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During this year talk has been widespread about the customer experience, which is good. What is not so good is that, according to my benchmark research into next-generation customer engagement, most companies still struggle to deliver satisfying experiences. However, the research and my discussions with users and vendors lead to some clear conclusions:

  • Consumers have changed the way they communicate with each other, and this has changed how they expect to engage with businesses.
  • Customer expectations have elevated. Many wantvr_NGCE_Research_08_all_channels_for_customer_engagement engagements to be EPIC: that is, Easy (at the time of their choice, through channels of their choice and easy to use technology), Personalized, in context (recognizing the state of their relationship and previous interactions with a company) and Consistent (providing the same information regardless of channel).
  • Organizations must support multiple channels of engagement or risk losing customers as found in our research ranging from telephone (94%) and email (92%) to mobile (29%).
  • Multiple departments engage with customers, but their responses often differ because not everyone has the same objectives or customer information.
  • Organizations strive to improve customer satisfaction but inefficient processes, inadequate people skills and cost constraints often get in the way.

These points and others were raised recently at the 2014 Customer Engagement Summit in London. Keynote speaker Louise Cooper, a noted financial analyst, columnist and broadcaster, related a personal experience that illustrated what can go wrong with the customer experience. In purchasing 10 new coats at a well-known retail outlet, apparently she upset the checkout assistant by “creating too much of a draft” as she placed the coats on the counter. The assistant, seemingly out of spite, dropped each coat on the floor as she bagged them. When Louise got home, she discovered that the coats were dirty, and hereafter the process broke down: She received no response to email complaints, and despite promises of action by customer service, none was taken. The situation was resolved to a degree only after Louise tweeted to her half-million followers; an executive picked up the issue and had 10 new, clean coats delivered. This led me at the time to tweet that it is so easy for people and process glitches to nullify the best-laid customer experience plans.

The theme of how people impact the customer experience continued during the sessions. Several speakers insisted that employee engagement is paramount to delivering superior customer experiences; this point was illustrated in my benchmark research into the smart agent desktop, which shows that very happy contact center agents twice as often meet their targets for customer satisfaction and net promoter scores as do less satisfied ones.

The challenge as I see it is to think in four dimensions:

  • One is the customer business journey. Customers have different needs, wants and expectations as they move through the process of finding products or services, buying their selections, looking for help in using the product or service, and getting support if things don’t go as smoothly as they expected
  • The customer engagement journey requires understanding of how customers engage with an organization at different points in the business journey, including the communication channels they use for each type of issue, how they move from one channel to another if they don’t get resolution in the first, times at which they engage and outcomes.
  • There is also an internal journey. It requires understanding which lines of business engage with customers at different points in the business and engagement journeys.
  • The product or service journey involves how customers engage with an organization for different products and services, and how that varies depending on the nature of each.

Ineffective technology also gets in the way. My next-generation customer experience research also yields insights into why systems hinder organizations in delivering superior experiences, particularly these:

  • 49 percent struggle to integrate the systems required to support the customer experience.
  • 47 percent have multiple channels of communication, but most are managed as individual systems.
  • 33 percent said that responses differ depending on who the customer interacts with.

A further complication is that technology is changing at an unprecedented pace. We live in a digital world dominated by the use of smartphones and tablets. We live in a time deficient world so again everything seemingly needs to happen in real time and often while the customer and/or the employee is on the move. Consumers are becoming more social so companies need to take into account the impact any one tweet out of the billions might impact their business. Consumers are also becoming more trusting in self-service technologies so many more are happy to solve their issues using voice activated technologies, including virtual agents. And the recurring revenue business models is changing some one-off purchases into longer-term subscription services.

The issue for customer service organizations is how to keep up. Many recommend adopting a more customer-focused culture. My view is that organizations need to manifest a change of culture in the four interconnected dimensions Ventana Research tracks: people, process, information and technology. As the example above showed, under-motivated people can destroy the best-laid customer experience plans. Organizations have to get hiring processes, onboarding and quality monitoring right, and support employees with training, coaching and suitable technology so they can deliver superior customer experiences. As organizations rethink their engagement processes, I suggest starting with the four journeys vr_Customer_Analytics_03_key_benefits_of_customer_analyticsdescribed above. Map what is happening in each journey, decide how you want it to happen in the future, put in place programs to make it happen and then repeat the process. One of the major determinants of the success of any business activity, and customer experience is no different, is the metrics you use to assess and monitor success. My research into next-generation customer analytics shows that customer, interaction and customer journey analytics can help companies deliver on key objectives such as improving the customer experience (55%) and gaining better alignment across business units (51%). However, the research also finds a gap between what is important to most companies and what they measure. They care about customer-facing metrics such as customer satisfaction and net promoter scores, but mostly they measure operational metrics such as average handling times and hold times. Find a balance between the two and the impacts one might have on another; for example, sales conversion rates might increase call volumes and decrease satisfaction because customers weren’t fully informed at the time of the sale. These days making any serious change involves investing in new technologies, even if it is only to process the huge volumes of data now being generated. So take time to investigate new technologies such as mobility, cloud-based communications infrastructure, workforce optimization, smart desktop technologies and above all analytics; each of these can help support new customer experience strategies.

Harvard Business Review recently pronounced that “companies should stop trying to delight customers,” which caused a stir. Its research shows that little business benefit to be had from delighting customers, but there is a fundamental need to get the basics right. I couldn’t agree more. At a time when trying to compete on product, service or price has become increasingly difficult, what counts is the customer experience. Several consumer research studies show that customers who receive satisfying experiences will stay loyal and buy more products or services, but getting it wrong even once can lose a customer and damage a company’s brand via social media. To attract and retain customers, their experiences must be EPIC (see above for definition). To survive in today’s business world, seek convergence of the four journeys described above, and align your people, processes, information and technology with them.

Regards,

Richard J. Snow

VP & Research Director

The Ventana Research Value Index for Workforce Optimization in 2015 is now released. Workforce optimization covers all aspects of managing everyone who handles customer interactions VR_WFO_VI_2015and is thus vital to improve operational efficiency, and customer and employee satisfaction. It includes the following applications: interaction capture, quality monitoring and assurance, workforce management, coaching and learning management, variable compensation management, and interaction and agent analytics. Our Value Indexes are informed by more than a decade of analysis of how well technology suppliers and their products satisfy specific business and IT needs. For each we perform a detailed evaluation of product functionality and suitability to task in five categories as well as of the effectiveness of vendor support for the buying process and customer assurance. In this case the resulting index gauges the value offered by each vendor and its products in supporting workforce optimization.

The workforce optimization software market is mature. Eight of the 10 vendors we evaluated in our 2012 Agent Performance Value Index – now renamed workforce optimization because includes all employees who handle customer interactions – took part in this assessment. They have been joined by Calabrio and Interactive Intelligence. Callcopy (now called Uptivity) is not included in this edition because it was recently acquired by inContact (which declined to participate), and we did not include Enkata or LiveOps because of their limited functional coverage for this software category. We also did not include vendors with stand-alone applications in this Value Index. While most products are mature, our benchmark research into next-generation workforce optimization shows that user organizations are less evolved in the use of such vr_NGWO2_06_use_of_agent_workforce_applicationsproducts: 47 percent rank at the lowest of four levels, Tactical, and only 13 percent reach the highest Innovative level. The research shows that of the applications included in workforce optimization, the most commonly used are call recording (by 78%), quality monitoring (70%) and workforce management (59%), while use of applications such as capturing nonvoice interactions (29%) and variable compensation management (28%) lags. This last point is echoed by the vendors’ offerings: Only NICE Systems has a fully functional compensation application, with the others are limited to providing input to third-party applications. Nevertheless we find that organizations increasingly understand the benefits of using a fully integrated suite of workforce optimization applications. Such suites allow organizations to connect processes associated with handling interactions such as linking customer satisfaction to agent performance and using performance analytics to inform coaching and training. Regarding the latter the research shows that organizations that have adopted a workforce optimization suite have achieved on average five benefits, most often improved agent coaching processes. About half (48%) of organizations said it is very important that when the applications are fully integrated they are easier to manage, provide a better user experience, produce fewer errors and enable linking of processes.

Among components of workforce optimization suites, the research shows relatively low adoption of analytics although it is the application the highest percentage of companies said is most likely to have an impact on interaction-handling performance. We also find that agent analytics is the tool most (21%) organizations plan to invest in. The research shows that with the ever growing number of employees involved in handling interactions, organizations are also beginning to recognize the value of other innovative technologies such as cloud computing, access to applications through mobile devices and big data analytics.

Based on these and other evaluation criteria, overall the WFO_2014_Company_Weighted_Overalltop-ranked vendor in our Workforce Optimization 2015 Value Index is Verint (as it was in 2012), followed very closely by VPI, which has improved its score although it also ranked second in the 2012 Value Index. They are followed by five other Hot vendors: NICE Systems, OnviSource, Aspect, Calabrio and Envision. All the Hot vendors have a comprehensive suite of highly functional workforce optimization applications (with the exception of variable compensation management) and provide what we consider to be required capabilities. The other three vendors are rated Warm. Genesys did not make a formal submission so its rating is based solely on publicly available information including their product documentation, and KnoahSoft and Interactive Intelligence lack some core capabilities that are part of our framework for workforce optimization.

The overall scores are lower than in our 2012 research, primarily due to lack of support for innovative technologies, which we added to this Value Index and urge vendors to address in their development plans. Among these technologies, the most support currently offered is for cloud computing. While the majority of vendors can process increasingly greater volumes and more types of data, most need to invest in big data technologies so their analytics can utilize all forms and sources of data. The same is true for use of mobile devices; most vendors provide access through a Web browser, but users are coming to expect a more intuitive user interface that supports better visualization and more “click to use” capabilities, so vendors ought to consider adding mobile apps that can access core capabilities.

Our benchmark research correlates the size of contact center with the likelihood of an organization investing in workforce applications: Those with large contact centers twice as often plan to invest. However, this dynamic is changing; more companies distribute interaction handling across the organization and must serve more channels of interaction, and cloud computing and mobility impact the model for investing in applications and hardware. These changes, plus a fundamental need to improve customer and employee satisfaction, are likely to make the next-generation of workforce optimization more important to businesses. Please use our 2015 Workforce Optimization Value Index executive summary to learn more and utilize our full research to understand the strengths and weakness of the various vendors and to help build a business case for investing in this key area.

Regards,

Richard J. Snow

VP & Research Director

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