When we set out to evaluate the new breed of firm that we call "customer engagement agencies," we sent our initial screener to an incredibly long list of firms — over sixty, in fact! — ranging from MSPs to digital agencies to management consultancies. We felt that we needed to cast a wide net if we wanted to understand the range of approaches vendors take to customer engagement: how they use data and analytics, the channels they enable with customer intelligence, and how they service their most strategically engaged clients. As the responses rolled in, a hypothesis began to take shape in my mind: The emerging customer engagement agency model hails from two mature markets — digital/direct agencies and database MSPs — and, depending on provenance, these evolving agencies take one of two primary approaches to customer engagement.

Turns out, I was on the right track, though the reality is not quite so black and white.

In our final evaluation of 13 vendors in The Forrester Wave: Customer Engagement Agencies, Q4 2012, we did find different strengths and weaknesses depending on legacy business model, but ultimately EVERY firm still has a long road ahead of evolving its people and processes to support CEA clients. We also found, though, that each CEA we evaluated is working hard to connect the dots between strategy, analytics and execution in order to optimize customer experience and profitability. And that can only be a good thing for the marketers and CI leaders who are visionary enough to hire them.

I congratulate each agency in the report — Ansira, Epsilon, Havas Worldwide Digital, Meredith Xcelerated Marketing, OgilvyOne Worldwide, Precision Dialogue, Quaero, Rapp, Rosetta, Targetbase, The Agency Inside Harte-Hanks, True Action, and Wunderman – for helping to pave the way in this emerging category, and I thank them for participating in the challenging and arduous Wave process.

I also want to thank my colleagues on the CI team for their support and advice throughout this process, with most special thanks to my collaborators Suresh Vittal, Dave Frankland, and Allison Smith.

Forrester clients can read the full report here, and I encourage you to use the interactive scorecard tool to customize the Wave model for your organization’s needs. As always, please feel free to set up an inquiry to discuss the findings or for additional guidance on whether a customer engagement agency is right for your organization.