Businesses, in 2011, are refocusing on strategies that differentiate them from their competitors. One way to do this is by focusing on customer service. We see that organizations are ramping up their multichannel customer service initiatives. In fact, 90% of customer service decision-makers told Forrester last year that a good service experience is critical to their company’s success, and 63% think the importance of the customer service experience has risen. However, customer expectations are getting higher. Customers are increasingly online, want self-service options, and demand responses in real time, often through their mobile devices. Moreover, social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, has grown to be an important new channel for interacting with customers and engaging in innovative ways.

To meet these challenges, organizations continue their search for solutions to address their most pressing customer interaction management problems. Leaders of customer service and product support organizations tell us that they want to strengthen five key capabilities:

  • Delivering the same customer service across communication channels. It is critical to standardize the resolution process and customer service experience across communication channels (email, phone, web self-service, chat, etc.)
  • Empowering agents and customers with knowledge management (KM) tools. Advanced knowledge management and search tools are a critical necessity for delivering contextual, personalized self-service and agent/customer experiences.
  • Supporting agile customer service with a strong foundation of business process management. Organizations are extending BPM to customer service to standardize service delivery, minimize agent training times, ensure regulatory and company policy compliance, and control costs.
  • Integrating with customer communities as a natural escalation point to a contact center. Customers today expect to be able to interact with companies through community-based interactions. Customer communities, ideally with extensions to company employee communities, must be included in the overall customer service solution. In fact, we predict that over 85% of tech companies will have launched customer communities by the end of 2011, with other industries not far behind.
  • Strengthening customer feedback management. It is critical for a company to receive feedback about its products, services, and organizational processes so that the customer experience can be optimized. This can be done via traditional channels such as surveys as well as by listening to the explosion of customer comments and sentiments over social channels.

Navigating the complex customer service solution ecosystem is difficult, as there are many good solutions available. One category of solutions to consider is the customer service capabilities provided by leading CRM suite software solutions providers. These vendors provide core customer service transactional and data management capabilities. Another category to explore is the capability of specialty customer service solution providers to fill the gaps. Understand your pain points, create a business case, and create a checklist of capabilities to assess the strengths of the different vendor solutions. Most importantly, always ask for customer references to see how vendors fare in real life.