Customer service and support (CSS) leaders prioritize customer data and analytics as key to achieving their top goals of improving operations, driving business growth and executing transformations, according to a Gartner survey.

Nearly six in 10 respondents said they plan to devote more resources to improving, automating or eliminating inefficient processes, while just over half (51%) said they plan to migrate service volume to digital and self-service channels.

Of the 283 customer service and support leaders surveyed, 84% said customer data and analytics was "very or extremely important" to their plans, with 80% citing digital channel effectiveness as very or extremely important.

Investment in Omnichannel Tools Across the Service Journey 

Dan O’Sullivan, director analyst in the Gartner customer service and support practice, said leaders can maximize their returns from customer data and analytics by investing in tools that provide a connected view of the customer across multiple service channels and touchpoints.

"By developing a system of record for customer insights, service leaders can avoid the inefficiency of siloed data, and get a view into customer experience throughout the end-to-end service journey," he explained.

Data management solutions such as a data warehouses or data lakes can be effective tools for collecting disconnected customer data into a single store for analysis.

"Leaders should also look to invest in technologies that support the coordination of service insights, including VoC and other analytics platforms," O'Sullivan added. 

His colleague, Gartner director analyst Brian Weber, pointed out leaders must demonstrate the quantifiable business impact, both short- and long-term, of investing in customer data initiatives to get their chief financial officer’s (CFO’s) attention.

"In my experience, CFOs think in terms of levers, meaning they make budgetary decisions based on which initiatives have the most benefit to the bottom line," he said.

Weber explained service leaders will get the CFO's attention by presenting a case that results in improvements to the service organization, as well as organizational profit and loss improvements with things like product enhancements, increased customer wallet share and reduced churn.

Ian Clayton, Redpoint Global’s chief product officer, added defining specific goals and measuring the results will allow leaders to bring credible financials into the conversation.

"This can be applied to measurement of existing problems with people, processes and tech that may be solved with additional work or tech," he said.

From his perspective, it’s best in this frame to start with identifying a few "low-hanging fruit" problems that will allow you to show results quickly, then sign on to more ambitious problems/solutions.

"Identifying and empowering the managers in charge of teams facing challenges, for example not enough staff, high turnover or low measured results, can help by enabling self-service for collecting data and doing basic analysis," Clayton said. 

Learning Opportunities

Related Article: Customer Data Management Is the Key to Consumer Trust, Profitability

Opportunities and Challenges from the Deluge of Data 

Emily Washington, senior vice president of product management at Precisely, said building a complete picture of your customers has become easier, with more information available than ever before, but that deluge of information has also created new challenges.

"There are so many more vehicles of communication than in the past — phone, email, online chat and mobile apps, just to name a few," she said. "Combine that with a world of data available from third-party sources — some of it being of very good quality, some not — and it quickly adds up to a mountain of complexity."

To make matters even more challenging, much of that data is unstructured (that is, it does not conform to a predefined data model, but instead contains free-form information such as notes, social media posts or even multimedia.

Related Article: Customer Data: 8 Rights Don't Make It Wrong

Building Digital Self-Service Teams 

The Gartner report also recommended that customer service and support leaders build digital self-service teams to oversee the digital channel strategy and develop a roadmap to enable customer service agents with technology.

Ted Sfikas, senior director of digital strategy at Tealium, said he sees the future of customer data as being operationalized and leveraged for not only CSS, but for marketing, legal, sales and product, to name a few.

"This means that stakeholders from each business and IT unit are going to want to have a say in the roadmap, all while having the flexibility to be agnostic with their choice of customer engagement technology," he explained.

Sfikas said the chief data officer (CDO) role is the ideal leader of this center of excellence because that person will manage data agnostically and be aware of the myriad requirements like privacy and activation that are necessary for the business to derive value from its customer data.

"Organizations worldwide have retooled their CSS organizations to incorporate first party strategies and technologies that delivered to modern expectations, and we’re going to see that continue moving forward," he added.