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Like me, you have no doubt spotted the propensity for software vendors and consultants to call anything new “2.0”; for example, we have ERP 2.0 and CRM 2.0. Just recently during a joint Aspect and Microsoft presentation, the companies went one step further and introduced the concept of the 2.0 customer meeting the 2.0 company. My first reaction was one of horror, but as I thought about it, it became clear that customers have changed and so companies need to change to keep up – welcome to the 2.0 world.

In a slightly more lighthearted manner I decide to model the 2.0 customer on my 20-year-old daughter. The first thing that came to mind is that she has never used my house land-phone, and I don’t recall her ever sending an email. For this reason alone she has never called a contact center, and is not likely to, especially as she hears me shouting at contact center agents all the time. Furthermore, when it came to renewing her mobile phone contract, she wasn’t interested in the number of calls packaged into the deal, it was all about the number of “free” text messages and the amount of data she can download. Her communication methods are text messages and Facebook messaging; I have even known her send a text message from her bedroom inquiring whether dinner was ready. In short, she is mobile and social.

She also exhibits two specific habits that should also make companies sit up and take notice. She is time-deficient – there is never enough time in the day to do everything, so anything that takes too long is replaced by doing it a quicker way and in all probability while she is on the move. This also contributes to the fact she is far less patient and more demanding than people in previous generations, and she has the means to make life more difficult for companies. She investigates products online, decides which websites to check out, then looks for those that support chat. When she finds them, she begins simultaneous chat sessions and essentially negotiates the best deal before buying. Welcome to the 2.0 customer.

In the face of this new breed of customers, how do companies need to respond? First and foremost, it is no longer good enough to think about being customer-focused – companies have to act customer-focused. As I have written in a number of previous blog posts, if companies are going to use IVR, web-based self-service, mobile apps and/or automated software agents, then these systems must be designed with the customer in mind and not as a means of lowering operational costs. My research into customer experience management and customer relationship maturity shows that while most companies say they are customer-focused, their processes and metrics suggest operational efficiency is the top priority.

The second big decision is what interaction channels to support and how many. I have slightly shifted my position from saying companies have to go multi-channel to one where I say the choice is what consumer segments they want to do business with and so what channels they have to support to do business with them – remember, my 2.0 customer has never used a fixed land-phone or sent an email message. My research into the contact center in the cloud shows that companies now support an average of five channels, but these tend to be the traditional ones – phone, email, letters, forms, web – and companies are only just beginning to support the newer channels – text, chat, social media, video. The most likely reason for not adopting more channels is the cost and skills needed to support multiple channels. The good news is that more vendors are coming to market with cloud-based systems that support integrated channels of interaction, so it is becoming practical and affordable for even SMB companies to support all the channels of customer choice.

To address the challenge of becoming customer-focused and supporting integrated channels of interaction, most companies also have to take a major leap forward in terms of operational processes, information and systems. The organizational structure of most companies remains hierarchal and is divided into disparate lines of business. These have their own ways of doing things, their own systems and their own performance metrics, and it is highly unlikely all three ever meet. My research into the contact center in the cloud, however, shows that almost all lines of business interact with customers, and this, along with multiple channels of interaction, means we now have a new phenomenon, “channel-hopping,” where customers keep changing channels and lines of business until they get the answer they want. I found this to be true myself with my mobile phone company. When all else fails, I declare my intent to swap providers, I get transferred to customer retention, and 9 times of 10 I get what I originally asked for.

I would love to advise companies to change structure, consolidate systems, share information and rationalize metrics when trying to meet these demands, but I fear this would fall on deaf ears. Fortunately, my research into the agent desktop and emerging technology offers more practical solutions. The first is collaboration. Emerging systems in this area allow employees to share information and data so they can collaborate on customer activities based on the same information. The second is analytics. Modern analytics tools allow companies to access data from multiple systems, including structured, unstructured and event data, bring it all together and produce reports and analysis that can be shared across the organization. Several of these systems can now be accessed from smart mobile devices, so employees can access the information they need regardless of location. The third is the smart agent desktop. The customer experience has become one of the hottest topics for companies, but few dig into the subject far enough to understand what can be done to improve the customer experience. For interactions between two people, access to information is key, because even the most highly skilled people cannot resolve an issue unless they have the right information. New smart agent desktop technology allows any users, at any skill level, in any location to access the information they need when they need it and so enable them to provide excellence experiences and improved business outcomes. Self-service interactions, customers to technology, need to be designed with the customer in mind and be supported by the same information provided to agents handling interactions. A byproduct of these technologies is that all three support real-time operations, so allow companies to identify issues in real time, collaborate in real time and deliver a solution before the customer goes elsewhere.

The 2.0 customer is certainly making life more difficult for companies, and only businesses that respond will survive and prosper. The 2.0 companies will therefore have to be smarter, quicker and better informed if they are going to meet these challenges.

Are you a 2.0 customer? If so, I would like to hear what you expect of 2.0 companies. Are you a 2.0 company? If, so, I would like to know your pain points and how you are planning to address these. So please come and collaborate with me and discuss further.

Regards,

Richard J. Snow

VP & Research Director

I recently attended the Unified Communication Expo exhibition and conference in London to find out how much communications has been changing. As I entered the exhibition center the first thing I noticed was the huge variety of vendors on show, everything from major brands in the telecommunications industry (Aspect, AT&T, BT, Cisco, Mitel, Nokia and Siemens Enterprise Communications) to some major brands perhaps not so associated with telecommunications (Dell, Citrix, Google and Microsoft), to several niche players with products such as mobility management, IP-based voice and data networks, audio/web/streaming/video conferencing, email/chat/text messaging and unified communications (presence and collaboration), to suppliers of audio equipment (Dell, Jabra, Logitech, Plantronics and Sennheiser). For me the most disappointing thing was the lack of vendors focused on the contact center, with only Aspect, Enghouse Interactive, Microsoft (in partnership with Aspect), Noble Systems and ShoreTel in evidence.

What this all told me was that the communications landscape has changed considerably, with more vendors entering the space with more products that extend telecommunications from the good old telephone to a huge variety of channels using a huge variety of devices. It is impossible to cover a show with such a large number and variety of products and vendors, but this show has an app (UC Expo) which among other things give you a quick overview of all the vendors present. Other conference and exhibition organizers take note!

Apart from the sheer variety of vendors and products on show, I noticed three key trends:

  • Everyone was very focused on the “bits and bytes” of communications, with vendors letting attendees know they can support the transfer of voice, data and video from almost any device,vr_db_top_five_goals_for_improving_customer_service in any form, over the voice and data networks (basically the Internet) to make any process communications-enabled.
  • The up-and-coming channel is video, to support either video-enabled calls or videoconferencing. This focus seems to put vendors some way ahead of organizations, because my research into the contact center in the cloud shows that although a small number (less than 10%) of organizations have started to deploy video, the most popular channels still remain the telephone and email. However, as more consumers begin to use services such as Skype and more smart devices are video-enabled, companies might well find customer demand drives increased adoption.
  • The other big trend I spotted was the availability of more collaboration tools. Most of these were being marketed in the context of companies needing to become more social, or as I prefer, collaborative. What is clear from all my research is that companies do need to support more channels of interaction and that interactions are being handled by more lines of business, in more locations. My research into the agent desktop shows companies recognize collaboration as key to improving customer service and improving the ability for companies to resolve more interactions at the first attempt and provide consistency in their responses and the information provided. Tools such as presence (being able to find an expert) and collaboration (shared folders, Facebook-like collaboration) are therefore likely to be in higher demand than I have seen previously.

I attended UC Expo to find out about advances in communications and how they are impacting contact centers and the way organizations engage with customers. Although much of deep technology is outside my skill range, what I saw showed me that communication and collaboration technologies are developing faster than ever before, and more vendors are getting involved. There is no doubt in my mind  that consumer communication habits have changed enormously; if you didn’t have a chance to attend, I recommend you check out some of the vendors I highlighted and see how they can help you keep up with both internal and consumer demands.

Regards,

Richard J. Snow

VP & Research Director

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