Hosted customer service and support solutions provider RightNow Technologies today concluded its annual service summit, and the nearly 300 conference attendees revealed broad consensus about the opportunities and challenges currently facing customer service organizations.
One key theme, highlighted by research director John Ragsdale of Forrester Research, was the growing strategic importance of customer service to business success. "As industries mature and companies can no longer differentiate themselves by attributes such as products or pricing, customer service becomes a critical competitive advantage," Ragsdale said. "Managers at all levels are coming to realize that service and support interactions are often the only direct contact the company has with the customer, and that the quality of those interactions therefore has a significant impact on long-term business success."
Conference attendees also widely agreed their customer service organizations are facing increased pressures to do more with less, and also to contribute to top-line revenues. Many are being asked to provide service to more customers and/or support a wider range of products and services, even as budgets are reduced or remain flat. Organizations are also beginning to communicate proactively with their customers to decrease support loads and provide better service.
"We have to continue seeking ways to improve our operational efficiency while building a world-class customer service organization," said Peggy Esch, Manager of Customer Care at Meteorlogix, said. "That's the only way we are going to deliver the quality of service we need to retain the loyalty of our customers while ensuring targeted levels of per-account profitability."
A third key theme of this year's conference was the growing emphasis on common management of diverse customer service communications channels -- which typically include the phone, email, web, and chat. "No one wants to manage these channels as separate 'silos' anymore," Greg Gianforte, founder and CEO of RightNow Technologies, said. "Our customers are looking for ways to treat all incoming service requests as a single, highly manageable queue, so they can optimize overall efficiency, centralize the complete customer history, reduce the number of applications customer service agents use, and deliver consistent and accurate answers regardless of the channel."