In 2016 Ventana Research saw a significant shift in the customer engagement and contact center software markets. Our benchmark research into the next-generation contact center in the cloud shows that for 70 percent of companies, customer experience is and will be an important way of competing; the largest growth in ways of competing is to introduce digital self-service, which will increase by 12 percent. To support those changes, organizations have introduced more channels of engagement, to the extent that our research shows the average has grown to eight channels. Our benchmark research into next-generation customer engagement shows that in nearly half (47%) of organizations these channels are managed as silos, which indicates that most organizations still operate multiple channels rather than supporting omnichannel engagement. The next-generation contact center research confirms that customer engagement is an enterprise-wide issue but one-third (33%) of companies struggle to provide consistent responses across touch points.
My briefings with contact center systems vendors show most continue to push R&D, as many new technologies are coming to market. In the communication channel market, there is the emergence of video, voice-activated digital self-service, mobile apps that seamlessly connect to contact agents and social media forums. Access to applications through cloud computing and mobile devices has become a must, as has providing a user interface that meets modern users’ expectations. In the analytics space, vendors now provide capabilities to process all forms of data and do so for very large volumes, enabling, for example, more advanced forms of customer and employee profiles, rules-based routing of interactions, customer journey maps and predictive analysis. Several analytics vendors have made their systems smarter by introducing artificial intelligence, machine learning and cognitive computing capabilities. At the end of last year, we saw evidence that robots are starting to take over – in the form of smart software rather than man-made machines – that offers robotic process automation. The continued importance of the internet led more organizations to shift from product-based to service-based businesses, many of them billing for their services on ever more complex subscription basis.
With these changes in mind our Customer Experience Research Agenda for 2017 will focus on the following six areas:
Our benchmark research continues to show that the contact center still plays a major role in handling customer interactions. Indeed nearly one-quarter of companies said they expect call volumes to grow significantly, so the contact center is far from obsolete and is unlikely to become so in the next few years. That said, centers are also likely to handle more channels of communication, especially picking up interactions that start in a digital channel but end up with the customer asking to speak to an employee. We will continue to track cloud-based contact center services that enable centers to handle more channels of communication; agent desktops that help deliver omnichannel experiences; the use of analytics to base more decisions and actions on complete information; and robotic process automation that eliminates the need for employees to handle repetitive tasks such as after-call work. Contact centers have undergone many changes since I first became involved with them, and I will make sure to keep up with the latest developments.
In the past couple of years, more companies have adopted basic analytics tools that process structured data, and more organizations have begun using speech analytics. The challenge is that over the same time frame the number and types of data sources have grown significantly, as organizations now want to process text, social, video and event data. In addition, there have been advances in big data, predictive analytics, machine learning, cognitive computing and artificial intelligence, all of which open up the opportunity for more organizations to deploy what I call extreme analytics. Such tools can enable organizations to access and process all forms of data, and connect it to a single customer to finally produce a comprehensive 360-degree of the customer, journey maps and detailed customer and employee profiles, and use the output from them to drive decisions, actions and responses to customer interactions. Our research repeatedly shows that analytics is the top technology that most organizations said will improve customer experience, so it is key to select the right system for particular needs.
Customer engagement and the customer experience will continue to be the main focus of my efforts. Last year more and more people talked and wrote about omnichannel customer engagement. Our research shows that much of this is actually just talk, with most organizations still providing multichannel, disconnected customer engagement. I will continue to promote the idea that omnichannel is about making engagement EPIC – Easy, Personalized, In context and above all Consistent across all touch points. Achieving all of these is not easy so I will track the development of customer engagement hubs that combine assisted and digital channels of engagement, workforce optimization, business applications and analytics to deliver EPIC experiences that meet customer expectations and the required business goals. Delivering omnichannel experience is not easy as it requires so many systems. Customer experience hubs are likely to be the best way to achieve this goal, so organizations should track vendors heading in that direction.
All of us at Ventana Research see more and more businesses using digital channels of engagement for marketing, sales and service. As I noted earlier, digital self-service is likely to be the fastest growing way in which organizations compete over the next two years, so I will be tracking new digital channels of engagement and how they support omnichannel engagement. This is an area where we see a lot of growth in the use of analytics, especially journey maps, to understand the channels being successful and those that need improvement. In going digital the key will be to align companies with customers; otherwise digital could end up like IVR, which we all know customers hate.
The Internet of Things is allowing many divergent businesses to move from a product-based strategy to a services-based strategy of billing for services on a usage basis. Examples are software vendors, hardware providers, video and music streaming, and purchasing of cars and other major items. This model changes the customer relationship, adding complexity to billing. During 2017 I will be part of a cross-functional team of analysts who monitor vendors providing specialist systems to manage such businesses; my own focus will be on how they support the customer experience based on customer usage of the service. IoT enables almost any organization to enter a market and change the way it runs, so established companies should think along the lines of disrupting or being disrupted – remember what Uber has done to the taxi business.
Workforce optimization is a well-established software category that includes interaction capture, routing, quality management, workforce management, coaching and training and analytics. Alongside monitoring and assessing development in these areas, I will be taking a special interest in employee engagement, gamification, analytics and vendors that integrate WFO into a customer engagement hub. Our research shows that organizations that adopt an integrated suite of WFO applications can gain several benefits, so think carefully before considering new systems or replacing older ones.
Together these six areas of research focus have one key thing in common – helping organizations transition to omnichannel customer experience. In an ever more complex business environment I believe this should be every organization’s objective regardless of size, industry or location. In this respect vendors are ahead of users in understanding the art of the possible in relation to technologies available today. I expect 2017 to be another challenging and exciting year, so please stay connected and together we can stay on top of whatever happens.