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A recent research project involving 7,000 consumers carried out by the Harvard Business Review concluded that to retain customers and get them to buy more products, organizations must make it simple for people to engage with them, provide information they trust and allow them to weigh their options before they buy. The research found that consumers are bombarded with information and choices, and as a result they tend to go down the easiest route, which often leads them to take a blinkered view: I haven’t got the time and energy to consider options so I’ll take this one.

If you extrapolate this thinking into the domain of customer service, or more widely into the way organizations manage customer interactions, you might conclude that companies would be smart to support one channel of communication, do it right, and tell customers “this is the way it is,” in much the way online retailers and some banks support only Web-based interactions.

However, that approach flies in the face of my recent benchmark research into customer relationship maturity, which found that on average, in response to growing customer demand, organizations support four or five channels of communications, and many support eight or more, including telephone, email, fax, postal mail, text messaging, the Web, instant messaging, online collaboration, video and social media. This complicates the task of simplifying interaction and forces organizations to make some tough decisions.

As our CRM maturity research shows, and as was confirmed at a recent customer engagement day, two fundamental issues prevent many organizations from taking a consistent approach to handling multimedia customer interactions. First, to support multiple communications channels, the majority of organizations have implemented stand-alone, proprietary systems. Integrating these to provide a seamless, common user experience is complicated, time-consuming and costly. Second, few companies have a single source of customer data and information to enable decisions and actions at every touch point, preventing customers from having consistent experiences.

The solution to both of these issues is to upgrade the organization’s IT architecture or to look for smarter, less invasive options. Three approaches come to mind:

  1. Implement one of the fully integrated multimedia communications management systems. Several of these are available as cloud-based systems, which afford companies the opportunity to take this step at reduced costs and in a more timely manner.
  2. Implement a smart agent desktop system. These can hide complex systems behind a user interface that reflects only what the agent requires to meet customer expectations. They can extract data from systems based on predefined rules, and they include rules-driven processes that allow users to focus on customers.
  3. Implement one of the new forms of self-service that are coming to market. These include software agents for virtual conversations, visual IVR and mobile applications that allow customers to serve themselves from their smartphones or tablets. Since all of these are software-based, they can be programmed to follow defined processes for handling different interaction types, and to use the most up-to-date data. To avoid making some of the mistakes that organizations have made companies should put themselves in their customers’ shoes and ensure that these new self-service applications are programmed to meet customer expectations instead of forcing them to use annoying and prolonged procedures.

The idea of making it simple for customers to engage with a business is reflected in one of the latest metrics being used by organizations – customer effort scores. This metric seeks to determine how easy customers find it to interact with an organization. If they can be used to drive improvement, customer effort scores may help businesses provide easier ways to engage, which should lead to more satisfied customers and better business results.

Do you make it easy for your customers to engage with you? If so, tell us more and collaborate with me on next steps.

Regards

Richard Snow – VP & Research Director

Interactive Intelligence announced Interaction Mobilizer, the latest application in its growing portfolio of products. As I recently wrote, Interactive Intelligence has come a long way since it launched its first software-based PBX in 1994. It was a pioneer in offering contact center applications in the cloud, which now include communications in the cloud and products for workforce optimization. The latest announcement follows similar ones from other vendors also announcing applications to support mobile self-service. Each of those products supports slightly different sets of capabilities, but all of them follow the trend to provide organizations with another channel through which customers can interact with them, and support customers who want self-service capabilities from their smartphones or tablets.

An increasing number of companies have developed applications so their customers can transact business with them. But customer service is more than that; it requires a series of capabilities that allow users to execute various self-service tasks such as looking up the balance of their account, searching for product information or tracking the status of an order. Interactive Intelligence has developed what it terms a “software platform” that allows organizations to build functionality within a shell that performs different tasks in response to user input. The shell takes care of interfacing with the device’s operating systems and capabilities such as presentation, allowing user organizations to focus on developing task-related functions that it then renders on the user’s particular device. The first release of Interaction Mobilizer will require developers to learn to code applications, but Interactive Intelligence says it is working on “drag and drop” capabilities to make it easier to develop applications. Built-in capabilities already allow developers to take advantage of common mobile device features such as touch screens, selecting data by spinning a dial and accessing location information.

In the past, most contact centers deployed self-service applications to save money by deflecting calls from live agents. My research into customer experience management shows this hasn’t been very successful, as large numbers of users resort to the option to speak with an agent. If mobile applications are to avoid this rejection, they will have to deliver the information customers are looking for quickly and in ways easy to use, and will have to support prompt transfer to an agent if the need arises. Interaction Mobilizer provides a framework that should allow organizations to focus on task-related functionality that meets these customer requirements. Such applications for smartphones and tablets could have huge potential; customers might at last be able to take more control over solving their own issues without speaking to a live agent. Done right, that would be good for both customers and companies they buy from.

Have you considered mobile self-service? If so tell us more and collaborate with me on this topic.

Regards

Richard Snow – VP & Research Director

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