What Lies Ahead for Customer Service in 2013

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1. 2013 will see an “everyone serves” approach to customer service
Others have watched with envy a few organizations that have (incredibly) successfully benefited from an “everyone serves” customer service strategy. Whether in the commercial world or in the public sector, a siloed approach to customer service is inefficient and ultimately affects the bottom line. On the other hand, an “everyone serves” customer service strategy sees everyone in the organization – from those who look after the website, to those who work in the contact center and even those who work in the fulfillment side, all focused on the customer in a unified way.

While the benefits of an “everyone serves” customer service strategy are great, the barriers are significant as it requires incredibly strong leadership to revolutionize the culture. That said, continued austerity and demonstrable successes set the right conditions for this to gather momentum in 2013.

2. 2013 will see a “digital first” approach to customer service
Digital by Default, which began life as a UK public sector mantra will go mainstream in both the commercial world and the public sector in 2013, due to both continuing budgetary pressures and customer demand. This means that digital channels will no longer be viewed simply as a channel shift mechanism but rather be promoted and designed to be the default way in which service is provided.

Perhaps more controversially, this will leave the humble telephone – until now the default channel – as the backup to the new default digital channels that include mobile, tablet and desktop PC. According to Mary Meeker, a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers, close to 30% of adults in the USA own a tablet device up from just 2% a year ago. Whereas mobile traffic has grown rapidly to represent 13% of all internet traffic and more importantly, mobile monetization has also see a close on 130% CAGR in less than 5 years.

3. 2013 will see organizations recognize that context is critical to service
The amount of information generated in a customer lifecycle, and the corresponding product and service lifecycles, is ever increasing. Customers and service agents alike can be swamped in too much information that is not relevant, or starved of the critical piece that is relevant – and sometimes both at the same time.

The ability to understand and respond to context is the critical dynamic factor that sorts the wealth of information into actionable knowledge in each interaction and at each point in the customer’s journey. Context takes in the past – recent interactions, product history, campaign output, etc.; it also takes in the present – contact channel, billing cycle, open cases, customer life stage, etc. Context also engages the future – relevant offers, best next action, appropriate follow up, etc. Only by grasping how to apply context can organizations deliver the experiences that customers are expecting and looking for.

4. 2013 will see re-imagination of the software user interface precipitated by social, mobile and voice
If the last few years have taught us anything, it’s how old and tired computer software now looks when considered alongside the advances in 3D gaming, mobile Apps, and the increasing trend toward voice activated / operated solutions. Gamification for sure is one result of this, but the way we interact via social, the way we make use of mobile, and the way we’re now speaking to as opposed to typing with software is all fundamentally game changing when it comes to software user interface design. Quite simply, it’s time to re-imagine the UI based on the best of today’s UX and beyond. There are far too many “battleship gray” and even “green screen” offerings still about, which now literally jar alongside modern HTML5 tablet Apps. We believe that this year there will be exciting innovation here.

5. 2013 will see the emergence of the end-to-end customer service suite (or will it?)
It was a real eye opener for me, arriving in the customer service world from the enterprise resource planning or ERP world I had lived for so long. In the ERP world, the concept of an end-to-end “suite” is well established, so I simply expected the same to be true for the customer service space, after all, the world in which KANA inhabits sits neatly between traditional CRM and unified communication (i.e. the CTI, ACD, IVR folk). But how wrong I was… Johan Jacobs of Gartner can probably still recall the look of absolute shock on my face when he told me just that. “Surely you must be wrong,” I said, but of course he wasn’t and even the concept of Web Customer Service, which Gartner describes and for which KANA is a Magic Quadrant leader is still in its infancy.

So will 2013 change anything? I’m going out on a limb against my colleagues here to say yes, and not because I’m stubborn, but because it must. Our customers want consistency and accuracy across channels. In line with their holistic customer experience strategies, they want what we call omni-channel engagement. Well, that requires the antithesis of best of breed software – the end-to-end customer service suite.

And finally, a few observations:

Observation #1: 2013 will see increased investment in strategic customer experience management initiatives. Really, it will. I was fortunate enough to be able to attend Forrester’s customer experience forum west conference: “Outside In” in Los Angeles late last year, and the amount of dedicated CX practitioners on hand was impressive. More so was their view that CX is finally getting C-Suite attention and that with tools like those available from Forrester, business cases that demonstrate real returns are starting to loosen the purse strings.

Observation #2: The growth in community curated corporate knowledge will continue to grow and so bring businesses closer to their customers and vice versa. Companies like Best Buy, Telstra and media giant Sky are leading the way in this respect and we expect it to continue. Coincidentally, after 244 years in print, the Encyclopedia Britannica finally went out of print in 2012, whereas Wikipedia, founded just 11 short years ago is nearing a billion active monthly users. Surely this is testimony to the power of the crowd and the value of communal curation of knowledge.

Observation #3: 2013 will see organizations empower customers. We have been talking about the power shift from organizations to customers for a little while, but I think many organizations have been paralyzed by this change rather than galvanized by it. Today a customer wants to be helped to buy rather than be sold to, a customer wants to both help themselves when they want but also have a real person they can hold to account or do it for them when they want. In 2013 we will see mainstream organizations adapt to genuinely engage and empower customers, harnessing the work and voice of the customer in a joined up journey as well as offering convenience and accountability at all parts of the journey.

Observation #4: 2013 will see “Customer Experience” as the current term du jour become so over hyped that we will all be well and truly done with it by this time next year! You think we’re joking, well let’s just see.

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