2012 is still a vivid memory for most of us. But it’s time to look ahead to 2013 and focus on the key trends that customer service professionals need to pay attention to as they plan for success this year. Here are the top trends that I am tracking.


Trend 1: Channel Preference Is Changing Rapidly

Across all demographics, voice is still the primary communication channel used, but is quickly followed by self-service channels, and digital channels like chat and email. Channel usage rates are also quickly changing: we’ve seen a 12% rise in web self-service usage, a 24% rise in chat usage, and a 25% increase in community usage for customer service in the past three years. Expect customer service organizations to better align their channel strategy this year to support their company’s customers’ needs. Expect them to also work on guiding customers to the right channel based on the complexity and time sensitivity of interactions.

Trend 2: Mobile Solutions Are Becoming A Must-Have

Customer service mobile applications remain nascent as more companies focus on their mobile marketing, sales, and eCommerce mobility strategies. Expect companies this year to better align their mobile strategies, technology investments and user experiences across functional groups like marketing, customer service, eCommerce, and IT for consistent experiences. More companies will move away from duplicating their web presence for their mobile offering and will focus on deploying the right usage scenarios that add value to customers in a mobile environment, with focused user experiences that allow tasks to be efficiently accomplished.

Trend 3: Agile Service Is Becoming More Important Than Multichannel Service

Customers expect service to be agile  — that is, being able to start an interaction in one communication channel or touchpoint and complete it in another. Each interaction should convey consistent and personalized data and contextual knowledge and information to the customer. Expect companies to continue to work on breaking down communication silos within and outside of customer service and standardizing the resolution process and customer service experience across communication channels and touchpoints.

Trend 4: Customers Expect Proactive Outbound Communication

Our latest Forrsights Networks And Telecommunications Survey shows that 29% of enterprises are currently investing in proactive outbound communications. We predict that the range of channels for proactive outbound will increase, and will include service alerts, workarounds, customized cross-sell and upsell offers, and new knowledge base content. More powerful smartphones and increased bandwidth will allow proactive outbound applications to use rich media with embedded links to improve the user experience. Outbound communications technology will also be more deeply integrated into the contact to support closed-loop scenarios where customers want connect to an agent after receiving a message.

Trend 5: Voice Of The Customer Programs Are Operationalizing Insights

In 2012, Forrester saw more companies adopt voice of the customer (VoC) programs (68% versus just 55% last year). However, companies struggled to distribute the analyzed data and act on pertinent feedback to deliver quantifiable business value. Expect companies to leverage VoC data on two fronts this year: (1) better focus on end-to-end feedback processes to deliver the right insights to the right organizations and (2) use of customer feedback as a direct measure of operational success.


Trend 6: Customer Service Is Moving From Cost Center To Differentiator

Customer service organizations are typically managed as a cost center. Key success metrics focus on productivity, efficiency, and regulatory compliance instead of customer satisfaction. However, we are seeing that customer service organizations are gradually adopting a balanced scorecard of metrics that include not only cost and compliance, but also customer satisfaction, and which are more suited to drive the right agent behavior and deliver better outcomes.

Trend 7: The Universal Customer History Record Is Personalizing Interactions

Customer service agents must have access to the full history of a customer’s prior interactions over all of the communication channels available in order to deliver personalized service and strengthen the relationship that customers have with companies. In 2013, vendors will continue to add  the management of social channels to their customer service products. Companies will slowly continue to formalize the business processes and governance structures around managing social inquiries and move this responsibility out of marketing departments and into customer service centers. We also anticipate that organizational changes will be made to better align communication channel experiences owned by different functional organizations.

Trend 8: Knowledge Management Is Becoming The Jewel In The Customer Service Crown

Knowledge management solutions are a critical necessity for agents who rely on standardized answers to efficiently answer customer inquiries. It is also important to customers, as 60% of consumers use web self-service knowledge to find answers to their questions. Expect companies to adopt best practices in knowledge management: (1) make content capture from disparate sources (like email, social media interactions, and forum threads) easier; (2) make locating the right content easier; (3) allow agents and customers to rate and comment on content; (4) publish content without arduous review cycles; (5) tightly link case management and knowledge management solutions for greater service efficiencies; and (6) be more data-driven by using analytics to obtain insights on the value of content.

Trend 9: Next-Best-Action Solutions Are Powering Targeted Offers 

Organizations will continue to investigate methods to recommend agent “next best actions” during the service resolution process in an attempt to offer service tailored to the customer’s unique needs and past purchase history. These next best actions are not limited to cross-sells and upsells, but also help guide agents through the most successful resolution path by presenting them the next best process step to take which is aligned with business imperatives.

Trend 10: Business Process Management Meets The Front Office

In 2012, we continued to see organizations using BPM in the front office in an attempt to formalize agent actions in an effort to standardize service delivery, minimize agent training times, ensure regulatory and company policy compliance, and control costs. Expect to see continued focus on guiding agents through the service resolution process, in addition to focusing on the end-to-end process, which may involve back-office tasks.We will see better reporting and analytics in order to monitor overall key performance indicators (KPIs) to optimize the success of each process flow.

Trend 11: Collaboration Is Improving The Quality Of Service Deliverered

We’ve seen increased adoption of collaboration in recent years. Trends include: (1) greater adoption of customer service and ideation communities that deflect contacts to increase agent productivity and customer satisfaction; (2) harvesting of community knowledge for inclusion into knowledge bases; and (3) agent-to-agent collaboration where organizations are breaking down the rigid agent tiering structures in favor for a more collaborative environment with subject-matter experts to increase first-contact resolution rates. However, the biggest trend that we have recently seen is that collaboration is becoming a corporate mindset. Companies are adopting real-time collaboration in the form of activity streams around objects such as sales opportunities, customer service cases, and content.


Trend 12: Best-Of-Breed Solutions Are Struggling To Prove Their Value

We see more suite solutions from a single vendor being deployed for customer service. Buyers will be in a strong position to push best-of-breed vendors to demonstrate differentiation and measurable business value. In addition, best-of-breed solutions are prime acquisition targets.

This differentiation must then be weighed against the integration pain from coupling multiple customer service solutions together, the overhead of managing software upgrades from different vendors, the overhead of managing multiple contracts from different vendors, and the risk of these best-of-breed solutions being acquired.

Trend 13: SaaS Solutions For Customer Service Are Becoming More Popular

Forrester estimates that nearly 70% of organizations are either currently using SaaS solutions for horizontal business processes like CRM or are interested in doing so. In 2013, many first-time customer service technology buyers will look first at a SaaS solution to see if this approach can meet their needs. However, SaaS requires new ways of thinking about vendor selection, contracting, risk tolerance, and organizational skill set requirements.

Trend 14: Outsourcing Is Slowly Gaining Market Share

In 2012, Forrester found that 20% of companies outsourced or were very interested in outsourcing, and another 8% were interested in outsourcing their operations. In 2013, expect outsourcing — both from global outsourcers and newer boutique firms — to slowly gain market share as each outsourcing model finds its niche. Expect to see a rise in outsourcers using home agents to provide their clients with greater business agility Expect also to see more companies look to outsourcing their contact center technology while staffing customer operations with their agents.

Trend 15: Analytics Are Improving The End-To-End Experience

Customer communication channels and touchpoints are often managed by different functional organizations within a company. Few companies extend the measurement discipline that is a core strength of voice-only call centers to other communication channels. Expect customer service organizations to start moving forward with more holistic measurement programs for communication channels and touchpoints. This will allow customer service organizations to understand the cost and success of end-to-end customer journeys and pinpoint areas of addressable pain — such as an escalation from a mobile self-service session to an agent-assisted call. Expect organizations to also derive insights from their customer behavior to better contextualize and personalize end-to-end experiences increasing satisfaction and long-term loyalty.