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My research into customer experience management shows that companies are increasingly aware that the customer experience has a profound impact on business success. In almost equal numbers, participants said it determines the loyalty of customers (21%), the propensity of customers to recommend the company to others (21%), the amount of additional purchases they make (19%) and their general level of satisfaction (19%). Furthermore, companies also realize that good experiences save money, because customers complain less (11%) and contact them less frequently (9%).

The challenge is to define what the customer experience is. In an ongoing discussion on LinkedIn, several contributors say it includes people-to-people interactions and point out that the customer experience depends on the emotional state of the people handling interactions, their skill levels and their ability to access the information needed to resolve the interactions. However, the customer experience comes in other forms as well, such as seeing or listening to a company’s advertising, visits to the corporate website, phone calls, email, letters, IVR menus, text messages, using mobile applications and the company’s presence on and processes for handling social media. These interactions occur throughout the customer life cycle, from marketing through sales, customer service and potentially retention activities. They can also involve transfers from one person to another, or from one communication channel to others. Handling transfers is, I believe, particularly tricky, as in many cases customers must repeat previously provided information, which can be very annoying.

Our research shows that the biggest challenge for companies in multichannel customer service is consistency; for example, when customers check the balance of their accounts on the Web, it should be the same if they check it through IVR, through a mobile app and with any call center agent. Failure to achieve this consistency can increase costs as customers switch channels to get the answer that best suits them, and it can have a negative impact on customer satisfaction.

One way to ensure such consistency is to use customer journey maps, which are similar to process flow charts but focus on interactions and the flow between them. Our research into customer relationship maturity shows that the most customer-focused companies more often use customer journey maps to better understand when and how customers interact with them, how those interactions are handled, and what processes and systems they need to have in place to ensure consistency and the best possible experience.

Customer journeys maps should cover the complete customer life cycle and cross business unit boundaries and communication channels. To develop them, we advise companies to put together cross-functional groups that map different types of interactions, identify when they are likely to occur and outline how customers might flow from one interaction to another. The maps should consider different customer segments and how the flow might be different for, say, high-, mid- and low-value customers. The groups should consider the impact on people, processes, information and technology to ensure consistency; for example, companies might consider deploying desktop technology to give anyone handling an interaction easy access to a common source of customer information and to ensure that everyone follows the same process. Our research, and some of the responses to the LinkedIn discussion, show that companies that successfully map the customer journey find more efficient ways of handling customer interactions and gain better outcomes from both the company’s and the customer’s perspectives and which show up in better performance metrics.

The customer experience is a hot topic of conversation. Getting it right every time, across all touch points, is a demanding task, especially in light of the proliferation in the number of ways customers interact with a company and the difficulty of assessing how they feel during and after each interaction. Journey maps are an emerging technique to determine how interactions should be handled and how each interaction can be turned into a positive experience that results in happy customers and the desired business outcomes.

Regards

Richard J. Snow

VP & Research Director

Our benchmark research into agent performance management shows that the majority of companies are not very mature in their use of people, processes, information and technology in handling customer interactions. Companies are most mature is their use of information, but even in this area they are hampered by their failure to use the latest technologies available to support their efforts.

To help companies understand and evaluate those technologies, we have released our 2012 Value Index for Agent Performance Management (APM), in which we assess the competency and maturity of vendors and products in this domain. Our firm has been researching this category for many years, and this experience has led us to define APM slightly differently from many other firms and vendors. We include in it the common systems usually defined as workforce optimization (WFO) – call recording, quality monitoring, workforce management, and agent training and coaching – and add recording of all interaction types, agent-related analytics and compensation management. This inclusion reflects the fact that agents now handle many forms of interactions, as well as the importance for companies to understand the performance of agents from many perspectives and the impact of variable pay on people’s performance.

I am excited to bring the Value Index for APM to market again this year. No other research firm performs this level of analysis or follows it up on a regular basis. The Ventana Research methodology links our benchmark research, which identifies the capabilities and services that are most important to companies, with a request for proposal approach to assess how vendors perform against key criteria. Our research results enable us to identify best and worst practices, which allows us to refine how we assess technology vendors in any category. Each Value Index takes six months to complete, because unlike other firms we focus on the product details that have the most importance to successful adoption and use.

As regards APM, the combination of our benchmark research and the Value Index covers all aspects of managing employees who handle customer interactions. We look closely at five key product areas – usability, reliability, manageability, adaptability and capability – and the customer assurance areas of validation and TCO/ROI. We examine role-based requirements for an organization, as well as integration with other systems connected with handling interactions, such as call routing. Our Value Index methodology assesses vendors across the seven key areas, and each is weighted according to its priority to buyers. We sum the results to 100 percent for scoring purposes. You can read the details about our methodology and process in the full APM Value Index report.

The WFO market is quite mature, but APM is less mature, with several niche vendors supporting only one category, some providing a suite of products that includes a subset of our full APM definition, and only one – NICE Systems – that offers a full APM suite. You can find the details of vendors we cover in the Value Index in the APM Value Index Report Executive Summary. We advise companies considering purchases in this area to carefully identify their requirements and then use this report to identify vendors that fit those requirements most closely.The APM market is increasingly competitive, and our analysis in the APM 2012 Value Index found 11 vendors that provide robust offerings and thus are rated Hot, the highest value level, which demonstrates maturity of their offerings. The top five vendors are closely ranked, with Verint first overall, followed by NICE SystemsVPIEnvision and CallCopy. Verint advanced the most from our 2011 APM Value Index largely because it has more integration of its products and developed a new user interface, but it does not yet include compensation management. NICE Systems has the most complete suite of products but has not fully integrated all of them. VPI, Envision and CallCopy all have robust suites but lack full multichannel interaction capture and some elements of analytics. The other Hot vendors – OnviSource, Genesys, inContact, Aspect and LiveOps – all have comprehensive suites of products but lack different elements of the full APM definition. Enkata is the most specialized vendor included in the category; its products focus on quality monitoring, training, coaching and analytics.

We take pride in our Value Index, and we believe it is cool to be a Hot vendor. The competitive market for these applications comprises a mature set of products. Congratulations to the vendors that survived our detailed assessment process and granular analysis, which represent how savvy organizations assess and select vendors. For further information, you can download the executive summary. We look forward to continuing to offer guidance to buyers in this critical application category; it is vital information for contact center executives and managers who need to engage and retain employees who handle interactions, enabling them to take a comprehensive approach to agent performance management.

Regards,

Richard J. Snow

VP & Research Director

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