As technology and innovation expand the number of channels through which consumers can interact with businesses, the days of associating the customer service experience solely with the contact center are slowly coming to an end, according to a new report from Aberdeen Group. In fact, the research firm says, barely half of all customer service requests -- 52 percent -- now have their origin in the contact center, and the figure is shrinking.
The Aberdeen study, "Delivering Customer Service via the Contact Center and the Web: Covering All Points of Attack," emphasizes the importance of seamless integration of communication modes to ensure a quality experience -- something many companies still grapple with today.
Sumair Dutta, research analyst at Aberdeen and author of the report, says he was surprised that the share of contact center–based customer service requests was only 52 percent, but adds that his forecast for 2010 includes a further drop, to 44 percent. "I thought going in that the contact center would be a lot higher than where it was," he admits. "The trending doesn't surprise me, but the initial proportion did."
According to his research, the requests by origin for the remaining 48 percent of inquiries broke down as follows:
- email ............................. 17 percent;
- Web site self-service ......... 14 percent;
- Web site query ................. 11 percent;
- chat/instant message .......... 3 percent;
- social media ..................... 2 percent; and
- short message service ......... 1 percent.
With the exception of the email channel, which is forecasted to trend downward to 15 percent in 2010, the remaining channels are all poised to grow next year. Dutta says this is due to customer demand for faster service and issue resolution, in addition to a growing emphasis on the contact center to cross-sell and upsell consumers to generate more revenue.
While the study found 70 percent of respondents believing faster service to be the top market pressure for improved customer service, and 34 percent reporting revenue reigned supreme, Dutta says this is also starting to evolve. "In our latest Chief Service Officer event last month, the attendees were polled as to what their top goal for 2010 was, and it was revenue," he says.
Along with this goal comes a challenge -- not a new one -- to convince and train customer service agents to also be sales professionals at the same time. In many cases, this is not what reps believed their role would be. "You have service professionals who just don't want to sell," Dutta says. "There's a big change management element here, because you need to get tools to help agents sell effectively and train them well. That's where companies are struggling right now; training and hiring the right workforce to do this."
The top pressure for customer service organizations, though, is how to integrate these disparate channels in order to provide optimum customer satisfaction. According to the study, from an ascending scale of importance from one to five, customer satisfaction rated 4.6 out of 5 with regard to the vitality of effective customer request handling. "From an overall customer management point of view, processes obviously need to come into place before you're building in additional channels like self-service," he says. "There needs to be a fluidity of data...self-service is useless if you just have to end up calling back into the contact center, for example."
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