Nearly seven in 10 customers have had an unsatisfactory e-commerce experience in the past year, according to a new Forrester Wave on customer service solutions. That's a disturbing and eye-opening statistic, noted Kate Leggett, primary author of The Forrester Wave Customer Service Solutions For Enterprise Organizations Q2 2014 (registration required).

Leggett and co-authors Stephen Powers, Michael Facemire and Victoria Boutan identified the 11 most significant customer service solutions, but also warned that not all vendors are making the grade.

Strengthening Customer Support

Published last week, the report is based on vendor surveys conducted this past December and January. It identifies, in alphabetical order, the most significant vendors as eGain, Kana Enterprise, Microsoft, Moxie Software, Oracle Service Cloud, Oracle Siebel CRM, Pegasystems,, SAP CRM, SAP Cloud for Service and SugarCRM.

Today, in the first of a two-part series, we'll look at market characteristics and trends. Tomorrow, we will take a deeper look at the vendors Forrester ranked as Leaders: Microsoft, Oracle Service Cloud, Oracle Siebel CRM, Pegasystems,, Kana Enterprise and SAP CRM.

In the past five years, Leggett wrote in a blog accompanying the Wave report, vendors have been “solidifying the foundational building blocks of customer support capabilities.” They've added multiple new functions to their products, including social capabilities,business process management, business intelligence and mobility.

It also shows that vendors are targeting specific kinds of buyers from enterprises that respond to queries over the phone, to those that support teams in small-to-medium sized business across multichannel operations. It's a mature market, she noted, marked by a number of emerging and established trends.

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Meeting Customer Needs

Despite improved technologies, it isn't always easy to deliver good service. Organizations have to navigate rapidly changing customer expectations and look for vendor solutions that enable them to deliver personalized online experiences.

Businesses have to recognize several things, the report notes. First, company executives don’t decide how customer-centric their company is: the customers do. While some companies have yet to embrace the significance of this statement, most realize that good customer service is a win-win for both them and their customers.

Leggett said good customer service generates quantifiable impact on revenue, including:

  • Customer loyalty: Good customer experiences help generate long-term loyalty. They increase the likelihood of additional purchases, help prevent customers from switching to competitors and encourage word-of-mouth recommendations. According to Forrester’s Customer Experience Index (CXI), a change of 10 percentage points is the equivalent of $1 billion in revenues.
  • Lower costs: When online customer service fails, 75 percent of consumers move to another channel. That forces retailers to develop new channels, at an average cost of $22 million a year per channel.
  • Customer retention: Good experiences help companies keep customers. 

Customer Experience Challenges

More than 50 percent of online shoppers abandon purchases if they cannot find answers to their questions and 75 percent will drop a company that wastes their time online according to the report.

Learning Opportunities

Finding a balance between customer expectations and what enterprises can provide is challenging: 

  1. Channels: Providing access to every channel that customers interact with is posing a major problem. Although 73 percent of online customers in the US reported using the phone to interact with a brand, an increasing number can be found on social media and email.
  2. Customer journeys: Organizations need to support customers who start their journey in one channel and finish in another without having to restart the customer conversation.
  3. Knowledge management: Customer-facing workers need to be given the information they need to answer customer queries. In cases where knowledge management technologies were provided, they met with a 58 percent satisfaction rating.
  4. Clear processes: Customer agents who use multiple applications should be provided with standardized processes to deal with customer problems. Lack of a standardized discovery process negatively affects agent consistency and productivity.
  5. Compliance: Agents’ actions need to be assessed in light of regulatory requirements, with special attention given to the industries with frequent regulatory changes. This often leads to higher costs because of penalties applied by the regulators.

A final point -- customer satisfaction needs to be constantly monitored, which requires technologies that provide direct customer feedback, as well as social media monitoring for mentions of a company.

Significant Market Changes

The last five years could be seen as a period of constant change and that trend will not stop any time soon. Two major factors will shape the future direction of the landscape: market consolidation and adjacent markets. 

1. Market Consolidation

Larger vendors have scrambled to fill the gaps in their offerings through acquisitions in the last few years, moving into adjacent technology spaces to broaden their offerings. This trend of consolidation has led to turmoil in the customer service solutions landscape. Some of the notable movers include:

  • Oracle: It has usedacquisitions to provide multichannel consistency in its customer experience management suite.
  • SAP: Acquisitions have helped SAP provide consistent end-to-end customer experience across its portfolio.
  • Salesforce has been buying up its competition at a rapid pace in order to round out its customer experience capabilities in the cloud.

2. Adjacent Markets

New categories of vendors are emerging that have the potential to upset the customer service area. One group is customer service point solution vendors that are delivering modern interfaces and mobile-first strategies.

The other category is contact center providers and, in particular, the cloud-based contact center providers.These vendors provide end-to-end solutions for customer service and come with a variety of applications including workforce optimization engines for agent quality management, scheduling and forecasting.

Tomorrow we will take a detailed look at the leading vendors in this Wave.