With 2012 still bright and full of hope for most of us, what are the key trends that customer service professionals need to pay attention to as you plan for success this year? Here are the top trends that I am tracking. Get my full report here.

Leaders Will Empower Their Agents To Deliver Optimal Service

Trend 1: Organizations Will Internalize The Importance Of The Universal Customer History Record

Customer service agents must have access to the full history of a customer’s prior interactions over all the communication channels — voice, electronic channels like chat and email, and the newer social channels like Facebook and Twitter — to deliver personalized service and to strengthen the relationship that customers have with companies. In 2012, vendors will continue to add  the management of social channels to their customer service products. Companies will slowly continue to formalize the business processes and governance structures around managing social inquiries and move this responsibility out of marketing departments and into customer service centers.

Trend 2: The Agent Experience Will No Longer Be An Afterthought

Customer service organizations will continue to work on simplifying the agent workspace and making it more usable. This includes removing extraneous data elements from agent screens, automating tasks to increase agent productivity, and ensuring that relevant information is easily accessible to agents to help personalize the interaction, such as the products that the customer owns, the services they subscribe to, and the tier of customer. These efforts also involve deploying customer-centric task flows that map to frequent call types where tasks can be accomplished using the least number of steps.

Trend 3: Agent Knowledge Will Become A Core Requirement

Expect more companies to invest in aligning their knowledge management solutions with best practices for an increased ROI. The focus will also be on making knowledge deployments more agile and more social, so that content grows quickly, in line with customer demand, and with minimal management overhead.

Trend 4: Search-Based Applications Will Add Business Value To Complex Service Interactions

Customer service organizations are turning to search-based applications that overlay knowledge and information repositories and allow agents to access consolidated and correlated information in unified dashboards. However, organizations will increasingly ask for ROI models to justify the purchase of these solutions, as they can be expensive.

Trend 5: Customer Service Will Rely On Next Best Action

Organizations will continue to investigate methods to recommend agent “next best actions” during the service resolution process in an attempt to offer service tailored to the customer’s unique needs and past purchase history. These next best actions are not limited to cross-sells and upsells, but also help guide agents through the most successful resolution path by presenting them the next best process step to take which is aligned with business imperatives.

Trend 6: Business Process Management Will Extend Its Reach To The Front Office

In 2011, we started to see organizations using BPM in the front office in an attempt to formalize agent actions in an effort to standardize service delivery, minimize agent training times, ensure regulatory and company policy compliance, and control costs. Expect to see continued focus on guiding agents through the service resolution process, in addition to focus on the end-to-end process, which may involve back-office tasks.

Trend 7: Adopting Customer Data Management Best Practices Will Remain A Challenge

Only few customer service leaders recognize that addressing data quality issues is necessary to move the needle on customer satisfaction. This trend will continue in 2012. For progress to be made, customer service leaders must take responsibility for master data management and data quality investments by creating sound business cases to get projects funded.


Customer Centricity Will Fuel Improvements To Customer Service

Trend 8: Customer Service Will Evolve From Multichannel To Agile

Customers expect service to be cross-touchpoint — that is, being able to start an interaction in one communication channel and complete it in another. Customers are also pushing for greater alignment of service, sales, marketing, and brand so that they can interact with a company in an unfractured manner. In 2012 and beyond, customer service management professionals will continue to work on breaking down communication silos within and outside of customer service and  standardizing the resolution process and customer service experience across these communication channels.

Trend 9: Mobile Customer Service Applications Will Become A Must-Have Capability

Companies will focus on deploying the right mobile usage scenarios that add value to customers and which leverage the native capabilities of these devices, such as camera, video capture, or GPS functions that are optimized for the device type, operating system, and form factor.  

Trend 10: Use Of End-To-End Customer Feedback Processes Across Channels Will Rise

We predict that companies will double down on their efforts to put end-to-end feedback processes in place across all communication channels — both traditional and social. Expect vendors to provide the next generation of collaborative communication tools, sentiment analytics, and the ability to close the loop with the user.

Trend 11: Customers Will Rely On Proactive Outbound Communication

Forrester’s Forrsights Networks And Telecommunications Survey, Q1 2011 shows that 39% of enterprises are currently investing in proactive outbound  communications.  We predict that the range of channels for proactive outbound will increase, and will include service alerts, workarounds, customized cross-sell and upsell offers, and new knowledge base content. Outbound communication technology will also be more deeply integrated into the contact to support closed-loop scenarios where customers want connect to an agent after receiving a message.


Customer Service Will Adopt Enabling Solutions

Trend 12: Best-Of-Breed Solutions Will Struggle To Prove Their Value

We see more suite solutions from a single vendor being deployed for customer service. Buyers will be in a strong position to push best-of-breed vendors to demonstrate differentiation and measurable business value. In addition, best-of-breed solutions are prime acquisition targets.

Trend 13: SaaS For Customer Service Will Become A Credible Option

Nearly half of app professionals are actively engaged with SaaS assessments or deployment. In 2012, many first-time customer service technology buyers will look first at a SaaS solution to see if this approach can meet their needs. Companies will also  continue to mature the skills that address emerging needs around SaaS and cloud initiatives.

Trend 14: Outsourcing Will Slowly Gain Market Share

Customer service organizations continue to consider outsourcing their operations in an attempt to reduce costs of providing customer support.  In 2012, expect outsourcing to very slowly grow as outsourcers continue their investment in their multichannel customer service technology. Expect as well to see more companies looking to outsource their contact center technology while staffing customer operations with their agents.

Trend 15: SOA Adoption Will Continue To Move Forward

We expect SOA adoption to continue its forward momentum in contact centers, as SOA allows organizations to be more adaptable to changing their business capabilities and logic to stay competitive. Sectors such as telecom, financial services, and insurance, that are particularly prone to acquisitions or which demand a high amount of business agility, will continue to lead the SOA transformation wave.