Salesforce.com And Radian6 - What Does It Mean For Customer Service?

Today, salesforce.com announced the intent to acquire Radian6, a leader in the social media monitoring space. You can find the details of the definitive agreement here. What I want to focus on is what this acquisition means to customer service.

  •  First, the social listening vendor landscape is crowded and ripe for consolidation. Salesforce.com has just picked off the best vendor in this category of vendors, according to a recent Forrester Wave™ report. Radian6 helps salesforce.com extend its core customer service capabilities to the social channels like Facebook and Twitter, which are becoming increasingly important for companies looking to offer a differentiated customer service experience. This is not the first acquisition of this type; however, it is the most significant one, based on salesforce.com's market share and customer base. Expect to see similar acquisitions by CRM and customer service vendors in the future.
     
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Multichannel Customer Service Is Dead. Long Live Agile Service!

Multichannel commerce is dead, says fellow analyst Brian Walker in Forbes . The essence of this article is that customers don’t choose to interact with you on a single communication channel from start to finish. They interact with you over the most suitable channel for them at that point in time — which could be their mobile device, or a chat session, or a phone call, or email, or web self-service from their iPad. Brian calls this agile commerce.

I agree that it is an agile world out there. And yet, agility does not stop at commerce — it extends to everything that we do, from buying to receiving marketing offers to customer service. Think, for example, about the process you follow to fix an issue with one of your electronic devices. You may browse a community forum, browse the company’s Facebook page, then their official website, contact an agent who can't help you, tweet about it, get contacted by a better-skilled agent who figures out that you need to purchase a new driver and transfers you to someone who can process your order, which you receive on your mobile phone.

 

An example of agile customer service

 

The point is that a customer does not make a distinction between a sales transaction or a customer service transaction. All they expect is to be able to receive the same customer experience every time they interact with a company, over any communication channel that they use.

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Two Models Emerge For Customer Service In Facebook - Which Will Win?

With customers increasingly using social tools (Facebook tops 500 million users with 41% of Americans having a Facebook page, 7% of Americans use Twitter, and YouTube gets 2 billion views per day), how do you interact with and service your customers where they are spending their time?

Let’s focus on Facebook, as it has the potential to evolve into a shopping and service destination for retailers. Two support models are evolving. One model is to engage in support activities via a separate tab on a Facebook company page. Once a user clicks on this tab, they can engage with a community of peers or a customer service agent without leaving the site. There are vendors, like RightNow, Parature, Genesys, and Get Satisfaction, that offer apps that do just this.

The other Facebook support model that is emerging is one that is based on listening to all conversations happening on a wall, separating the noise from actionable posts, then routing actionable inquiries to a customer service department so that an agent can respond directly to the post — either on Facebook or by engaging the customer over a more appropriate channel — for example, like pushing a chat link to them on Facebook. This is the model that salesforce.com  and LivePerson are advocating.

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Social Breathes New Life Into Knowledge Management For Customer Service

You have to admit that knowledge management (KM) is hard — it’s hard to explain, hard to implement, hard to do right. It’s not just technology. It is a combination of organizational realignment, process change, and technology combined in the right recipe that is needed to make KM successful. And when it is successful, it delivers real results — reduced handle times, increased agent productivity and first closure rates, better agent consistency, increased customer satisfaction. Check out the case studies on any of the KM vendors' sites to see real statistics. Yet despite these success stories, and despite there being commercially viable KM solutions on the market for over 10 years, I am unsure whether KM really ever crossed the chasm.  

Why is it then that we are seeing renewed interest in KM in 2011? I believe it’s attributed to listening (and acting on) the voice of agents and customers, coupled with loosening the strings of tightly controlled content that has breathed new life into KM. Most common trends include:

  • Using more flexible authoring workflows. In the past, knowledge was authored by editors who were not on the frontlines of customer service, who foreshadowed questions that they thought customers would ask, and who used language that was not consistent with customer-speak. Authored content would go through a review cycle, finally being published days after it was initially authored. Today, many companies are implementing “just-in-time” authoring where agents fielding questions from customers, not backroom editors, create content that is immediately available in draft form to other agents. Content is then evolved based on usage, and most frequently, used content is published to a customer site, making knowledge leaner and more relevant to real-life situations.
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Customer Service Myths, Half-Truths, and Total Nonsense....Continued

I got a lot of feedback from my last blog post, and I’d like to share my thoughts on each of these statements about customer service. I am sure my point of view is contentious, so please keep comments coming. It will force me to rethink my stance. I’ll cover each of my categories in a separate blog post.

Social Customer Service Myths

 

Myth

My POV

Reason behind my POV

Social CRM is giving customers control

 

Nonsense

Paul Greenberg defines social CRM as the The "company's programmatic response to the customer's control of the conversation." Its about the company taking hold of the reins of the conversation, not the other way round.

Have a look at what Paul Greenberg says here about this topic:  

Twitter works for customer service

Half-Truth

It sometimes does if the answer can be communicated in 140 characters. It shows that you, as a company are listening and acting on comments.

However, instead of engaging in customer service over Twitter, it is often more effective to take the conversation offline to a more suitable communication channel based on the issue at hand and the customer’s channel preference.

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Customer service myths, half-truths and nonsense

It is often said that managing a call center is more of an art than a science. Some customer service managers use standard operational metrics to manage their business to – like average hold times (AHT), first contact closure rate (FCR) agent, agent productivity numbers, escalation rates, etc. Others apply established customer service best practices to their organizations without understanding the intent behind these best practices. Yet other companies adopt the current trends without an analysis of their strategic importance.

Here is my list of “half truths and total nonsense” about management philosophies and technologies in customer service. Which ones resonate with you? Which ones do you believe are not myths and work for you?

Kate’s List of Common Services and Support Myths

  • Social customer service myths
    • Social CRM is giving customers control
    • Twitter works for customer service
    • I don’t need to interface my social processes with my traditional customer service processes
    • If I have a forum, I don’t need a knowledgebase
  •  Multichannel customer service myths
    • Established best practice apply to my call center
    • I am special - Established best practices do not apply to my call center
    • Front-line support agents don’t know anything
    • When you measure operational activities, you measure business outcomes
    • Support can act independently of brand –Support can have a different brand identity than the rest of the company
    • Email doesn’t work as a support medium
    • Chat won’t work for tech support
    • I dont need proactive chat
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Forrester's 5 Key Capabilities For Customer Service

Businesses, in 2011, are refocusing on strategies that differentiate them from their competitors. One way to do this is by focusing on customer service. We see that organizations are ramping up their multichannel customer service initiatives. In fact, 90% of customer service decision-makers told Forrester last year that a good service experience is critical to their company’s success, and 63% think the importance of the customer service experience has risen. However, customer expectations are getting higher. Customers are increasingly online, want self-service options, and demand responses in real time, often through their mobile devices. Moreover, social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, has grown to be an important new channel for interacting with customers and engaging in innovative ways.

To meet these challenges, organizations continue their search for solutions to address their most pressing customer interaction management problems. Leaders of customer service and product support organizations tell us that they want to strengthen five key capabilities:

  • Delivering the same customer service across communication channels. It is critical to standardize the resolution process and customer service experience across communication channels (email, phone, web self-service, chat, etc.)
  • Empowering agents and customers with knowledge management (KM) tools. Advanced knowledge management and search tools are a critical necessity for delivering contextual, personalized self-service and agent/customer experiences.
  • Supporting agile customer service with a strong foundation of business process management. Organizations are extending BPM to customer service to standardize service delivery, minimize agent training times, ensure regulatory and company policy compliance, and control costs.
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Understand The Customer Service Specialty Solutions Vendor Landscape To Plug Capabilities Gaps

In 2011, organizations will ramp up their multichannel customer service initiatives. This will be harder to do than in the past, as customers now expect more: They are increasingly online, want self-service options, and demand responses in real time, often through their mobile devices. Social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, has also grown to be an important new channel for interacting with customers and engaging in innovative ways.

 Navigating the complex customer service solution ecosystem is difficult, as there are many good solutions available. One category of solutions to consider is the customer service capabilities provided by leading CRM suite software solutions providers. These vendors provide core customer service transactional and data management capabilities. There are also many specialty solution providers that provide best-of-breed capabilities that are good options to fill specific gaps in your customer service technology infrastructure.

To help you sort though the choices, I recently investigated 24 specialty customer service solution providers that offer solutions for cross-channel interaction management, knowledge management for customer service, business process management for customer service, customer communities, and customer feedback management, both traditional and via social listening platforms. In summary, I found that:

  • eGain, Genesys, Moxie, Parature, and RightNow offer mature and comprehensive solutions for multichannel management. LivePerson and FrontRange also provide multichannel communications capabilities, if your needs match their offering.
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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

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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?

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