I have been involved in the contact center, CRM and customer engagement business for more than 25 years. Yet only in the past few years have I seen much change. Until recently nearly all organizations focused on handling customer interactions as efficiently and inexpensively as possible; few made much effort to manage customer relationships over the complete customer life cycle. However, over the last 18 months, the scene has begun to change very rapidly, and I expect that to continue and even accelerate during 2016.
What is driving that change? The simple answer is customers. They have changed the way they interact with each other, and this has impacted how they want to engage with organizations. Competition to win and retain customers has gotten fiercer, and with business easily available online, customers can change suppliers at the click of a button. The Internet, and the emerging Internet of Things (IoT), will connect more devices and are generating vast volumes of data that open up the possibility of organizations understanding their customers better and proactively influencing their decisions and behavior. These technologies also enable new business models, as what were physical products, such as music, video or software bought on a disk or printed photographs, become digital or Internet-based services that are paid for through different methods.
With these issues in mind our Customer Technology Research Agenda for 2016 will focus on three primary themes:
The Contact Center Revolution
Our benchmark research into next-generation customer engagement shows that customer engagement is an enterprise and multichannel issue. New research in 2016 will examine how companies are adopting cloud computing to support integrated channels of engagement and make access to all related systems possible from almost any location, including for employees handling interaction on mobile devices. It will also take into account how companies are deploying a new generation of self-service systems and digital channels of engagement that enable customers to serve themselves more easily and if necessary transfer to assisted service and agents without having to repeat tasks. It will examine the need to deploy integrated quality management systems that can connect all quality management processes and link agent-related tasks to the customer experience. Furthermore it will investigate the adoption of collaboration systems that allow any employees handling interactions to collaborate with expert colleagues who can help them resolve customer issues at the first point of contact.
Innovation in the Customer Experience
Much of the consumer research I read shows it is no longer sufficient for organizations to maintain the status quo in the way they engage with customers, which is largely reactive and conducted through a limited number of channels that the company determines. Rather they have to innovate by allowing customers to choose the channel of engagement of their choice, making it easy for them to use those channels and, when speaking to an employee, making responses personal and consistent. In short they need to become proactive in understanding and reaching out to customers, or they risk losing business. The first step is to gain a better understanding of their customers, including why and how they prefer to engage, and this requires advanced technology. Our research will examine how companies are using big data and multidimensional analytics to produce deeper analysis of all customer-related data and to visualize the outputs in more meaningful ways. This trend will extend to using predictive and cognitive capabilities so that the outputs can drive continuous improvement and new business opportunities.
Transforming Commerce and Subscription Processes
The software industry leads the way in using the Internet to change how people and organizations purchase and use technology. Many vendors have moved away from on-premises deployment and one-off pricing to provide services accessed over the Internet and invoiced on a subscription basis. Other types of business are following suit, providing for example music, video and healthcare consultation as on-demand services paid for on a usage basis. The old adage that “80 percent of a company’s profits come from 20 percent of its customers” is no longer relevant as it has become harder and more costly to win and retain customers. Our research will examine how organizations are adopting subscription-based services and billing systems that not only invoice on a more flexible basis but can help increase customer lifetime value.
Each of the above efforts will take into account how organizations are making use of innovative technologies such as cloud computing, big data, business and social collaboration, mobile computing, wearable devices and the Internet of Things, which connects various devices to each other digitally. As usual we will seek to identify both best practices and barriers organizations face in adopting new processes and systems to improve customer engagement.
Our extensive research over the last 10 years indicates that none of this will be easy for organizations. For example, our research into next-generation customer engagement shows that organizations most often struggle to integrate systems (49%), manage communication systems in an integrated manner (47%) and provide consistent responses (33%) at all touch points. Successful change must be driven from the top of the organization and will require coordination of people, processes, information and systems across all business groups.
Perhaps most importantly it will require organizations to break down the barriers between business groups. Marketing will need more innovative ways to attract potential customers, sales will have to pay more attention to what it sells, and customer service and the contact center will have to do more than just respond to customers, instead becoming ambassadors for the organization. I believe organizations will have to pay more attention to customer lifetime value because winning and retaining new customers has become such a challenge. Customer experience again will be key, as any number of reports show that one bad experience can lose a customer. I expect this to be a challenging but exciting year, so please stay connected to keep track of developments.
Richard J. Snow – VP & Research Director