The Soylent Co. Weyland-Yutani. Omni Consumer Products. Megacorporations have long been a standard trope in dystopic fiction, usually as an illustration of the downsides of consolidation and centralization of corporate power. From experimental military and policing hardware to exciting new foodstuffs made from people, these megacorporations wielded massive influence, made possible by vertical and horizontal monopolies.
While contemplating the evils of mustachio-twirling would-be oligarchs can provide hours of great entertainment, obviously not all consolidation involves nefarious plans. In fact, some consolidation can be greatly beneficial and evolve naturally. Take this Service Awards issue of CRM, in which two Service Leaders categories, Web Interaction Management and Web Self-Service, are being presented as distinct entities.
Not that long ago, those categories were distinct entities, but those lines are blurring just as the functionality of the two categories begins to blur—or consolidate, to get back to our theme. What’s emerging is a more-holistic approach that allows companies to create a single strategy for interacting with customers, whether in an agent-assisted environment or a self-service one, a proactive mode or a reactive one.
This consolidation of categories makes perfect sense on several different axes: Both Web interaction management and Web self-service rely on strong knowledge-base technologies to provide value to the customer. Both aim to provide service when the customer wants it and in the channel of the customer’s choice. Additionally, companies have been striving to create some consistency in the face presented to the customer across channels and across interactions. A customer should get the same answer to her query regardless of whether she speaks to a contact center agent in India, has a Web-based chat with an agent working from home in Tallahassee, or searches a self-service knowledge base.
That customer should also have the same service experience—that quasi-branding level of consistent experience designed to foster customer loyalty—no matter the channel. To create that type of consistency, silos such as agent-assisted service and self-service need to be consolidated into something more akin to just plain service.
The rise of social media as a venue for customer service and support simply accelerates the need for this functional consolidation, especially since it adds a peer-to-peer model of customer service to the mix. Today a customer with a product problem may first search Google for a solution, bounce over to a support forum for help from other customers, head over to a product manufacturer’s Web site to search through a FAQ, and, finally, call into a contact center. Companies have traditionally been able to track and analyze some of these interactions, although not all. Companies have been much less successful at tracking all of these contacts across numerous channels as a single overarching interaction, which is exactly how all of these efforts appear from the customer’s point of view.
So whether through acquisitions, organic product development, or partnerships, the vendors in these two categories need to find a way to present to customers a more-unified service experience. For example, if a company truly understands the way its customers use its self-service knowledge base, it can predict when customers are likely to abandon those self-service efforts. If it can present a proactive Web chat offer at exactly that point, before frustration climbs to an untenable level, a potentially negative customer experience can become a positive one.
That transformation only works if the company tracks enough customers to understand broad usage patterns and the reasons behind them, tracks all customer usage across all channels, and (as the customer jumps from channel to channel) provides information from one channel to another—in this case, delivering to the contact center agent the customer’s knowledge-base usage. This model allows companies to provide cross-channel service rather than multichannel or multisiloed support.
And then, one day, just like Weyland-Yutani of the Alien franchise, perhaps we can all build better worlds through consolidation.
Ian Jacobs (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a senior analyst at Ovum. He can be reached on Twitter as @iangjacobs.