• March 2, 2011
  • By David Myron, Editorial Director, CRM and Speech Technology magazines and SmartCustomerService.com

Is a Contact Center Revival ‘Up Around the Bend’?

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Several areas of the customer service market have grown modestly during the past couple of years, according to published industry reports, as organizations look for more cost-effective ways to cut support costs through automation, outsourcing, or hosting.

Perhaps the most innovative area in customer service is social media support. The idea of customers helping customers appeals to organizations for its low-cost and brand-building benefits of word-of-mouth and viral marketing. Organizations still unsure about the power of social media can simply look at how it influenced the riots and political unrest in Egypt. Businesses, including outsourcers, had to shutter operations there. (See our coverage in the story “Egyptian Unrest Puts Call Centers To the Test.”)

Recognizing the need to have a fully integrated Web support effort, which includes social media support, we combined last year’s Web self-service and Web interaction management categories to create our Web support category this year. Vendors were evaluated based on their ability to provide Web self-service, email management, click to call, chat, and social media community support. Most in that category don’t offer all of those capabilities. However, it makes more sense to have a fully integrated Web support suite than a siloed approach to Web support, so expect vendors to move in that direction in the coming years.

While social CRM solutions show a lot of promise, some parts of the customer service industry are still struggling to make use of them. Outsourcers, for example, have the expertise to handle large volumes of customer inquiries so it makes sense for them to take their service to the Web. Part of the problem, though, is that today’s call center support model does not easily transition to the Web. “If you’re an outsourcer, you bill by the minute. It’s not in your best interest to really know how the [customer] conversations went,” says Elizabeth Herrell, principal at Communication Initiatives. “Are they really monitoring Twitter and what’s being said? Companies do that, but outsourcers don’t do that, so there’s a disconnect here.”

So, when it comes to integrating social CRM into customer service efforts, there’s certainly room for improvement by vendors and practitioners. After all, it’s still pretty new stuff. However, it doesn’t mean organizations can’t benefit from what’s already available. In fact, we’ve identified four rising stars that offer some useful social CRM solutions for customer service. And, it certainly doesn’t mean organizations should put all of their customer service upgrades on the backburner. While some are investing in lower-cost customer service solutions and services, others—still encumbered by the weight of the Great Recession—have let things slip, especially in the contact center. As a result, customer satisfaction with call centers has significantly dropped, according to fresh research from ContactBabel. (See our coverage of this report in the story “Gripes About U.S. Contact Centers Rise,” by News Editor Leonard Klie.)

Fortunately, organizations looking to spruce up their customer service efforts can read our eighth annual CRM Service Awards, which features winners and leaders in seven customer service categories, four rising stars selected for their innovative approaches to customer service, and four impressive deployments. Congratulations to the winners—they live by John Fogerty’s lyric: “Always time for a good conversation. There’s an ear for what you say.”

David Myron is editorial director of CRM magazine. He can be reached at dmyron@destinationCRM.com.

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