• January 1, 2012
  • By Leonard Klie, Editor, CRM magazine and SmartCustomerService.com

Customer Service Is a Complex Ecosystem

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As more communication channels become available, running contact centers has become increasingly complex, according to a recent report from Forrester Research.

The report, titled "Craft Your Contact Center Investment Plans in Light of Technology Adoption Patterns," maintains that transactional history and customer histories are often unavailable and inconsistent across channels. Ninety percent of companies do not have full integration across all of the customer interaction channels, which include phone, email, chat, and Web self-service, it says.

"This means that customers receive inaccurate and inconsistent service across the different channels. It also means that customers will use more than one channel to find the information they need, which drives up company costs and decreases customer satisfaction," Forrester analyst Kate Leggett wrote in the report.

Leggett also concludes that agents are forced to look through multiple disconnected sources for information, causing both customer and agent satisfaction to erode.

"Many contact centers offer and store customer interaction data in silos," she says. "Companies [must]…integrate everything at the business process level so that the information and data they provide across channels is the same."

The report also tracked CRM technology usage. Among survey respondents, 62 percent have implemented or are expanding their use of interactive voice response or speech self-service platforms, 58 percent use workforce management, 53 percent use case management, 50 percent use chat, 48 percent use quality monitoring, and 44 percent use email response management systems. Additionally, 47 percent have customer communities on social media sites, 42 percent offer customer service via sites like Facebook and Twitter, and 39 percent use social media listening tools. Furthermore, 55 percent use knowledge management tools, 35 percent use real-time decisioning tools, 34 percent use unified agent workspaces, 50 percent use speech analytics, 50 percent use enterprise feedback management, 43 percent use virtual assistants, 40 percent use speech recognition, and 47 percent use video for customer service.

Forty percent of respondents said improving the customer experience was the primary goal for their technology investments, but for most, cost and the availability of customer data are their greatest challenges in improving customer service capabilities. Not surprisingly, given the current state of the economy, cost was cited as the greatest problem for 65 percent of the respondents, and 59 percent identified it as the top consideration in purchasing decisions.

But Leggett warns that despite the financial outlook, companies can't afford to lose sight of the need to provide an optimized customer experience and effectively engage their customers. In fact, she says it "has never been more important.

"Today, and for the immediate future, you must focus on choosing the best opportunities for quick wins carefully, spend wisely on the right contact center solutions, and implement correctly."

But for all firms looking to add or upgrade the technology used in the contact center, regardless of their motivations, the primary focus should be on "fundamental technologies that are well-proven and adopted," Leggett says. "Make sure they're implemented using best practices to get the most gains."

One of the biggest trends in this area is social media integration, which Leggett says "has upended traditional thinking about how to define and manage customer relationships."

However, Leggett says, it's important to "get your foundation in order before you start investing in newer CRM technologies like social media. Your foundations need to be solid and deployed in a way that supports your brand and supports all the ways that your customers can contact you and interact with you."

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