To define the context for making smart contract center strategy and technology decisions for customer service, Forrester, in partnership with CustomerThink, surveyed 75 contact center professionals in the second quarter of 2011. Our objective? To understand: 1) the adoption patterns for 18 types of contact center technologies; 2) the most important influencers driving the buying process; 3) the significant goals driving investment decisions; 4) the key barriers to achieving those goals; and, 5) the important criteria used to make contact center technology decisions. We also evaluated the perceived value of each solution category. By selecting the right solutions to invest in, contact center professionals can make the right decisions without taking unnecessary risk.
The Contact Center Solutions Ecosystem for Customer Service Is Complex
The contact center solutions ecosystem that customer service organizations use has grown more complex over time as new communication channels — traditional and social — are becoming available. Customer service executives struggle to enforce consistency of process and customer experience across their workforce. There is an explosion of data and information that agents need to use to resolve customer inquiries. The constant churn of vendor mergers and acquisitions as sectors consolidate creates product and support risks. And, new contact center solution delivery models including managed services, outsourcing, and cloud-based offerings present new opportunities.
Customer service executives want to:
- Use a consolidated customer service tool set. Transactional data and customer history are often inconsistent and inconsistently available across communication channels. Forrester surveys show that 90% of companies do not have their customer interaction channels—such as phone, email, chat, and web self-service—integrated with one another. This means that customers receive inaccurate and inconsistent service across these different channels.
- Communicate consistent answers to customers. Customer service agents are often forced to look through multiple disconnected applications in the course of finding the right answer to a customer issue. Moreover, not all agents have access to the same set of answers and agents don’t always know whether the answers that they find are trustworthy. This lack of agent consistency and productivity decreases customer satisfaction ratings. And, agent training times, and turnover rates spike due to frustration with their tool set.
- Comply to policy. Governments continue to increase focus on industry-specific regulations. For example, changes in financial industry regulations have been substantial in 2011 due to the sub-prime mortgage crisis and ongoing economic challenges. Across all industries, it’s critical to pay attention to government regulations controlling customer engagement practices; in many countries penalties can be quite high. Healthcare and insurance regulations are also increasingly complex. There are few real-time applications in customer service organizations that audit agent actions against policy requirements.
- Monitor customer needs and satisfaction. It’s critical for customer service managers to receive direct customer feedback, preferably immediately after the interaction with the customer. It’s also critical for them to understand the general impression of their service offering as expressed in social media. Service managers use this information to balance the cost of service with overall customer satisfaction so that realistic tradeoffs can be made.
- Provide service in the way that customers want to receive it. Customers are evolving. Even though the phone remains the most popular channel across all demographics, instant service via self-service methods, chat, and SMS are rising in popularity. Customers increasingly rely on mobile telecommunication devices as way to communicate with the companies they buy products and services from. In addition, they use social channels to voice their opinions and solicit advice from their peers. These channels must be integrated into the broader customer service tool set and processes for optimal customer satisfaction.
Adoption Trends Set the Context for Contact Center Solution Decisions
Which contact center solutions for customer service are most widely adopted? We found that organizations are using all 18 technologies that we researched in order to integrate end-to-end customer service processes (see chart “Contact Center Solutions Adoption”). Specifically:
- A set of core technologies are must-haves for contact centers. Customer service professionals must deliver a service experience in line with their customers’ expectations yet at a cost that makes sense to the business. Core contact center technologies enable agents to manage voice calls, email and chat requests from customers, log and manage inquiries via case management systems, and manage and optimize agent workforces. These solutions are mature, and they continue to deliver significant business value. Our data shows that 53% of those surveyed report they have implemented, and/or are expanding their implementation of case management solutions; 58% use workforce management solutions; 48% use quality monitoring; 62% use voice IVR or self-service speech platforms ; 44% use email response management systems, and 50% use chat solutions.
- Social technologies are growing in importance for customer service professionals. The rapid adoption by consumers of social technologies has upended traditional thinking about how to define and manage customer relationships. Organizations are using social technologies for customer service to participate in virtual conversations with community members in order to gather and act on their feedback on products and services, as well as to leverage their expertise to evolve product knowledge in line with customer demand. It’s not surprising to see that 47% of those surveyed report they have implemented, and/or are expanding their customer communities; 39% use social listening technologies; 42% offer customer service via social sites like Facebook and Twitter.
- Technologies that help deliver a more personalized service experience are rising in importance. Customer service agents struggle to deliver the personalized service that their customers demand due to a siloed technology ecosystem. Contact center technologies that empower agents with the right knowledge to answer customer questions, help unify agent desktops and deliver real-time guidance are growing in importance due to their ability to make agents more productive and their actions more personalized. Our data shows that 55% of companies surveyed have implemented or are expanding their implementation of knowledge management; 35% use real time decisioning and, another 40% are actively considering this technology, and, 34% use unified agent workspaces.
Business Leaders—Not IT—Drive Customer Service Technology Decisions
Who has the most influence in purchasing contact center solutions for customer service? When it comes to deciding on the right technologies to underpin critical business processes that touch customers, business leaders are clearly in charge. We found that:
- Business executives have most influence. The most senior business leader (e.g. owner, CEO, president) has the most influence in deciding which contact center technology should be deployed in their organizations. 57% of respondents told Forrester that these individuals have “complete” authority. The next most important are senior line business executives (e.g. VP of customer service). And, 28% of respondents say these roles have an “important” influence.
- IT leaders also have an important voice. IT executives also wield significant influence in making contact center technology decisions for customer service. 15% of respondents said they held “complete authority” and 56% said they had an “important” influence.
- Advisors have a subordinate role. We learned that although third-parties do have influence in decision-making, it’s much less than the companies’ own executives. Only about 17% of respondents felt that consultants, industry analysts, value-added-reseller or systems integrators had an “important” influence on decision-making. And, 40% feel that customer service software vendors are only “somewhat” influential.
Improving the Customer Experience is the Most Important Goal
What are the most important customer service goals being pursued by organizations across industries? We found that companies (see chart “Goals Of Customer Service Organizations”):
- Focus on customer experience over cost. 40% of those surveyed say that “improve the customer experience” was their most important customer service goal, and another 40% rated it as their second most important customer service goal. In contrast, only 12% rated “reduce customer service costs” and their top goal.
- See customer service as a differentiator. 20% reported that “create a competitive advantage” was their most important customer service goals. And, 20% of companies reported that this objective was their second most important customer service goal.
- Believe that customer service can be a profit center. 17% reported that “sell more current products and services” was the most important customer service goal.
Finding Cost-Effective Solutions Remains a Challenge
The companies that we survey reported a number of serious challenges to improving their customer service operations. These include: a lack of insight into their customers, a struggle to understand the cost and value of contact center solutions, the inability to quickly change business processes, and finding solutions that meet their functional and integration requirements.
Companies Face Serious Barriers To Improving Customer Service
What are the biggest challenges that companies face to improving their customer service capabilities? Improving the intelligence they have about their customers so that they can better personalize customer service, and measuring the results of their initiatives to drive further changes are the top hurdles for companies that we surveyed. We found that organizations:
- Struggle to gain a deep understanding of customer wants and needs. Over half – 51% – reported that “creating customer insight to drive decision making” was one of their top five challenges.
- Report difficulties in understanding their customer history. 48% reported that “creating a single view of customer data and information,” that is a record of all past purchases and interactions that the customer has had with a company was one of their top five challenges.
- Struggle to quantify results and gain support for customer service initiatives. Nearly half, – 47%, also reported that “measuring results” was one of their top five challenges.
- Can’t get departments to collaborate to serve the customer. It may be no surprise that 44% of organizations report that “gaining cooperation across the organization to support customer service improvement efforts” is rated fourth in importance.
- Are challenged to change existing business processes. 40% cited that “changing business processes” as one of their top five barriers to delivering exceptional customer service.
High Cost and Changing Business Processes Are Key Barriers To Adoption
What barriers prevent organizations from making better use of contact center technologies to improve their customer service capabilities? Perceived high cost is the number one barrier to adoption, followed by difficulty in changing business processes, budget constraints and unfamiliarity with appropriate technologies. We found that companies:
- Struggle with the cost customer service projects. 65% said that “high cost” was their major challenge, which is no surprise given the current economic challenges facing many organizations.
- Fight to tame out-of-control business processes. 47% said that “changing business processes” were their top barriers to adopting customer service solutions. Customer service operations typically require the management of complex sets of business activities that cross multiple departments and that require diverse data inputs. This makes the management of critical customer-facing service interactions difficult to orchestrate.
- Face budget constraints. It is also no surprise that in this current economy, that 47% of companies state that they struggle with suboptimal budgets for modernizing their contact center technology.
- Lack specific knowledge about appropriate technologies. The current technology landscape is fragmented and rapidly evolving. 37% said that “unfamiliarity in working with appropriate technologies” is a key barrier to adoption.
Solutions Must Meet The Cost, Functionality and Integration Requirements of Buyers
What criteria are most important when selecting contact center solutions to support an organization’s customer service requirements? Three key purchase criteria are “very important” to all the companies that we surveyed: the overall system cost, the application’s ability to integrate with other systems, and overall functionality of the solution. Customer service leaders decision-makers are very pragmatic about how they evaluate vendor solutions. Other criteria such as a vendor’s brand or cultural fit fall lower on the list of the selection criteria. We found that companies:
- Struggle to justify the overall cost of ownership. 59% rate the “overall system cost (including software licenses, hardware cost and implementation)” as their most important criteria when selecting contact center software to support customer service requirements
- Consider the ability to integrate with existing systems to be very important. 57% rate their “applications ability to integrate with the firms other systems” as the most important criteria.
- Place great importance on overall functionality. In addition, 57% of companies rate the overall functionality” as being the most important criteria in selecting contact center software.
- Do not give much weight to a vendor’s brand or cultural fit. Our survey data shows that only 13% of companies rate “the vendor’s cultural fit as a partner” and 7% of companies rate the “software brand” as the most important criteria when selecting contact center software. Solutions
Although the economy is difficult, the underlying trends driving the need for an optimized customer service experience have not disappeared. In fact, the need for companies to effectively engage with their customers has never been more important. Today, and for the immediate future, you must focus on choosing the best opportunities for quick wins carefully, spend wisely on the right contact center solutions, and implement correctly.
The Forrester/CustomerThink Q2 2011 Customer Service Technologies Value Online Survey was fielded to 75 customer service professionals from Forrester’s ongoing CRM research panel as well as to readers of CustomerThink (www.customerthink.com), a global online community of business leaders striving to create profitable customer-centric enterprises. However, only a portion of survey results are illustrated in this document. The survey was fielded from April 15 to June 15, 2011. Respondent incentives included a summary of the survey results and access to a free Forrester reports on customer service topics.
90% percent of survey respondents self-identified themselves as being primarily a business executive, manager, or contributor, while 10% of respondents identified themselves as an IT executive, manager, or contributor. Exact sample sizes are provided in this report on a question-by-question basis. Panels are not guaranteed to be representative of the population. Unless otherwise noted, statistical data is in-tended to be used for descriptive and not inferential purposes.