Six Customer Service Investments to Consider

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Customer service organizations often struggle to choose the best applications to invest in, due to the myriad options available and, in many cases, the need to work with a very limited budget. Major advances in recent years, such as the rapid growth in global data, smartphones, social networks, and video content for consumer interactions, drive the need for change. Future planning must consider the shift in customer expectations for interactive cross-channel service delivery.

Still, customer support managers have remained cautious. Adoption of social media customer care requires that customers receive a response consistent with the information provided on the phone and Web. To meet expectations, customer support managers should consider increasing support in six areas: community forums, mobile application customer care, automated chat, real-time analytics, big data analytics, and video support. These investments offer quantifiable business benefits and valuable customer insight.

Customer support leaders need to develop a sound business case that clearly identifies the key pain points of their current operation and quantifies the potential savings from upgrades. When developing a business case, a number of benefits must be considered.

Trends to Note

Community forums provide an online meeting place for customers to share information and get peer support. Content includes blogs, interactive chat, timely tips, self-help videos, and major event notification. Such forums engage customers and improve their perception of doing business with a brand. Companies that offer such forums see incoming phone calls decline by as much as 8 percent.

Mobile customer support provides assisted service directly from mobile apps. With the huge increase in available apps, more customers are using smartphones for conducting transactions or requesting information on products or services. Mobile customer support provides faster responses and interacts with customers at the time of greatest interest. It also delivers a seamless experience from the smartphone, as contextual transfer of all information submitted on the mobile app is sent to a sales rep when live assistance is needed. Contextual transfer of information shortens the call duration, as customers do not need to re-enter information.

Real-time analytics and decisioning software mine data from customer cases and social interactions. Analytics provides insight into customers' issues to improve service, personalize interactions, and identify product problems. It also supports faster problem resolution. With almost immediate insight into customer problems, customer service managers can escalate the problem to the appropriate department and resolve it without additional calls.

Automated chat or virtual assistants help online customers with advanced natural language speech solutions. They lower the cost of online support services and eliminate unnecessary calls for basic information. Automated chat requires a customer-oriented knowledge base that provides the correct response to customers with a high degree of accuracy. When an accurate (80 percent accuracy or higher) response is not available, the customer should be immediately transferred to an assisted chat session. As the use of automated chat increases, the knowledge base will have a larger repository of correct responses.

Big data collects, manages, and analyzes customer data from multiple sources with informed decisions and customer insight. The data generated for customer support requires a tool to manage it and make it easy to understand, filter, and prioritize, and then take action based on its content. Content management will reduce the time spent looking for information, resulting in shorter call duration and more accurate responses.

Video customer service offers visual communication to smartphones and tablets. In customer support organizations, technical help calls can be shortened by sending a video clip on the subject and allowing customers to see a demonstration on how to fix their problem. Video can also be used to call in remote experts to facilitate problem-solving and shorten resolution time.

Not all of these solutions may be right for your organization, but when planning where to invest for the future, these emerging technologies should not be far off your radar.

Elizabeth Herrell is the founder and president of Communication Initiatives and a vice president and principal analyst with Constellation Research.

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