquisition in the world of customer service with the announcement of KANA Software’s intent to acquire Sword Ciboodle. Today’s customer service technology ecosystem is complex and comprised of a great number of vendors that provide overlapping and competing capabilities. I’ve previously blogged about what these critical software components are. The reason why these acquisitions are good is that they align with what customers want: a simpler technology ecosystem to manage from both a systems perspective and a contractual perspective. And suite solutions available from unified communications (UC), CRM, and workforce optimization (WFO) vendors are evolving and include comprehensive feature sets. These vendors have either built these capabilities out or acquired them via M&A activity — and we expect more M&A to happen.

Now, to focus on the Sword Ciboodle acquisition. This acquisition, at a high level, is a win-win for both companies:

  • KANA has historically sold point solutions for knowledge management, email, and chat to the eBusiness owner or owner of the digital communication channels within an organization, not to the owner of the contact center. Ciboodle has had the opposite challenge, historically selling to the owner of contact centers. This acquisition will allow deeper market penetration, targeting an increasing breadth of buyer profiles.
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Transform The Contact Center: Forrester's Playbook For Customer Service Excellence

Customer service is a cornerstone of an organization’s customer experience strategy. Organizations must pay attention to their customer service strategy because:

  • Good customer service experiences boost repurchase probability and long-term loyalty. Customer loyalty has economic benefits as measured by willingness to repurchase, brand loyalty, and likelihood of recommendations. The revenue impact from a 10-percentage-point improvement in a company’s customer experience score can translate into more than $1 billion.
  • Poor customer service experiences lead to increased service costs. 75% of consumers move to another channel when online customer service fails, and Forrester estimates that unnecessary service costs to online retailers due to channel escalation are $22 million on average.
  • Poor customer service experiences risk customer defection and revenue losses. Forrester survey data shows that approximately 30% of a company’s customers (or more) have poor experiences. And even if a fraction of these defect, this represents a loss in annual revenue.
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Consumers Drive Channel Preference To Achieve Effortless Customer Service

A new study commissioned by Nice about consumer channel preference complements Forrester’s data quite effectively and adds more data to the understanding that customer service does not need to be exceptional but just needs to be frictionless, easily and efficiently delivering answers to customer questions.

Here is some recent Forrester data from our latest Consumer Technographics® survey about US customer service trends:

  • 45% of US online adults will abandon their online purchase if they can't find a quick answer to their question.
  • 66% say that valuing their time is the most important thing a company can do to provide a customer with a good online customer service.
  • 29% prefer to use online customer service rather than speak with a live person on the telephone.

Data from the Nice survey says that:

  • 50% of respondents say that if they cannot easily achieve resolution, they will turn to the contact center.
    • Which supports the point that service needs to be frictionless and effortless.
  • 40% of respondents expect agents to be informed of their experiences upon beginning the conversation and to be able to successfully resolve their issues quickly.
    • Which supports the point that companies need to value a customer’s time.

In addition, the Nice survey conveyed:

  • When asked what customers like about assisted service, 50% of respondents cited FCR as their #1 reason for consulting a live agent. 33% of respondents they derive satisfaction from dealing with knowledgeable reps with specialized training.
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Choosing The Right Customer Service Metrics Requires Alignment To Your Brand

There is no single metric against which to benchmark the performance of your customer service organization. It’s like flying a plane—you can’t do it by just looking at your altitude settings. This means that most organizations use a balanced scorecard approach, which includes a set of competing metrics that balance the cost of operations against satisfaction measures. For industries with strict policy regulations, like healthcare, insurance, or financial services, adherence to regulatory compliance is yet another metric that is added to the list.

The set of metrics that you choose also depends on your audience. Customer service managers need real-time, granular operational data. Yet your executive management team needs high-level data about key performance indicators (KPIs) that track outcomes of customer service programs.
 
So where should you begin when choosing metrics? It’s best to start by understanding the value proposition of your company. For example, do you compete on customer experience, where satisfaction measures are of primary importance, or do you compete on cost, where efficiency and productivity measures are most important?
 
Once you understand your value proposition, choose the high-level KPIs that support your company’s objectives. These metrics are the ones that you will report to executive management and include overall cost, revenue, compliance, and satisfaction scores. Next, choose the operational metrics for your organization that link to each of these KPIs and support your brand. For example, if you compete on cost, handle time and speed of answer will become your primary metrics. However, if you are focused on maximizing customer lifetime value, first contact resolution will rise to the top.
 
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What Is A Collaborative Content Hub For Customer Service?

Knowledge management for customer service has always been a difficult proposition. It’s not that knowledge management fails to work; it does its job well, as proven by the numerous case studies that show real ROI, as well as the maturity of vendor solutions. The historical difficulty with knowledge management is that many buyers and users don’t understand the difference between knowledge management and content management — and typically view knowledge management as a heavyweight solution that’s laborious to use.

Perhaps it’s time to lose the too loaded term knowledge management and focus on what it is that customer service agents need to do their job — to answer customer questions in a complete, accurate, and reproducible way. They need access to up-to-date content that is aligned with customer demand and which is created in a collaborative way. This content must also be available to call center agents, as well as agents dedicated to the email, chat, and social communication channels. A subset of this content must also be available to customers via a web self-service site. All these requirements translate into a collaborative content hub.

Here are the main capabilities that make up a collaborative content hub:

  • Easy content capture. You should be able to flag information from any source (email, discussion forum thread, social media interaction) and effortlessly kick it off to be included in your collaborative content hub.
  • Democracy. Everyone within an organization (and customers as well) should be able to recommend information to be included in the content hub.
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Customer Service Agent Collaboration Helps Move The Needle On FCR and Customer Satisfaction

In customer service organizations, collaboration should take place around cases and content, and should involve not only collaboration between customers and customer service agents, but internal collaboration within the enterprise. Internal collaboration has quantifiable benefits as measured by increased organizational productivity and efficiency. For cases, collaboration helps increase first contact resolution, decrease handle times and increase customer satisfaction. For content, collaboration helps evolve content to be more relevant, accurate, complete, and in line with customer demand. Some of the technologies that help foster collaboration around cases and content include:

For cases:

  • Presence indicators, instant messaging, and video chat. These allow customer service agents to connect in real time with subject-matter experts, supervisors, managers, or other agents having the necessary skills to help resolve a question.
  • Collaborative workspaces. These allow agents and subject-matter experts to share documents and logs about the customer issue, the troubleshooting process, and the results in real time.
  • Activity streams. These allow agents and subject-matter experts to subscribe to a case and receive notifications of all changes and additions to a case.
  •  Remote support. This allows customer service agents to invite subject-matter experts and specialty agents to troubleshoot software or hardware with a customer.
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The Future Is Sweet For SugarCRM

SugarCRM was kind enough to invite me to its analyst day and conference — a three-day event packed with product, strategy, customer, and partner information. The firm’s focus was clearly on its momentum into the enterprise. Here are my thoughts:

  • The CRM market still has room to grow. Sugar used IDC’s numbers to project CRM market growth: $18.74 billion for 2012, $19.97 billion for 2013, and $21.37 billion for 2014. Even though CRM vendor solutions are mature, the CRM market has not stagnated.
  • The SugarCRM 6.5 product. Today, SugarCRM has 1 million users, has seen 11 million downloads, is used by 80,000 organizations, and has 350 partners on five continents supporting the product. Its newest release focuses on usability and performance enhancements. It offers simplified navigation, an enhanced UI design, a new search framework with integrated full-text search, new calendaring and scheduling capabilities, IBM platform support, and deeper integration with third-party apps. Although the product lacks advanced social features and robust analytics, it does provide solid, well-rounded CRM capabilities.
  • The open source focus. Open source is more than a movement. It provides results by allowing its 30,000-large developer ecosystem to evolve the product in line with customer demand. “Open” is also part of Sugar’s culture — for example, pricing is readily available on its website, and you can try the product for free.
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