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I recently presented at the 2014 ICMI Contact Center Expo and Conference and have a few insights I want to share. I was impressed by the two main keynote speeches. In the first Bill Rancic, an entrepreneur, author and TV personality, talked about “How to Succeed in Business and Life.” Bill is not in the contact center industry, but he reminded the audience that individuals and companies that succeed in life and business grab opportunities when they come along. He went on to say that consumers (which includes you and me) are changing the ways we conduct our lives and the ways we engage with each other and with businesses. As we all know, use of mobile devices has rocketed, as has use of the Internet and social media, and as a result people are less inclined to talk to each other directly, choosing instead to text, post comments to social media or use the increasing number of mobile applications available; when we do talk, it is now increasingly likely to include video. This change creates opportunity for companies; those that meet expectations about communicating in these ways can grab the attention of customers and generate more business. I couldn’t agree more, having written about these changes myself. Consumers have already made these changes, and companies need to act now to grab the opportunities.

In the second keynote, Matt Dixon spoke on “The Effortless Experience: Conquering the New Battleground for Customer Loyalty.” He is connected with the contact center industry and is best known for defying conventional wisdom in proclaiming that it is not necessary for companies to delight customers. At the time he said this, probably like many others, I was skeptical. After listening to his talk at the conference, I now get his point, and on reflection I agree with the insights from his research. The customer experience is about feelings, and people take actions because of the way they feel. When we buy a product that works as advertised, we are likely to go back to the same company for other products. Most of us are not inclined to proclaim how happy we feel about a successful experience – it is what we expect. We are more likely to express our feelings if something goes wrong, and to do so more intensely each time the company fails to fix the problem or makes it hard to engage. Eventually we may express our unhappiness by looking for an alternate supplier and/or expressing those feelings on social media. So I see two key messages here. First, meet customers’ basic needs, and all should be well. Second, if customers need to engage with you, make it easy, and that is a challenge in today’s multichannel world.

In the expo hall I counted more than 80 vendors showing products supposed to help make it easy. It was obvious which two vendors wanted to impress most. NewVoiceMedia and salesforce.com placed their booths to dominate the entrance to the expo hall and probably spent the most for those spots. NewVoiceMedia demonstrated its contact center infrastructure in the cloud, and salesforce focused on its Service Cloud. Perhaps not obvious was the partnership between the two: NewVoiceMedia demonstrated for the first time the integration of the two products to provide seamless multichannel customer interaction-handling.

vr_CCC_actions_to_improve_customer_interaction_updatedOverall I spotted some significant trends. Although they don’t all offer exactly the same capabilities, there were 16 vendors showing contact center in the cloud products and services, or more precisely multichannel communications infrastructure products that run in the cloud. The list includes 3CLogic8X8AvayaConnect FirstFive9GenesysinContactInteractive IntelligenceLiveOpsMitel, NewVoiceMedia, Presence TechnologyUSANVocalcomVoltDelta and Voxox. My research into the contact  center in the cloud found 44 percent of companies planning to deploy such systems to improve interaction-handling, and this turnout shows plenty of competition for their business. Going forward, companies should carefully examine these products and vendors to determine which best support their multichannel contact center requirements.

Another densely populated category was workforce optimization. I counted four vendors that specialize in such systems: Dolphin SoftwarePipkinsVerint and VPI. In addition four of the contact center in the cloud vendors provide integrated channel management and workforce optimization: Genesys, inContact, Interactive Intelligence and LiveOps, which partners with Verint. I expect that combining the two categories will be essential to support enterprise-wide customer experience management, because it allows customers to engage through the channel of their choice while helping companies plan to have the right number of skilled resources available to handle such interactions.

There was a lot of buzz throughout the conference about customer experience management, and ICMI was calling for a revolution in contact centers to provide better customer experiences. Achieving this goal is not easy as it involves connecting communication channels, business applications such as workforce optimization and customer feedback, and customer interaction analytics. The vendors in the expo hall showed that they have the technology; what is needed is a new way of thinking. My benchmark research into customer relationship management shows that very customer-focused companies use processes and technology such as customer journey maps that show customers’ use of channels, personas that show customers’ preferences in detail and customer analytics to deliver superior customer experiences. Other less mature companies should heed this message and grab the opportunity before it is too late.

I enjoyed the ICMI conference and San Diego is a cool city, but its expo center is not so cool – it was hard to find anywhere to eat or drink outside the main event, and the charges for Internet use were exorbitant. That said, it was a great event, with lots of attendees, lots of vendors in the expo hall – congratulations to Interactive Intelligence on being voted best stand at the conference – and lots of great speakers.

Regards,

Richard J. Snow

VP & Research Director

Building a contact center is growing in complexity as companies struggle to support customers’ ever-higher expectations. Customers now insist on engaging with companies through the channel of their choice, often from a mobile device, and at a time of their choosing. If they interact with a person, they expect that person to have the social and technical skills to resolve their issues quickly and effectively. If they use any form of self-service, they expect the technology to help rather get in the way of speaking with a person. And of course many disgruntled customers don’t hesitate to publish their views on social media.

To meet these demands companies need advanced technology. VRLogobug400x400That includes a multichannel architecture that supports an integrated set of communication channels. They also need workforce optimization systems to ensure the right number of skilled employees are available to interact with customers at any time, and they need customer analytics that help them develop a complete view of their customers, their interactions and the outcomes of those interactions. Interactive Intelligence works to provide these systems as I have analyzed their efforts in advancing customer service to helps organizations meet demanding interactions across channels. Originally the company focused on the communications infrastructure with products supporting telephony “in the cloud,” which was innovative at the time. During its 20 years of operation, Interactive Intelligence has expanded into other areas, building a successful business in the global contact center market, and now has more than 6,000 customers in a variety of vertical industries. During a recent briefing I learned that its ambitions haven’t diminished as it continues to invest in its product portfolio and ecosystem of partners.

The cloud continues to be at the heart of the company’s business proposition: It now accounts for more than half of its business, and that percentage is expected to grow. This comes as no surprise to me because in my benchmark research into the contact center in the cloud nearly two-thirds (63%) of participating companies said that investing in contact center applications in the cloud would improve customer interactions, and just under half (44%) said investing in communications technology in the cloud would help. I have often advised companies to invest in cloud-based systems because they don’t have the time or resources to achieve the same goals by integrating on-premises systems; cloud-based systems also enable innovation. To keep ahead of the game, Interactive Intelligence is investing to base its underlying architecture on Web services, which can improve scalability, reliability, compliance with regulations and security, while also enabling it to release new versions of the products quickly. Interactive Intelligence also made significant changes to its user interfaces, making them all Web-based so users can access the systems through any browser. The interfaces also are more intuitive to use, which reduces training time. Most of our Ventana Research benchmark research projects find that usability is the leading criterion for companies evaluating new systems, so Interactive Intelligence is right to invest in this area. It should continue to do so, especially supporting more access to key functions through smart devices.

vr_NGCE_Research_08_all_channels_for_customer_engagementIn addition to improving its technical base, Interactive Intelligence is also investing in functional capabilities, and here it has moved furthest away from its original products. Its support for telephony has now been extended to email, chat, instant messaging, video and social media; my benchmark research into next-generation customer engagement shows that all these are key customer channels of choice. That research also shows that a key concern for nearly half (49%) of companies is the integration of channels; without it customers are likely to be annoyed by receiving inconsistent responses. In this respect Interactive Intelligence has the advantage of developing all its products in-house on a single code base, so it can ensure tight integration between products. Its new user interfaces also help agents and supervisors access different channels.

Interactive Intelligence also has invested in expanding its workforce optimization suite. It now includes quality management (with interaction recording), workforce management, speech and agent-related analytics, and customer feedback management. The company also has added new capabilities to its analytics suite; a key one is mobile access that gives supervisors real-time information while on the move. Last but by no means least, it continues to invest in its business process automation suite.

My research shows that companies must have an integrated multichannel architecture to manage customer interactions and deliver superior customer experiences. In addition, the top seven applications companies plan to invest in to improve customer engagement are collaboration, mobile apps, analytics (especially multichannel analytics that shows the customer journey), interaction routing (to the best-qualified agent), smart desktop technology (to make it easier for employees to access information), business process management and workforce optimization. Except for specific collaboration tools, Interactive Intelligence is investing in all of these, while at the same time improving and expanding its communication management systems. Each of these applications is a competitive market on its own, and most vendors focus on only one or two applications. The breadth of applications to support next generation customer engagement presents both opportunities and challenges for Interactive Intelligence.

The challenges are whether it has sufficient resources to continue to support all these products and just as important is the question of how much of the overall market will trust a single supplier to provide all these systems. Its stated intent is to make each product best in class, but I think this is less important than having an integrated suite that supports core capabilities. In my view in order to deliver superior customer experiences companies need to connect their processes, communication channels, business applications, and analytics systems; so integration of systems with a common user interface should be a top priority. Interactive Intelligence is one of only a few vendors attempting to make all these connections, so organizations seeking to improve customer service and the customer experience should include Interactive Intelligence in their evaluations.

Regards,

Richard J. Snow

VP & Research Director

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