• August 13, 2012
  • By Leonard Klie, Editor, CRM magazine and SmartCustomerService.com

Customer Service Adapts to Multiple Environments

NEW YORK (Customer  Service Experience) - Customer service is undergoing a revolution, not just in the ways that customers communicate with companies, but in the types of messages they communicate and the reasons for those  contacts, speakers at the inaugural Customer Service Experience  conference said.

The customer experience life cycle, as defined by research firm Ovum, starts when a consumer researches a product, and takes her through many steps, including shopping, selecting, purchasing, using, contacting service or support, recommending to others, and repurchasing. From a company standpoint, these processes can involve customer service, sales, marketing, IT, billing, and several other departments, all of which must be communicating together to effectively  reach the customer and serve her needs.

"There area lot more touchpoints than ever before, said Ian Jacobs, a senior analyst at Ovum and one of the conference chairs. These touchpoints include phone and email, Web chat and Web self-service, social media, text message, voice message, fax, and in the store.  And not surprisingly, the number of contacts using paper and physical stores are going down, Jacobs said.

But more than that, customer contact now spans multiple channels. According to Ovum research, only 25 percent of customers typically use only one channel. Conversely, 74 percent use multiple channels (62 percent use three or four, while 12 percent use five or more). Additiomally, Ovum expects that by 2016, more than half of all customer contacts will start from a mobile device, with 36 percent of those coming from smartphones. "The smart device is becoming a critical chokepoint between the customer and the enterprise," Jacobs said.

But at the same time, "call volumes will decrease dramatically starting in 2016," and "the [customer service rep] will become the contact of last resort," he added.

And while the smartphone grows in popularity, still the majority of  toll-free customer service lines "are not designed for these devices," said Colin Schiller, a founding partner of Serve Lab.

For apps to truly embrace the mobile customer, they need to be not only location-based, but also intention-based, meaning that they incorporate elements of the user's personal profile, presence, and history, said Philip Easter, director of mobile applications at American Airlines, which has a mobile application that has been downloaded by more than 4 million people.

Also feeding the mobile frenzy is Apple's Siri digital assistant, which Robert Gary, vice president and general manager of Nuance Mobile Care, says changed customer care. "Siri has raised the awareness and expectations for the experience possible on a mobile phone," he said..

With all the changes, though, it is important that companies stay the course with their customer service strategies, according to Dan Miller, founder and senior analyst at Opus Research. These should, by now, include the move to IP communications, mobile, social, real time, cloud, and home agents, he added.

And it's just as important that companies break down the siloes between their different departments.  Even today, "everyone sees their own piece, but few see the customer experience as a complete lifecycle event," said Keith Dawson, a senior analyst at Ovum.

Dawson also pointed out that many companies have had a problem integrating their mobile applications into their basic operations because there is still a lot of confusion as to who owns the app. The mobile app also adds a lot of data to an already complex environment, he added. "Data is not being leveraged where it can be of the most use," he said.

Real-time decisioning, he said, is not only possible but recommended. "It amounts to collecting enough data about the customer at the time of the interaction to enable the company to proactively fix any issues," he said.

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