The technology underpinning customer experience (CX) is a hodgepodge of tools that have been developed for niche use cases and then expanded to fill broader roles. Examples include the old (CRM, help desk software and speech analytics) and the new (customer data platforms and conversational AI). This is because CX is a set of very specialized processes that happen in different parts of the enterprise, managed by people who often do not connect with peers handling related processes. Service-related activities are focused in the contact center, personalization and loyalty in marketing departments, and so forth.
The story of the last five years (aside from the pandemic) has been the consolidation of sets of applications into larger suites. Active followers of the CX industry see it most directly in the way contact center operational technologies have been gathered into cloud-based offerings. Pulling agent management, interaction handling, analytics and optimization together seems logical to most buyers today. Advances in the underlying platform systems have helped smooth the consolidation. By putting AI and automation tools at the bottom of the tech stack, they become available to a wide range of applications, thereby enhancing the value of the overall suite.
These trends have been mirrored in other CX areas outside of service. Marketing automation tools have become the core elements of suites that overlap quite a bit with contact center suites in the areas of analysis, data collection and customer journey management; however, marketing suites serve a different set of needs and a different user base — marketers who need customer data to create audiences, design interactions and measure loyalty and value. Marketing-based suites often have some interaction-handling component as well, particularly newer digital channels (but not voice).
This evolution from niche solutions to suites changes the calculation in the mind of the buyer. Instead of approaching software purchases to solve a specific, describable business problem, buyers are trying to balance the needs of a more diverse set of stakeholders who come from different departments and are steeped in the processes and tools prevalent in their areas. So, if an organization is considering the need for a system to manage customer data, for example, the competing visions of marketers, IT and contact centers all must be accounted for. And they have to develop common language to describe their requirements and how they define success.
As suites coming from different origin points have grown in functionality, vendors have had difficulty articulating the differences between their offerings. Suppose, for example, that an organization needs a system for automating CX workflows. How exactly would they narrow down that kind of search? One approach would be to begin in the contact center and automate based on the software available in a contact center as a service (CCaaS) product. That would help with agent processes, such as getting customer information to their desktop or into a self-service tool, and connecting agents to back-office resources. Another approach would be to begin with IT, building on elements like IT service management and data integration to fashion an automation structure based on existing platforms. Yet another approach could focus on sales or marketing teams, automating things like messaging prospects to qualify or nurture them, or providing customer feedback through websites and chatbots. Three different automation use cases that would point buyers to three different sources of CX technology, all related but none are likely to fulfill the entire spectrum of necessary functions for organization-wide CX management.
The industry has developed some terminology that attempts to corral these ideas and functions into a single market segment. Customer Experience Management (CEM or CXM) has been used as a catchall for integrated platforms that incorporate some of the functions used in marketing, sales and service operations. However, the term suffers from lack of precision and is often used to describe the “discipline” or “methodology” of CX. That makes it hard for a buyer to use CEM as a starting point for a purchasing process.
Buyers are confronted with similarly equipped tools from vendors that focus on a large subset of the CX environment, like the contact center. To build better processes, though, these tools have to be further connected to other, overlapping tools running in other CX departments. Ventana Research asserts that by 2024, 8 in ten organizations will recognize the negative impact that siloed customer data has on creating frictionless, unfragmented customer experiences. Efforts to break the silos are already driving vendors towards consolidation and expansion.
To cut through the confusion, we propose a framework for describing the amalgamation of applications into CX-related suites as follows: A customer experience software suite is a product family composed of applications collectively organized to optimize customer interactions, experiences and profitability.
A customer experience suite should be judged based on these criteria:
- How well it facilitates managing and measuring customer behavior across multiple stages of the customer lifecycle.
- How well it serves the needs of both the key purchasing team (e.g., contact center operations) and other relevant stakeholders within the organization (e.g., IT or marketing).
- How well it presents senior leadership with a coherent picture of the customer base that they can use to understand direction and make plans or decisions.
- How open it is to expansion laterally into adjacent software segments related to other CX departments. In other words, if you are judging a marketing automation suite for CX, how well does it serve (or integrate into) contact center applications? Or, if you are judging contact center platforms, how integrable are martech, adtech, sales or IT applications?
Based on these criteria, we further believe that there are five basic functional demands made of CX suites in general:
- Interaction handling, including digital channels, and managing the data or context surrounding the interaction.
- Operational resource management, which could consist of contact center agents, knowledge or data resources, or digital content.
- Process control and optimization, to underpin automation and workflows between different components of the suite and the teams working with customers.
- Insights and analytics, including reporting, visualizations and dashboards, and predictions and planning.
- Customer journey management, including lifecycle mapping, interaction orchestration, proactive communications and personalization.
Clearly there are few, if any, products on the market that hit all of these capabilities. (And the range of features that sit beneath those five categories is enormous and varied.) It is more likely for buyers to find 3-4 of those components in a typical suite product, with the exact mix of the buckets varying based on the expertise and history of the vendors being examined.
In time, vendors will find themselves adding software components to fill in the missing pieces of their suites. This can already be seen in the scramble to acquire or partner with niche vendors in some sectors like voice of the customer (VoC) analytics or CDPs. It appears likely that vendors will continue to build suites that have, at the bottom level of the stack, some very common elements related to integration, automation, workflow and data movement. And atop those platforms will sit applications that are role- or persona-based that leverage the platform services in a way that makes CX processes accessible across the enterprise. At that point, CX will have evolved beyond a discipline or methodology into a fully baked software segment with definitive purchasing criteria easily understood by most buyers.
For more information about the CX application toolkit, see the Analyst Perspective: CX Suites Focus on Managing Customer Experiences.
For more information about the changing buyer community for contact center and CX technology, see the Analyst Perspective: The Opportunity for CX is Beyond Your Contact Center.
For more details about customer experience technologies in general, visit Ventana Research’s CX Expertise Area.