Customer Service Climbs Firms' Priority Lists
Mobile and online experiences also seen as key business objectives in the immediate future.
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Improving the customer experience has become a major strategic priority for just about every company this year, according to a report by Forrester Research.

In the report "The State of the Customer Experience, 2012," 93 percent of businesses surveyed identified the customer experience among their strategic priorities, and 28 percent placed it at the top of the list. Additionally, 75 percent plan to use it as a key differentiator.

Despite this, many companies are not investing in the contact center. Only 43 percent of respondents plan to improve the contact center agent experience; just 22 percent plan to improve the automated portion of the call center experience.

Megan Burns, the report's author, argues that "inconsistency is everywhere.

"Even when companies know what it takes to deliver great customer experiences, they haven't made it an enterprise-wide habit," she explains. "As a result, even when pockets of customer experience excellence exist, they are likely undermined by poor experience practices elsewhere in the business."

That could explain why 77 percent of respondents to the Forrester survey identified improving the online experience as a key objective and 61 percent plan to add or enhance mobile experiences.

"The current state of customer experience management in most companies is ad hoc at best," Burns wrote. Fifty-five percent of firms have a companywide customer experience improvement program; 57 percent have an executive in charge of those efforts, and 51 percent have a customer experience team. Most teams are small, with 71 percent of respondents reporting fewer than 10 people dedicated to customer experiences.

The good news is that 79 percent of respondents expect their company's investments in customer experience to grow or stay the same this year. Forty-one percent plan to add internal customer experience positions to their payrolls; 37 percent plan to augment internal staff with outside consultants; and another 29 percent expect to hire experience design agencies.

Among technologies where investment is expected to occur, the report notes that companies plan to spend money on the following:

  • CRM tools: 44 percent;
  • social media monitoring software: 44 percent;
  • customer data integration: 43 percent;
  • behavioral Web analytics: 37 percent;
  • enterprise feedback management: 29 percent;
  • text or speech analytics: 24 percent;
  • Web site session recording and playback: 21 percent;
  • call center equipment upgrades: 19 percent; and
  • agent desktop platforms: 7 percent.

And while the report notes the value of benchmarking performance against that of competitors and industry leaders, Burns says company customer experience leaders "shouldn't just blindly follow the pack." Instead, she says they should be prepared to model the unique effect customer experience has on key business metrics, like loyalty, sales, service, and revenue, and then use those models to define what's needed to prevent customer churn. Then they should match current strategies with existing financial realities.

"They should map the firm's CX [customer experience] ecosystem to help employees see where they fit into the broader CX delivery system," Burns notes. "Finally, they should use the ecosystem map to help managers at all levels tailor customer insights, task design, standards, success metrics, and rewards to make them relevant and meaningful to employees based on their role in the ecosystem as a whole."

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