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There were significant technology developments in customer experience management during 2015. Multichannel contact centers in the cloud took hold of the contact center infrastructure market; I counted 21 vendors offering such services. A variety of vendors entered the market for customer analytics, combining analysis of structured data, speech recordings, text, desktop data, Web contacts, and events and processes to provide a comprehensive “360-degree” view of the customer and customer journey maps to track individual interactions over time. In addition a range of self-service or digital customer service applications became available, including mobile apps, voice-activated virtual agents, interactive video and Q&A websites and chat driven by natural-language processing. Digitally connected devices (the Internet of Things [IoT]) and wearable devices began to emerge. In 2016 I will track and try to anticipate the impact these technologies have on the customer experience.

A review of the benchmark research I carried out in 2015, the debates I joined and consumer research I read shows that most organizations have yet to take advantage of many of them. For example, our research on next-generation customer engagement shows that many companies are immature in their customer experience practices and use of technology; 46 percent rank at the Tactical level of performance (the lowest of four levels) and only 14 percent at the highest Innovative level. Our research on next-generation customer analytics shows that organizations perform better (29% are Tactical and 19% Innovative) in the use of customer analytics, but spreadsheets, despite their limitations (such as increased manual effort and inability to process unstructured data), are still the most common tool used for analytics (by 52% of companies). Support of multiple channels of communication grew to an average of 7.5 channels, but omnichannel customer service remains some way off as the majority struggle to integrate their business apps and communication systems. Big data was a hot topic during 2015, yet our research shows that few companies understand the full extent of the customer-related data they have, and most struggle to access and make use of it.

Taking all this into consideration, the three technologies I predict will have the most impact on customer engagement and experience during 2016 are analytics, cloud computing and desktop systems.

Analytics can help organizations know their customers and predict purchasing patterns, plan and deliver high-quality customer service and engage with customers in the ways they prefer – all of which are critical to meeting business goals. To fully know their customers, organizations need information that includes demographics, responses to marketing campaigns, sales inquiries, purchases, invoices received and paid (or not), complaints, praise and recommendations, service cases raised and resolved, channels of engagement used and the outcome of each interaction. Given the volume and variety of the big data organizations are now generating about customers, the only way to  gain insights from it is by using advanced analytics. These systems should provide access to all customer-related data, such as structured data (as from CRM, ERP and billing systems), voice, text (including social media posts), agents’ desktop usage (tracking the systems and fields employees access as they handle interactions), and event and usage data such as a customer having downloaded a video, made a phone call, or entered data into a self-service system, and process data (such as the routing of a request for action from one person to another person). Analytics should visualize the outputs in ways suitable for users and the tasks at hand, such as charts, dashboards, heat maps and journey maps. Above all they should show the outcomes of customer engagement, such as whether the customer was satisfied, bought more, posted a comment on social media or recommended the company to others. Organizations should also look for capabilities that use historical data and comparisons with other customers to predict likely actions so companies are prepared to address them.

Cloud deployment of data and systems already has had a significant impact on contact centers and the customer experience, and I expect this to accelerate during 2016.vr_NGCE_15_supporting_multiple_channels Customers want omnichannel experiences – using the channel of their choice, at the time of their choice, through a process that is easy to navigate and provides consistent responses. However, not many companies are in a position to deliver it. Our research into next-generation customer engagement shows that the most common barriers, for nearly half of all organizations, are difficulty in integrating systems (49%) and communication channels managed as silos (47%). A contact center in the cloud can address these issues. Many organizations look to the cloud because it is less expensive in the short term, consumes fewer resources and can be implemented quickly. For me the key is that vendors have developed their cloud-based products with integration in mind; that is, most support multiple channels of engagement that are managed by a single set of rules, which can help organizations along the path to omnichannel customer engagement. As well as cloud-based infrastructure vendors, an increasing number of vendors offer customer analytics in the cloud, which can make it easier for companies to make use of all their customer data.

Much has been written about the need for organizations to focus on the customer, and this focus has to start from the top. However, my experience shows that even for companies that are customer-focused, four obstacles stand in the way of implementing this focus – people, processes, metrics and systems. Regarding the first, employees often are not trained well enough or empowered to meet customers’ expectations. This is especially true for contact center agents who are limited in the information they are allowed to access or the level of decisions they are empowered to make. Processes also get in the way when each business group has its own and there is little connection between them; for example, marketing may have a set process to send out marketing campaigns, which the contact center is unaware of and so cannot support inbound inquiries. The same is often true of metrics, when each business unit chases its targets without regard for how those efforts might impact another group or how information is shared; for example, sales might make its new customer targets, but this increases the burden on the contact center to explain how the product or service works. As for technology, most companies manage customer data in disconnected systems, without having one system of record. Many of these issues can be alleviated by deploying a smart agent desktop system. These enable users to access the systems and data they need. They can be programmed to manage and/or automate common processes and personalize responses, can display information drawn for multiple systems, can include rules-based capabilities that guide users on next actions and can allow users to collaborate with each other or customers to resolve issues. In simple terms, they sit above everything else and deliver customer-focused processes and information to any users, whether they are in the front or back office, mobile or fixed, and of any skill level.

As alluded to earlier, I have no doubt that in 2016 there will be exciting developments around big data, IoT, wearables and cognitive computing. However, in light of the current state of processes and systems and the limitations on budgets, I recommend that most companies that want to advance customer engagement and deliver what customers expect turn their attention to customer analytics, cloud-based contact center systems and advanced desktop systems to help with those efforts.


Richard J. Snow

VP & Research Director

Based in the U.K., mplsystems is a relatively small vendor of contact center in the cloud systems, having fewer than 200 employees, but it has a distinct portfolio of products. Its core product, intelligentContact, is designed for omnichannel customer engagement. Its two other products, Customer Service CRM and Field Service Management, are not typically supported by other vendors in this space. As I dug deeper into the component parts of each of these products, I found other capabilities that also are not normally offered by contact center in the cloud vendors.

The core omnichannel product has capabilities to support blended queuing and routing of all supported communication channels, including voice, email, Web chat and social interaction, self-service and workforce optimization. Customer Service CRM includes the usual CRM capabilities plus a unified agent desktop, campaign management that includes outbound dialing, a knowledge base and contact center reporting and analytics. Field Service Management has standard features such as workforce scheduling, mobile field sales and service, part and supplier management contracts, payments and invoicing and reporting, as well as customer self-service, service desk and multichannel contact management. Added together this is a lot of capabilities; these are some of the key features:

Customer Contact

  • Single queue routing. The fundamental requirements for omnichannel experiences are support for both assisted and self-service channels, and single, unified routing of all supported channels. By supporting both mplsystems provides a foundation for omnichannel engagement.
  • IVR designer. Although not entirely obvious on the company’s website, the system enables end users to create and manage IVR flows. The mobile app version helps companies create “visual IVR” – that is, it allows customers to select IVR options, enter data and receive information on their mobile devices.
  • Self-service. Many consumers have gone digital, and for certain interactions prefer self-service rather than dealing with agents. The system includes a suite of templates with which users can create mobile apps, a self-service Web portal and a knowledge management system that supports natural language-based Q&A on websites or mobile devices. These use advanced text analytics capabilities to “understand” the request and search capabilities to deliver appropriate responses. Above all else the system supports seamless transfer from self-service to assisted service so that customers don’t have to re-enter data they have already submitted.
  • Workforce optimization. The system includes standard workforce optimization capabilities such as call recording, quality management, coaching and analytics, but workforce management comes by way of integration with third-party systems. It also can integrate customer feedback into the agent quality management process.

Customer Service CRM

  • Agent desktop. As the number of channels and systems increase that agents have to access to handle customer interactions, so does the complexity of their desktop system. The system includes capabilities with which companies can build sales, service and unified agent desktop systems that make it easy for users to access all the information they need to carry out their tasks and resolve customer issues.
  • Knowledge base. There is an old saying that “information is key.” This usually means that the more information you have, the better the decisions you can make. It is equally true in the context of customer experience. Customers want the same information no matter which channel they use, so the system supports a range of content and information management capabilities that provide the same information no matter what channel the customer uses.

Field Service Management

  • Mobile field sales and service. More workers carry out their tasks away from their desk today, particularly mobile sales people and service engineers. The system therefore includes mobile access to system and information that allow such employees to work wherever they are located.
  • Intraday scheduling. This uses similar capabilities to create agent schedules and manage detailed work schedules for field service engineers and can show addresses on color-coded maps and to plan routes between locations.

All Applications

  • For me customer experience is a multichannel, enterprise-wide issue that requires processes to flow across business group boundaries. Information must be updated and shared across all systems, and everyone must work from the same timely information. Mplsystems has developed all of these capabilities in-house, with the exception of workforce management, which is supported by integration with several of the main workforce optimization vendors. It thus achieves tight integration between the component parts, which in turn supports these three fundamental requirements.
  • Cloud or on-premises deployment. The system, in totality or by component, is available either on-premises or in the cloud, so companies can choose whichever suits their circumstances best.

I wrote recently that supporting an omnichannel customer experience is not easy. Our benchmark research into next-generation customer engagement shows that for three out of four (74%) companies getting it right is a top priority. Doing sovr_NGCE_Research_01_impetus_for_improving_engagement requires supporting assisted and self-service channels with seamless transfer between channels. It requires systems to ensure skilled people are available to deliver assisted service, and it demands a unified desktop to make accessing systems and information easy. It requires systems of record such as CRM to store essential customer data, and it requires analysis of all sources of customer-related data so everyone knows what is going on and how well customers are satisfied. To my knowledge, mplsystems is the only vendor to support such a diverse set of capabilities, and while it might not include all the features of some of the stand-alone systems, they are tightly integrated, which as I said above is essential to supporting omnichannel experience. Companies on or beginning a journey toward omnichannel customer service should include this company in the vendors they assess.


Richard J. Snow

VP & Research Director

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