Organizations are getting serious about improving customer service experiences, and research from Software Advice, a Gartner-owned reviews firm, confirms that they will continue to implement the technologies that support those efforts.
According to the “2016 Customer Service Software (CSS) Buyer Report,” businesses are spending more on customer service software now than they did in 2014, and they are also increasing the number of employees they sign up to use these solutions within their various departments. Additionally, the organizations that have service platforms in place are upgrading to better systems, and smaller outfits are following suit rather than relying on manual methods or creating their own homegrown solutions piecemeal.
“Companies are now willing to spend more on their customer service software than at any point in the past,” says Craig Borowski, a market research analyst at Software Advice. This “shows a change in perspective about what customer service does. It’s something that, for decades, was really the red-headed stepchild of any company’s departments. It was necessary, but didn’t really contribute to profitability or the bottom line. That’s a notion that’s been wrong for many years, and I think companies are finally seeing the value in better service and looking at it as a competitive differentiator.”
The research also found that the software and IT industries continue to show the highest demand for new customer service software. Buyers of this software also represent a fairly evenly distributed cross section of company sizes, as measured by annual revenue. Compared to 2014, more businesses with revenue greater than $500 million sought new customer service software.
One reason for the increased investment is that the buying process for customer service has become a lot easier. There are more options available, “and the options are generally a lot more plug-and-play, which is attractive to a lot of businesses,” Borowski says.
Furthermore, “the prices are staying more stable, and, in some cases, going down, as [vendors] are becoming more competitive with one another. It’s a great time to be looking for customer service software,” he adds.
Cloud-based solutions are more popular than they were just two years ago. In 2014, 33 percent of buyers sought on-premises solutions; that number now stands at 2 percent. Partly, this is because the cloud makes it easier to add users, regardless of their location, which allows for greater collaboration.
Technologies are also spreading across departments because businesses today expect more cooperation and internal collaboration. Smooth facilitation among sales, marketing, and service is important, for instance, when addressing and resolving cases that emanate from social media. “For a long time, companies weren’t sure how to handle service requests that popped up on Facebook or Twitter,” Borowski notes. Among the issues was confusion about whether to handle certain issues or requests in the public domain of those sites.
Social media has traditionally been a responsibility delegated to marketing as a public relations or branding function. But increasingly these channels are being used for customer support. In some cases, Borowski says, marketers will be assigned the role of identifying the issue and determining the best course of action before turning the contact over to the service department for resolution. “When you’re cooperating between departments like that, then that’s a great use case for cloud software,” Borowski says. “It makes it a lot easier.”
Companies have also in recent years been redesigning their organizational and IT infrastructures to tear down silos between departments, often by introducing a set of shared IT resources, he adds.
However, Borowski notes that the blessing of easy access to technology can also pose a danger. For some companies, hastily rushing into a buying decision could lead to regrets a few years down the line. “When we speak to [these companies] the second time, they’re very aware of what they need and what they don’t need,” he says. “They learn their lesson from the first time around and have a much clearer strategy the second time.”
A common reason for switching solutions, Borowski maintains, is that professionals are overwhelmed by too much functionality they never use. Or it could be that the systems they bought do not support easy integration of missing pieces, such as live chat, that they hope to add later on.
Borowski suggests that before making investments companies should consider their overall customer service strategies and goals. For instance, companies should decide whether they want to shift more customer service requests to online self-service, or use an app for customer service. “Pay attention to the trends in customer service, but don’t get swayed by popular trends unless you have the use case,” he says.
Borowski also says it’s a mistake to assume that if a company invests in software, employees will start to change their behaviors accordingly. Software ought to be considered the same way new hires are, with the long-term goal of having it fit in with the company objectives and culture.