As more companies look to grab hold of a raft to stay afloat in an increasingly commoditized business environment, new research from Boston-based industry analyst and consulting firm Forrester Research finds innovating on the customer experience may be the final chance to swim to safety.
In the report, "The Forrester Wave: Customer Service Software Solutions, Q4 2008," Natalie Petouhoff, a senior analyst at Forrester and lead author of the study, explains the move to provide experience-based differentiation (EBD) will greatly dictate the technology decisions businesses make moving forward. According to her findings, 91 percent of survey respondents said the customer experience "would be very important or critical to their business," but half of these individuals cited they do not have a clear strategy.
"The problem with EBD is [determining] who is in charge [of that initiative]," Petouhoff explains. "Oftentimes we see someone put in a position and even called chief customer officer...but the question is do they have the strategic position where they can make decisions and have the resources [to back that up]? If they don't have positional power, I'm not sure they can really do the things that are going to straighten out why companies don't have good strategies."
Petouhoff also cautions about mishaps in technological implementations as a major stumbling block to delivering on their EBD intentions. She notes 60 percent of executives surveyed admitted this is an obstacle to launching experience-based initiatives. To help allay this fear, she suggests companies make sure they have a business- and technology-centric (BT) view within their organizations. She explains that the transition from information technology (IT) to BT is a key takeaway of the study. "IT needs to become a business process," she adds.
Amidst a shifting business landscape companies are also finding a massive number of mergers and acquisitions, further complicating the technology available. Petouhoff notes the following choices available, including:
- knowledge management tools for self-service and agents;
- integrated customer service and eService workflows;
- Web 2.0 functionality to cater to "emerging social consumers";
- increased consumer acceptance and use of chat;
- fully implemented computer telephony integration;
- creating actionable strategies based on analytics; and
- more software-as-a-service and hybrid delivery models to address time-to-market and cost concerns.
In order to foster a complete customer service solution to address these needs, companies will have to pick and choose from three different types of vendors: interaction, process, and record-centric. "[They're] beginning to develop applications that deliver multichannel experiences, tap into multiple business processes, and access multiple data sources," Petouhoff writes. "Until [they] provide a new type of cross-component architecture, [we] will continue to divide customer service [solution providers] into those three categories."
Petouhoff explains that she is curious as to why a large vendor in one of these three spaces hasn't acquired or merged with players from the others and try to create a one-stop customer experience shop, although she does have theories. "I think they can't see what they can't see," she says. "I find most vendors are very excited about what they bring to the table, but they don't compare themselves to [competitors] to see what it is they're doing [differently]."
The leaders in the interaction-centric customer service solutions are:
- eGain Communications;
- Kana Software;
- Knova [which, along with sister company Onyx, was recently rebranded as Consona CRM];
- RightNow Technologies; and
- Talisma, an nGenera company.
The process-centric category only has one leader, Sword Group's ciboodle product, formerly under Graham Technology. Going into more depth about the provider, she writes that it "is a good fit for buyers who are looking for workflow and business process management with full support for arbitrarily complex, hierarchical, and concurrent workflows, flexible business rules, and logic definitions with graphical process definition and management."
In the cramped record-centric space, the leaders are:
- Oracle (with its on-demand and Siebel products);
- SAP; and
While Petouhoff admits vendors have been taking steps to integrate the triad of capabilities in the past 18 months, she calls for more to be done to provide companies with a more palatable array from which to choose in the search for EBD. "The fact that the landscape of...solutions still requires this delineation into the three groups -- interaction-, process-, and record-centric -- is evidence that not much has changed," she writes. "Our review...shows a collective offering in need of expansive creativity, ingenuity, and inventiveness in order to provide a one-vendor solution that will deliver great customer experiences."
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