A NICE Time to Focus on Customer Experience Analytics


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Last week I attended the annual customer conference of NICE in Las Vegas. In this post I’d like to share a few observations about how NICE is approaching the emerging market for multi-channel experience analytics.

You may be surprised to know that NICE is 25 years old and books some $800M in annual revenue, growing roughly 20% per year recently. The company is a big name in the contact center industry, by virtue of its solutions for call recording, workforce management and speech analytics. But as you’ll learn, company leaders want to become the go-to solution in cross-channel Customer Experience Management (CEM) analytics too. These sorts of solutions are marketed as NICE Enterprise.

NICE also sells solution to combat financial fraud (NICE Actimize) and manage physical security (NICE Security). These are disparate businesses without obvious synergy, which made for some awkward positioning messages at the conference. The security solution in particular really seems to address a completely different market than the other two. I suspect that these marketing issues will get sorted out in the next year or two. The “enterprise” opportunity is clearly an area of intense investment and expected growth, according to CMO Benny Einhorn and other officials I met with at the conference.

Multi-Channel Analytics

One of the key drivers in the NICE strategy the past couple of years is a realization that call recordings are becoming a commodity. So the company has been investing in analytic tools to get more value out of the recordings. Like speech analytics.

A couple of years ago, for my article Use Speech Analytics to Reduce Calls That Frustrate Customers and Hurt Productivity, NICE executive Barak Eilam told me that organizations should look take a “unified approach across interaction channels: call center, web, IVR, email and chat.” Well, now NICE has solutions to help do just that. At the demo center I saw an example of how analytics can do root cause analysis and spot trends using data from multiple channels.

This is good stuff and a big step forward from silo’d analytics, but I’d like to see NICE do more in true cross-channel analytics. By that I mean be able to figure out why, for example, customers abandon an IVR, then call an agent or use some another channel. This sort of analysis is still the hallmark of ClickFox, which I wrote about in Time to Harmonize Your Cross-Channel Customer Experience.

Since that article, the use of social media has exploded and provided another source of unstructured feedback. Smart mobile device usage is also on the rise. Put these two trends together and you have “mocial” (mobile+social), proclaimed Yochai Rozenblat (CEO and President, NICE Americas). As Rozenblat and others said many times at the event, NICE aims to be a major player in finding and acting on the nuggets of insight across all channels, to help improve the customer experience and internal operations.

Customer Interaction Journey

Udi Ziv, Chief Product Officer and President of Enterprise Group (and formerly from SAP), spoke about the “customer interaction journey” and shared some interesting statistics from a recent consumer survey. They found that consumers use a wide variety of channels for the first interaction, but if unsuccessful the consumer will probably pick up the phone to solve the problem. (My U.S. consumer survey in 2009 also found that the phone was the most common “second touch” in a multi-touch interaction.) This, says Ziv, is turning the call center into a “second tier service center” with the web and other channels taking care of easy issues first. The implication is clear: the job of agents is not going to get any easier.

In addition to the multi-channel analysis already discussed, I found real-time speech analytics a very innovative capability. While an agent is on the phone, NICE technology can analyze the spoken interaction and generate appropriate actions for the agent — to prevent churn, up-sell, etc. After so much time spent trying to cut costs, I like this approach to empower agents to add more value during the interactions.

Ziv also spoke about the need to reduce the “points of friction” in this consumer journey. Namely: 1) lack of cross-channel analytics, 2) lack of real-time advice on “next best action” for the agent, 3) poor integration with the “back office” and 4) complex product lines that are difficult for agents to manage. Clearly, reducing such “friction” is a Good Thing, but I worry that companies will stop there. With rare exceptions (Amazon being one), I’m not convinced that getting rid of problems will make an experience great. In most cases, it will just make the experience “not bad.”

I hope that the innovations that NICE has developed won’t lead companies into a false sense of security that they don’t need to invest in hiring and developing the right skills with their agents. Zappos is a classic example of where some 98% of transactions are online and highly efficient, but when a customer calls they speak with a “customer loyalty rep” that is ready, willing and able to dazzle.

Voice of Customer Analytics Leader? Not Yet

I’m impressed with what NICE is doing in multi-channel analytics. Large enterprises need to pull together a more complete picture of their customers’ “voice” and not just optimize interactions on a channel-by-channel basis.

But I was hoping for more. As mentioned, another facet of cross-channel analytics is understanding and improving the navigation patterns between channels. Furthermore, acting on customer feedback is a complex matter, where real-time actions is just part of the answer. NICE needs to build on solutions that already exist, or acquire them!

Currently NICE can collect survey data directly via IVR, but it has no web survey capability such as offered by Confirmit, MarketTools, Vovici and many other Enterprise Feedback Management (EFM) firms. I think the time is ripe for a company to step forward and consolidate the EFM industry. However, based on discussions with Einhorn and other company officials, this doesn’t appear to be a direction NICE is seriously considering.

People Make Us Happy

NICE’s enterprise solutions reflect a growing interest to “instrument” the customer experience across multiple channels and drive action as quickly as possible, up to real-time. However, as I mentioned in my article Customer Experience Management: Past, Present and Future, I don’t think just fixing problems is a sustainable advantage. Companies need to look for ways to create new and more innovative experiences. Mobile and social tools are a fertile ground for innovation, but so are people.

A few years ago, CustomerThink’s CEM study found that friendly, empowered and skilled employees were critical to delivering memorable customer experiences. As companies look to deploy tools from NICE and other vendors in the growing industry for CEM solutions, I hope they keep that in mind. Use technology to empower—not replace—employees. As Apollo Ono said in his keynote at the conference, “It’s interactions with people that make us happy.”

Disclosure: NICE invited me to attend their customer conference and provided a free pass. This post is not an endorsement of NICE or its products/services. NICE has contracted with me to speak at a series of executive breakfasts in June, 2011.

Further reading:
* Does CEM Need a Technology Platform?
* Customer Experience Management: Past, Present and Future
* Use Speech Analytics to Reduce Calls That Frustrate Customers and Hurt Productivity


  1. Hello Bob
    One of the organisations that I worked for used NICE in the call centre environment. Yet the analytics team charged with implementing it and extracting useful insights was not enamored with NICE. In fact they were actively looking elsewhere. Why? They told me that it was hard to implement and use.

    This is one of the things that I have noticed time and again in the software space: there is a big difference between the promise and the reality of what it takes to make the product work AND deliver business benefits. I noticed this with Siebel CRM and later I noticed this with ATG. And if my ex-colleagues are to be believed (and I have no reason to not believe them) the same applies to NICE.


  2. Maz, thanks for your comment. I don’t have any personal experience or research on the usability of NICE products. I certainly agree that it’s a critical issue.

    In my past research in CRM adoption, I found that users will readily trade off better ease of implementation and use for more function. I think Siebel and other CRM vendors got enamored with winning the “feature wars” and this opened the door for Salesforce.com and others.

    It would be ironic and unfortunate if NICE solutions intended to help improve the customer experience do not deliver a great user experience.


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