Environmental trends to include in your business plans.
Business environment trends are overarching forces that shape the demand for all products and services. Individual players have little—if any—ability to control or influence these forces. They can only react. Contact center level trends illustrate the directional changes contact centers take in response to current events, changing priorities, and business environmental trends.
At the vendor level, we see the changes in business strategy that vendors take in response to business environment trends and contact center trends. Examples are new products, acquisitions, greater functionality, adoption of new technologies, improved customer support and adjustments to distribution methods.
For the past 10 years, Pelorus Associates has published annual comprehensive reports on the state of the market for contact center solutions. We analyze trends on three levels: business environment trends, contact center trends and vendor trends. The following are four environmental trends excerpted from our latest report that I think we can all agree upon.
Popularity of Social Networks
Where once people congregated at a common gathering point, called each other on the telephone, or (gasp) wrote letters, the current popular modes of communication are electronic. It is not unusual to see a group of teenagers huddled together, not speaking but busily pecking away at their smart phones in an effort to communicate without having to actually say anything. (See the table.)
The social networking phenomena are important to enterprises for two very important reasons. First, it opens up new avenues for communicating with current and potential customers. The effectiveness of these emerging channels is still unclear, but costs are low and any organization that wishes to be viewed as technologically sophisticated has to have a presence on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and similar sites. The other reason is that consumers use social network sites to share information about themselves and their experiences. Consumers that are very dissatisfied or perhaps extremely satisfied with an interaction may share this information on a social site. According to research by the SQM Group, 14% of customers use multiple contact channels to resolve their inquiry or problem and 63% of the time that occurs prior to contacting the call center.
Thanks to social media monitoring tools and listening platforms that are now available, businesses can keep an eye on mentions in social networks, blogs and other forums. Having access to these tools allows companies to adopt a proactive stance with regard to social media comments. Being proactive means businesses can address potentially damaging postings before they become problematic. This means allocating time and resources to monitor and respond to social media. At this point, the volume of social media communications to the enterprise is small compared with other channels. Nonetheless, according to a 2013 research study conducted by Nemertes Research, 18% of companies have already invested in social network monitoring technology.
I Want It My Way
Many of you will remember the old Burger King refrain, “Have it your way…” With a direct jab at McDonald’s penchant for only serving burger fare their way, the jingo taunted, “Hold the pickle, hold the lettuce—special orders won’t upset us.” Now even that mighty bastion of uniformity, Mickey D’s, is feeling the heat from the global trend to personalization. The McDonald’s version of made-to-order is called, “Create Your Taste,” and it involves ordering your burger or chicken sandwich at an electronic kiosk that lets you choose what kind of bun and toppings you want. Safeway’s “Just for U” program uses complex algorithms to sift through shopping data to guess consumer needs and produce specialized offers. Of course, Amazon and other e-commerce companies have become such masters of Big Data that it seems they can literally read your mind when splashing targeted offers over your computer screen.
Mass production and mass merchandising are giving way to tailored products and highly targeted marketing. As global economies continue to sputter, businesses are saddled with excess capacity. Many factors, including 3-D printing, adoption of technology standards, modularity, diminishing first-mover advantages and excess capacity, have shifted the balance of power to the consumer and they know it. Businesses seeking to win over today’s consumers need to have a thorough understanding of customer preferences and possess the agility to respond faster than their competitors. Businesses also need the flexibility to communicate with their customers in a variety of modes.
The preference for individuality over conformity can be seen every day, in the form of “body art,” fashions, hair styles, entertainment choices, food, and perhaps most important for contact centers, choice of communications channels. Personalization through the sophisticated use of data and analytics will be a key way to break through to consumers in 2015—helping to acquire, convert and retain customers throughout their entire life cycle. According to Avi Dan, writing in Forbes: “The world is more connected because of technology these days, but marketing is becoming more regionalized, and more localized, even more individualized, as consumers resist homogenization. Personalization is not a trend. It is a marketing tsunami, here to stay, which will transform how we think about and how we manage global brands” (“11 Marketing Trends To Watch For In 2015,” 11/09/14, Forbes).
Product and Service Complexity
This author just took the giant technological leap to a fancier cell phone that has a keyboard and other slick features. This little number sold for the princely sum of $.99 with a two-year extension of the wireless contract. The instruction manual for this most basic of cell phones runs to 143 pages. Anyone ordering cable or satellite television today is faced with the dizzying array of bundles and prices. And that’s the easy part. Wait until you have to learn to operate the remote!
According to academic research, if an individual’s information processing capacity is exceeded, a cognitive overload occurs. This can lead to confusion, suboptimal decision-making and, therefore, dysfunctional performance. Presented with too many choices, both the consumer and the agent reach a point of diminishing returns where more options diminishes rather than enhances the customer experience.
The inevitable consequence of all these efforts at personalization is greater complexity. The jobs of sales and service personnel become more difficult as they require greater training and a lot more patience to properly explain available offers and convince buyers that these are the best choices for their particular requirements.
Rising Consumer Expectations
Sometimes it seems that you can’t please people no matter what. After billions of dollars spent in technology investments, studious recruiting, thorough training and deploying every best practice ever published, some consumers still are not happy! Check out the following findings from the “2012 Global Customer Service Barometer,” sponsored by American Express and conducted by Echo Research:
- Only 7% of consumers believe that customer service exceeds their expectations. The number is been basically unchanged from 2010 through 2012.
- 32% of consumers believe that businesses pay less attention to providing good service today.
- 44% of consumers expect excellent service but do not think they should have to spend more to receive it.
- 55% of consumers have changed their mind about doing business with a company because of a poor customer service experience.
Ouch! What we are seeing here is the tyranny of rising expectations. As businesses take steps to be more courteous, more flexible, offer greater variety, appeal to individual needs, etc., the bar just keeps getting raised higher. We should not be surprised. Creating a positive customer experience is an ongoing process. The business that thinks its level of customer care is “good enough” is a ripe target for competitors that continue to strive for higher goals.