This year’s Forrester CXP Forum was two days filled with provocative speakers, interesting conversations, tough questions, and inspiring ideas.

I enjoyed spending most of the two days doing analyst One-on-One sessions. For those of you who haven’t attended a Forrester forum, forum participants sign up to speak with analysts to discuss topics of their choice in 20-minute sessions. From an analyst perspective, these conversations can be rich with insight into today’s business challenges and opportunities. Here are some of the common themes that emerged in my conversations with eBusiness leaders about online customer service:

  • Shifting CSRs from the phone to chat. I had many conversations with forum attendees who share a common question: The percentage of customer contacts going to chat is growing, so should they shift customer service reps from the phone to chat? Many companies have done this successfully. The challenge is that there are different skills required by chat compared with the phone. Chat reps will need typing speed and impeccable grammar. These are skills that can be tested. They will also need to be comfortable with chat. I’ve spoken with customer care people who said they found the transition to be challenging because they were not accustomed to an interaction that resulted in customers having an instant transcript. eBusiness leaders should also consider guidance around tone and engagement as part of their chat training program.
  • “AHT is out the window.”  A couple of years ago, I led a session about online customer service discussion at an eBusiness Forrester Leadership Board. This conversation included how average handle time (AHT) creates friction with satisfaction and engagement. On a range of transaction versus satisfaction metrics, most eBusiness leaders put their organizations quite solidly closer to the transactional extreme. That is changing. Transaction metrics such as AHT, processing time, abandonment rate, and cost per contact remain critically important. But they are increasingly balanced by metrics such as interaction satisfaction and likelihood to recommend. In the words of one customer care executive, “AHT is out the window.” I don’t know if it is out the window — but it is certainly on the sill.
  • Knowledge bases remain in silos. In the words of one eBusiness leader, “Our multichannel ambitions have grown, but our knowledge base just keeps getting Band-Aids.” Customer service technology can be innovative and proactive, but it is weighed down by siloed databases that are too sluggish to fulfill potential. This issue is becoming an increasingly urgent obstacle to improving online customer service.
  •  Technology vendors find it increasingly difficult to position. As technology gets more sophisticated, it becomes more complex to understand. Almost every vendor I spoke with shared a common challenge: They are selling technology to several people within an organization, and ownership and priorities are not always clear. This is certainly not a new situation. But as technologies companies launch new versions, brand and cross-brand, it becomes increasingly difficult for vendors to position and differentiate. The challenge will be on both sides of the fence: Vendors will need to segment based on specific business value, and eBusiness leaders will need to become more proactive in understanding the technology landscape.

I had many conversations at the CXP Forum with eBusiness and customer experience leaders who described the event as a combination of reassuring and inspiring. Thank you to those  who shared their insight and issues with such candor during our one-on-one sessions. You made the CXP Forum very valuable for me.