A few months ago Enterprise Apps Today reported on the growing need for companies to provide cross-channel customer service, offering customers a consistent user experience across multiple channels including call centers, company websites and even social networks like Facebook and Twitter.
Results from the NICE 2012 Consumer Channel Preference Survey seem to bear this out. The survey found customers using, on average, six different customer service channels to contact their service providers. A whopping 86 percent of respondents said that, on average, they are interacting more often or at the same level with companies as they did a year ago.
More Customer Service Channels, Please
Smartphone applications and social networks are growing strongly in popularity, with more than 40 percent of respondents saying they have increased their use of these channels for customer service. Providers of contact center software seem aware of this trend, rolling out products that enable customers to initiate support interactions via their smartphones. Earlier this month Jacada introduced software it called ““the natural convergence of IVR and self-service with smartphone technology.” In April Genesys launched a mobile customer care solution called Genesys Mobile Engagement.
Nearly 30 percent of respondents visit company websites at least once a week, making them the most widely-used channel for customers seeking assistance from service providers. The two biggest knocks against Web self-service, each mentioned by 43 percent of respondents: It does not lend itself to complex tasks, and it takes too long to find information.
While a third of respondents reported interacting with live customer service agents by phone or at a physical location monthly or more frequently, millennials show more of a fondness than their elders for self-service customer service channels. Millennials also regularly use more channels than their older counterparts.
“The empowered customer who uses more channels, more often, is in effect creating a Big Data challenge and opportunity for businesses,” said Benny Einhorn, NICE’s chief marketing officer. Companies will be challenged to surface insights hidden in the large amounts of structured and unstructured data derived from customer interactions and use those insights to improve customer experience, Einhorn said.
NICE, which sells software that encompasses real-time analytics, decisioning and guidance with voice of the customer and workforce optimization solutions, conducted its survey in November 2011, polling some 2,000 residents of the U.S., the UK and Australia.
Need for Cohesive Customer Service Strategy
Despite consumers’ obvious and growing interest in interacting with companies via multiple channels, companies are struggling to create cohesive multi-channel communication strategies. An Economist Intelligence Unit study commissioned by software provider Genesys found that while 90 percent of companies surveyed communicated with their customers via a company website, the numbers were much lower for social media (48 percent), call centers (42 percent) and company-branded mobile applications (20 percent).
Thirty-eight percent of respondents, all of whom were senior executives, tapped the company website as the primary way their companies communicated with customers. This put company sites behind email, named by 48 percent of respondents, and call centers, named by 43 percent of respondents, as the top means of customer communication. Just 12 percent employed social media as the primary communication method.
Sixty percent of respondents said their primary use for new communications channels such as social media was marketing/public relations, followed by 6 percent who said customer service/support and 4 percent who said sales. Twenty-seven percent, however, said they used new channels for all of those purposes. The remainder mentioned using them for “other” purposes.
Based on the survey results and additional insights gleaned from interviews with respondents, the Economist Intelligence Unit listed four key high-level findings:
- The rapidly changing market has created confusion and left companies in a state of flux. Companies must try to rise above the confusion to create an integrated and holistic approach to customer communication.
- Many companies have focused more on social media than other customer communication channels. Given the rising popularity of mobile platforms among customers, companies should include mobile technologies in their strategic planning.
- Because marketing has dominated companies’ response to new communication channels like social media, many companies may not be addressing the underlying issues that lead to product or service complaints. An effective customer communication strategy should involve organizational areas such as product development.
- Appointing a single individual to manage customer communication channels minimizes confusion and results in a more coherent approach, bridging the gap between internal business functions such as marketing and customer service.
Social CRM: Strategy, Not Just Tools
Companies' growing awareness of these customer service challenges has spurred a flurry of acquisitions in the social CRM market, with Oracle and Salesforce.com each buying social CRM companies in the past month and IBM buying a social analytics specialist Tealeaf last month.
Analyst firm IDC is predicting more consolidation in the social CRM space, noting that "An influx of new social vendors and acquisitions of social CRM applications providers by established vendors augmenting their offerings for rapid market entry is invigorating the market."
Yet creating and maintaining strong customer relationships involves more than simply buying CRM software. As Bruce Temkin, managing partner of the Temkin Group, recently told Enterprise Apps Today, companies must “master a bunch of competencies,” including areas such as human resources that are not usually linked to CRM efforts.
Ann All is the editor of Enterprise Apps Today. Follow Enterprise Apps Today on Twitter @EntApps2Day.