This guest post is written by Vanessa Thompson, Research Manager for the ESN and Collaborative Technologies Program in my IDC SBS group.
With rapidly changing customer expectations, companies are under increasing pressure of finding new ways to meet all of the future potential user touch points. This pertains primarily to customers but could also impact employees, partners or suppliers. However, companies don't "control" customer interactions, users do. Customers want to interact in the channels of their preference so organizations need to become customer centric in order to leverage all available data and information for competitive advantage. The release of Google Helpouts adds an additional customer touch point bringing the opportunity to divert some existing interactions. Customer preferences are increasing digital interactions, such as social customer care, as a share of overall customer care interactions, and companies are increasingly challenged to provide excellent customer experiences on all of the channels and devices customers want to use. An important topic for service and technology providers alike is to identify the best tools and/or functionality to support agents; in to balance people and technology in a way that betters customer experience. Understanding all the future potential touch points and preferences of a customer will be critical as organizations look to map their existing outreach, tools and technologies across these new channels and transition business models, tools and technologies into this new approach.
The shift of interactions is having a significant impact on customer care as a whole. Most importantly, for the first time customer care can actually be seen as a point of competitive differentiation in the market. In an economy when most goods and services are highly commoditized, providing an outstanding, personalized customer experience can heavily influence buying decisions and loyalty. Consumers are often willing to pay more to know that they will be treated with personalized service. Therefore, the expansion and shift of channels is forcing customer care to the forefront of a company's competitive strategy. Not just the challenge to support customers on their channels of preference, but also to provide an integrated view across those channels to prevent the classic frustrations of information being siloed and forcing customers to repeat issues. Another important change impacting customer care is the dynamic of these channels as they work together. Customers are not just using newer channels, they are now using more channels and thus it often takes several contacts to resolve an issue or an inquiry. As traditional voice-based interactions decrease as a share of overall customer care interactions, the role of voice will play a more important role in the future. Many consumers consider the IVR or agent assisted voice channel as the "last resort," and in the event that self-service channels have failed will come to the conversation with a more frustrated (having jumped through hurdles already), and potentially more complex (on average) question or issue to pose to the agent. In the future, as self service and digital options become more commonplace, the role of the agent will be elevated to a more subject matter expert status, geared toward solving more complex issues and exceptions. Adding in Web RTC enabled solutions like video chat further the dynamic complexity of customer care, but also offer the potential of greater sophistication and personalization.
The modes of enterprise collaboration are rapidly changing and converging to meet not only the requirements of all the possible touch points outside the business but also to handle and manage how information from those interactions is used. We defined Customer Experience Management in the IDC Social Business Taxonomy. In essence, it highlights all of the 'experiences' or interactions a customer (this could also be employee, partner or supplier) would have with a company over the lifetime of their relationship and across the various channels of interactions. The launch of Google Helpouts highlights a solution that could start to capture some of those future potential interactions and opens up a broad and horizontal opportunity for video based chat to service a number of customer experience use cases.
Browser to browser based communication or WebRTC (enabled by a set of enhancements in HTML5) creates a compelling low cost opportunity for companies looking to service the increasing number of customer touch points. Google Helpouts leverages Google Hangouts which enables WebRTC through the royalty-freeVP8 video codec owned by Google and supported by Opera, Firefox and Chrome browsers. The critical piece here is that there is no browser plug in required and because Google own the VP8 video codec and one of the browsers that support this means they can provide Helpouts across broad general purpose 1:1 use cases. We have also seen proprietary solutions like Amazon's Mayday, which provides free tech support 24/7 and allows the user to see the agent and exchange controls for troubleshooting tablet issues. This is a prime example of leveraging online tools along with live agent support to create a differentiated customer experience. So what about those enterprise organizations that are looking to build in video chat as an interaction point but need it to interface and integrate with other business applications, systems and most importantly, customer information?
On 23 October, Cisco announced Jabber Guest to provide browser-based collaboration to extend Cisco Jabber voice, video, and content-sharing to external customers, partners and suppliers in B2B scenarios. Effectively this is Cisco's answer to hangouts because Jabber Guest is API-level identical to WebRTC but at the time the announcement was made you would still need a browser plug-in. Cisco also announced plans to open-source its H.264 AVC codec and provide it as a binary module that can be downloaded for free from the Internet. MPEG-LA require licensing fees for this module but with Cisco 'open sourcing' the code means that these license fees will be paid by Cisco itself (capped at $6.5 million annually) and not passed on to developers, partners or customers. It is unknown how long Cisco will continue to pay these royalties, but in the interim this bodes well for adoption of Jabber Guest as eliminating a browser plug-in enables a more streamlined user experience and creates a comparable offering to Google Hangouts.
One of the core tenants of enterprise communication today is call control in order to route messages within the organization, and it is particularly critical in the contact center. In the interim, companies will need to find a way to deal with WebRTC based interactions, while they are in the process of creating a model to understand and consume all of the future potential interactions with customers, partners and suppliers. Currently Jabber Guest relies on the Cisco Unified Communications Manager (UCM) to track all active VoIP network components and endpoints and that can't happen with WebRTC. IDC believes that companies will still require call control in the medium-term, so WebRTC-enabled Jabber Guest will appeal to those organizations looking to engage quickly and more deeply in unstructured scenarios with customers, partners and suppliers.
Customers will likely not view video chat and similar support services in the "last resort" mentality that is often reserved for traditional voice calls. These capabilities are viewed as less time consuming, more personalized, and have a greater coolness factor that will connect in particular with tech savvy audiences. If the data gathered from these new support capabilities is not only used for interactions analysis but also fed back to R&D and used to better products and services along with personalizing customer experience, it will be considered a great benefit and example of how customer input can have a direct impact on improving products and services.
The embedding of voice and video capabilities into web channels that customers are naturally gravitating to has the potential to be a win-win for customers and companies alike. Adding the integration with other channels and customer data is an even greater step toward a holistic view of the customer. These examples have shown the promise of the power to improve customer convenience, and the possible ability to boost loyalty and sales. It is clear that as customer preferences evolve and technology enables a more integrated view of the customer across the life cycle, that enterprises and service providers will increasingly have the ability to provide a more personalized customer experience that can have real business impact.