There are ten key trends and technologies that are likely to help organisations of all sizes optimise their web-enabled customer journeys during 2013 and beyond, according to contact centre and unified communications systems integrator Sabio, highlighting the importance of effective web, social media, multimedia, apps and mobile-optimised sites for an integrated customer experience. This article is copyright 2012 The Best Customer Guide.

With web access now being widely available as a 'fourth utility' in most consumers' homes, and with a growing number of consumers now engaging with organisations via smartphones and tablets, customer service processes in particular need to be web-enabled at every stage. This not only demands that e-commerce and customer service operations work effectively in partnership, but also that the right web technologies are in place to support customers before, during and after all non-digital interactions.

Sabio's top ten list of web-enabled customer service technologies and trends are based on findings the company has gathered over the past year, including:

  1. Mobile-optimised customer websites
    A new generation of task-driven websites that are optimised for mobile are already providing customers with a primary route into organisations. With digital strategies closely aligned with traditional contact centre tasks such as paying a bill or taking a meter reading, mobile web front ends are playing a key role in challenging demand - potentially cutting 10-15% of overall contact centre traffic volumes.
  2. Real-time web support with web chat
    Increasingly intelligent web chats, where customers are offered more appropriately timed web chat opportunities, are also helping to challenge demand. BT, for example, now deploys web chat to support almost one in four of its online sales.
  3. Unlocking the power of Virtual Agents
    Analyst firm Gartner is expecting big things from Virtual Agents, and is targeting 400% growth in the market by 2014. The most effective Virtual Agents can handle thousands of contacts a day, with Norwegian company Telenor now supporting 5,000 queries each day, with only 4% being passed through for a live chat. It's also a great way of delivering additional support for out-of-hours contact.
  4. Putting mobile apps to work
    Today's smartphones and mobile apps open up new opportunities for customers, with the latest apps effectively giving users the opportunity to bypass traditional IVR channels and deal directly with the right person. The best apps are those that also leverage the power of the smartphone, perhaps featuring barcode and QR code scanning, videos for product showcases, additional security options, and context-specific features based on location, time and customer history.
  5. Stronger social media engagement
    Social media-based initiatives such as the community-powered support programme implemented by Kiddicare illustrate the power of social-enabled capabilities within customer service. To date this service has helped secure a 30% reduction in customer emails and calls. Another successful application area is the creation of internally-facing social media, with benefits including improved employee engagement, reduced ramp times, trends spotting and improved response times.
  6. Embedded Service
    Illustrating the power of cross channel integration, organisations are now using Embedded Service on their websites to streamline engagement. Amazon's 'contact us' page, for example, asks customers what help they require, the reason for contact, and which contact channel they would prefer from e-mail, phone and chat. However, you'll need to have an integrated contact centre infrastructure to be able to deliver this kind of capability.
  7. Invest in knowledge management
    Having access to the right information is critical, with best practice operations now in a position to enable their agents to deliver near real-time service updates to customers. Having this level of capability is helping companies such as Lebara - which continually updates its knowledge base using live information from the front lines - to move from delivering basic service to the provision of shared customer experiences.
  8. Effective call steering
    Simplicity is key to great customer service, so anything that can be done to streamline the experience by reducing the number of internal transfers, and applying intelligence to each stage of the process will contribute directly to an improved customer experience. Web-enabled technologies can play a key role in accelerating the traditional IVR process, particularly during the critical period between pickup and answer.
  9. Listening to customers
    Capturing customer feedback is an essential process, but it's what you do with it that distinguishes best practice organisations. There are multiple ways of collecting feedback - by SMS, email, and call-back, for example - however it's essential not just to collect scores, but also to capture customer comments and anecdotes to really gain a sense of what customers actually think. Operating a closed loop is important here, with feedback circling back to individual agents.
  10. Repeat call analytics
    One of the fastest ways to drive up your First Contact Resolution (FCR) rate is to carefully study repeat calls and identify the reasons that are causing customers to keep calling back. This kind of analysis - particularly when combined with speech analytics - can quickly help you identify the issues and processes that are negatively affecting your business, often identifying broken processes or competitive offers that previously weren't considered a problem.

According to Sabio's head of consulting, Stuart Dorman, "Whether organisations like it or not, technologies such as social media, mobile-optimised websites and apps are disrupting traditional customer service approaches. Today's best-practice brands are differentiating themselves through the smart deployment of technologies that strengthen customer engagement, and that's only going to accelerate throughout 2013. The good news is that the benefits of these technologies flow both ways: with customers taking advantage of faster, more engaging and more successful interactions, the brand benefits from lower contact costs and greater customer satisfaction and loyalty."