Customer Service Experience 2014 Day Three: Vendors, Stop Confusing the Customer Service Buyer

NEW YORK—When customer service marketers play the bingo game, they're not necessarily creating an innovative brand, but rather perplexing the very buyers they're targeting in the first place. That was one of the themes at a freewheeling Q&A discussion on the final day of the 2014 Customer Service Experience conference here Wednesday.

Moderated by Esteban Kolsky, principal and founder of ThinkJar, an industry expert panel included Natalie Petouhoff, vice president and principal analyst, Constellation Research; Kate Leggett, vice president and principal analyst, Forrester Research; and Martha Brooke, founder and program director, Interaction Metrics.

The analysts tackled the issue of the alphabet soup of terms that may or may not mean the same thing, depending on which vendor you talk to. Omnichannel, cross channel, multichannel? Interaction or engagement? Will you be able to explain these terms clearly to management when making a pitch about investing in a new customer service project?

"Marketing is very lazy on the part of vendors," Petouhoff said. "There's a lot of confusion about what the words [and thoughts] mean."

Petouhoff says companies may offer such buzzwords as "customer engagement" and everyone can say that they have these solutions, but they do it a little bit differently. "That makes the buyer confused," she said. "As an analyst, this all becomes very confusing, and if we're confused, then the customers are confused.

"My prediction is that vendors might think that the pipeline looks full, but it's going to slow sales," she continued. People are going to say, "I don't really know what you do." It's really important for vendors to be very clear, and say, "Here's what my stuff does and here's how it works and here's the outcomes you can get."

Petouhoff said that even if customer service vendors and customer success management vendors have customer engagement or customer interaction solutions, these might be geared to differents part in the process of an implementation.

"If you know what process you own, and you know which part of the process that you own and match, then you're not confused," she said. "But if you're not in marketing and you can't tell the difference, then you might think, 'Oh, do I need them; should that be on my short list?' That's what we should be helping people understand."

Leggett echoed those thoughts.

"Just do a little search on Google on customer experience vendors and you'll see the plethora of different vendor categories that call themselves customer service or content management or routing companies or CRM companies," she said." So, what is customer service? You need to figure out what point in the journey you need to support and figure out what those vendors might give you in that category."

Brooke had a bit of a different take, and said that while technology will play a critical role in growth, the focus should be the discipline of customer service discipline itself.

"What we hear about is a lot of technology providers and that can be confusing for the consumer because there's technology that's required, but there's also a discipline," Brooke explained. "[There's] intellectual discipline, behavioral discipline, the process that creates better customer service. The technology that we hear about is not an end in itself. The hammer doesn't build the house."

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