The days when landlines (and even email) were the primary means of communication are as long gone as the Pony Express. As consumers adopt new technologies to interact with one another, companies seeking their business must evolve as well -- a message that's coming through loud and clear, according to study results from the Service & Support Professionals Association’s (SSPA) 2008 Member Technology Survey.
According to the results, Web 2.0 technologies are at the top of the list of planned purchases by SSPA members in 2008, with both large and small businesses reporting budget allocation for discussion forums, wikis, and Web collaboration. Additionally, the adoption of customer communities rose from 36 percent in 2007 to 49 percent this year, and wikis -- included in the survey for the first time -- have been adopted by 25 percent of respondents. "These statistics are considerably higher than expected," admits John Ragsdale, author of the study and vice president of research for the SSPA.
Ragsdale explains that companies are turning to these online customer communities for various reasons, including deflection of assisted customer interactions, taking traffic away from technical support agents, and -- from a marketing perspective -- building a sense of fellowship among customers. "Having a vibrant and highly interactive community is becoming very important for building loyalty," he says. "Engage customers and make them part of the process, identify [consumer] experts, and make them into rock stars -- [that's] the best possible way…to make sure you’re meeting their needs." Furthermore, companies that have already purchased Web collaboration tools are satisfied with the technology. The SSPA study found members’ satisfaction at a 3.86 (with "1" being highly unsatisfied and "5" being highly satisfied), which was highest score among the 24 functional modules measured.
Overall, the study finds that overall technology spending has increased by 4 percent this year among SSPA members -- a figure that Ragsdale says is so small partly because intense competition has kept the price of software product licenses from increasing much. Despite the looming threat of a recession, Ragsdale says he doesn't foresee a drop in technology spending in the immediate future, explaining that the SSPA members are primarily technology companies, and while those members have not been completely shielded from the effects of a slowing economy, their industry is less impacted than others, such as financial services.
Ragsdale says that one finding in the study particularly surprised him: the share of resources still allocated for contact centers and telephony infrastructure. According to the survey results, small-to-midsize businesses are using 34 percent of their budgets for that purpose, while businesses with revenues of $1 billion or more are allocating 37 percent -- more than any other product category, including multichannel service, eService, CRM, and field service. "I attribute this to the migration to [Internet Protocol] telephony," Ragsdale explains. Expanding further that his "big topic" right now is "green" support, he adds, "I’m hoping that this is indicating that companies are upgrading telephony infrastructure to enable more people to work remotely and make it a seamless experience for the customers."