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        Keith Dawson's Analyst Perspectives

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        Technology Trends in Customer Support Software

        Customer Service and Support (CSS) software is about more than case tracking and trouble tickets. Many organizations view the service call as an opportunity to solidify a positive customer relationship and perhaps enhance the loyalty and value of the customer. That has propelled interest in the emphasis on workflows and automation that now/currently drives CSS, particularly when it comes to managing self-service and field service, and the ability to provide agents with contextually relevant information during interactions.

        It is for that reason that Ventana Research asserts that by 2024, 7 in ten customer interactions will combine automated conversational self-service and live agents, reducing costs, time and enabling agents to focus on high-value interactions. Customer support is often seen as part of a broader effort to put informational tools into the hands of customers and, using artificial intelligence (AI), to streamline their search for relevant and helpful fixes.

        VR_2022_Customer_Service_and_Support_Assertion_1_Square (1)-pngOrganizations are encouraging vendors to create low- or no-code tools for designing automated processes that connect service operations to back-office processes. Customer support is also being improved by knowledge tools that incorporate AI to provide service reps with assistance and direct guidance about what steps to take when interacting with a customer.

        One example is in the latest release from ServiceNow which uses workflows to connect to a multitude of third-party systems. The Automation Engine incorporates RPA capabilities but does so in a way that offers enough control and sophistication for IT users along with the ease of use needed by line-of-business users.

        Vendors are also leaning heavily into applications for specific vertical markets. This makes sense; the processes that drive a successful insurance interaction differ significantly from what you would see in health care or retail. But under the hood they are still a series of repeatable steps that hone in on a solution and have similar underlying data and integration needs.

        Even as the technology for customer support has improved, many organizations still operate with legacy tools that take a piecemeal approach to the process. Systems for communication, issue tracking, knowledge management and customer history are often separate applications with ad hoc connections holding them together. During the pandemic, many organizations took a fresh look at their tech stacks around customer experience (CX) and service. In those early days, many were focused on business continuity and operations; now many are looking at how a changed customer base expects service to happen. CSS appears to be approaching a period of churn, where digital transformation projects aimed at CX are starting to include revisions to the tools and processes underlying support.

        CSS is not always identifiable as a clear separate software toolkit anymore. Traditional vendors like ServiceNow, Salesforce and ServiceMax are focusing on helping organizations build the kinds of simple workflows mentioned earlier and are incorporating more messaging, knowledge and analytics into their offerings. We expect this trend to continue and expand. Post-pandemic, many organizations are reassessing their support needs based on shifts in where their workers and equipment are located. This is pushing CSS buyers to work with vendors to reevaluate what components are needed within platforms.

        There are several factors that seem to be pushing organizations toward new CSS purchases. Certainly the transition from on-premises to cloud has had an effect. We are also seeing the end of the era of homegrown tools at the low end of the market in favor of more sophisticated applications. Many organizations in the middle of the market are realizing that service and support should be part of a broader strategy to develop customer relationships for the long term, so they need to connect their data resources more closely, breaking down operational silos. Businesses are also taking a closer look at how field service is organized, especially in light of the restrictions on in-person contact stemming from the pandemic.

        Buyers appear to be looking more at single-vendor suite solutions for their support operations, turning away from niche solutions that require integration and create overly complex multi-vendor environments. CSS tools have tentacles that reach into different teams with varying priorities. Connecting them together — and enabling the automation and workflows that are so desirable — is the job of suite-building vendors rather than development-minded buyers.

        Vendors still have to work with two core buying teams, IT and the contact center, and those teams do not always have the same priorities. IT teams are more likely to care about functions related to things like asset management and internal helpdesk operations, for example. Contact centers are more likely to prioritize communications with the customer, access to clear, consumer-friendly support documentation and proactive outreach ahead of significant service issues. Vendors must be careful to balance their offerings to both of those teams and to address the needs of specific personas across the organization.

        Going forward, we expect to see the emphasis on automation and workflows transform CSS into something that looks very different from traditional case management or help desk systems. Modern customer support involves managing the relationship as much as the issue. So, vendors will lean into advanced analytics to measure the outcomes of the service process, like the connection between cases closed and longer-term loyalty and value. CSS platforms should be offered to buyers as a way to make customer support a boost to a company’s overall growth goals, rather than a sinkhole of costs. One aspect of that should be the use of proactive outbound notifications and alerts to demonstrate competence, awareness and concern for the customer.

        It will ultimately be impossible to distinguish support software from the broader suite of CX tools used to manage an entire customer life cycle. Support is, after all, only one stop on the customer’s journey. As organizations start to link up the siloed pieces of the journey, support teams will get better at their jobs because the software they use will be more intelligent, more automated, and more in tune with the needs (and abilities) of their behind-the-scenes peers.

        Customer Service and Support systems are part of one focus area in Ventana Research’s Customer Experience expertise. For further reading, see our Analyst Perspective on Why We Need a New Definition for CX Software Platforms.


        Keith Dawson



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