Ventana Research Analyst Perspectives provide unique fact-based insights and education on business, industry and technology vendor trends. Each Analyst Perspective presents the voice of the analyst, typically a practice leader and established subject matter expert,  reporting on new developments, the findings of benchmark research, market shifts and best practice insights. Each Analyst Perspective is prepared in accordance with Ventana Research’s strict standards for accuracy and objectivity and reviewed to ensure it delivers reliable, actionable news and insights.  

NICE Delivers Customer Journey Maps for Customer Engagement

Through a continuing program of acquisitions and internal development, NICE Systems has transitioned from being a vendor of workforce optimization systems to one focused on aspects of the customer experience, notably voice of the customer (VOC), customer engagement analytics and customer journey mapping. It is also moving to cloud-based services from products installed on customers’ premises and is taking a business-solution approach (providing previously integrated and configured products that address specific business issues) rather than general-purpose products. All of these changes are evident in its latest services, which link VOC, real-time journey mapping and predictive analytics to address common customer service and engagement issues. The foundation for these packages are products I have previously covered – Fizzback for multichannel customer surveying and feedback analysis and Causata for a big data analytics platform that includes predictive analytics capabilities – along with its own customer engagement analytics platform, which can link customer data from disparate sources. The result, for example, is that journey maps can show all interactions on all channels a customer uses to try to resolve issues, including the customer sentiment at each touch point and the outcome of the journey.

The key to NICE’s portfolio is its ability to collect and share data in real time, and to integrate its products to create specific packaged business solutions. Using these enables companies to determine which customers are engaging with them, on what channels, what the interactions are about, what the outcomes are, what was “said” by both parties during interactions, the customers’ sentiments during and after the interaction, and how well employees performed. With this information companies can be more proactive in serving customers during and after interactions.

NICE currently offers seven packages: two that span operational improvements, two for prioritizing business initiatives  and three aimed at improving return on investment (ROI) for customer engagement. The first of the two that support operational improvements allows companies to determine customer effort scores at different points in customer journeys and initiate proactive engagement to reduce the need for customers to contact them in the future or to make future engagement easier. The second determines the reason why customers are engaging and the customer sentiment to guide employees in handling current and future interactions.

The first package for prioritizing business initiatives allow companies to calculate customer value and use this to influence future actions (for example, making special offers to high-value customers), and the second tracks the journeys of dissatisfied customers to identify potential process improvements that might result in improved customer satisfaction and net promoter scores. The first of the three for improving ROI allows companies to track journeys across touch points and identify actions that increase customer effort and churn (for example, not fully explaining how a product works) and change processes to avoid such actions. The second produces more granular customer segments to help drive more focused customer service and engagement in the future. And the third maps customer sentiment at different points in the customer journey so processes and training can be changed to impact the flow and outcome of future interactions.

Our benchmark research into next-generation customer engagement vr_NGCE_15_supporting_multiple_channelsshows that many companies struggle to support multiple channels to extend their customer engagement: Nearly half have difficulty in integrating systems (49%), manage channels of engagement as silos (47%) and give customers inconsistent responses (33%). The NICE packages help companies identify where these issues are occurring and more importantly their consequences; for example, if one business group gives customers information that differs from what they receive through a self-service channel, this could generate a series of other interactions that reduce customer satisfaction and increase operational costs. The real-time journey maps show what customers are doing and the outcomes, analysis ties together process and people issues and can recommend action, and predictive capabilities identifies changes to be made before counterproductive actions occur again. Using data from many disparate sources companies can link actions to performance metrics and at the same time show the benefits of change; for example, it can show variations in net promoter scores by customer segment and suggest actions to be taken for different groups, and it can tie customer value changes to actions, thus indicating the future actions that are likely to achieve the best return. In applying technology to business what counts most is understanding the impacts of actions. These NICE packaged solutions enable users to develop insights they need to make changes, and I recommend that companies looking to improve the customer experience give them careful consideration.

Regards,

Richard J. Snow

VP & Research Director


Finance Transformation Requires Strong Leadership

The theme of transforming the finance organization is hot again. The term “finance transformation” refers to the longstanding objective of shifting the focus of finance departments from transaction processing to more strategic activities such as providing the rest of the organization with forward-looking analysis. I focus on the technology and data aspects of this type of business issue in these analyst perspectives because they are usually essential to achieving some business objective. However, technology rarely fixes a problem by itself. If it were a simple matter of just buying software or having better data stewardship, it would be relatively easy to achieve finance transformation. But it’s not simple at all. When it comes to changing how the finance and accounting organization operates, there’s no substitute for leadership. Doing that requires changes in the habits of the department, which include the CFO changing how the department works with the rest of the company.

Our benchmark research on the Office of Finance confirms that most company executives want their finance department to take a more strategic role in running the company. It also shows little progress in achieving finance transformation. To be sure, there are enough examples of the finance organization taking the lead to provide trade publications and vendors with case histories, but for the majority progress has been slight. When we compared the attitudes of executives and managers about the finance department’s performance generally, we found a big disconnect between how well people in Finance think they’re doing and what the rest of the company believes: Half of research participants who have finance titles said that the department plays an important role in their company’s success, but just one-fourth (24%) of the rest of the company said that. In fact, most people outside of the department said that Finance is doing only an adequate job.

As with most situations in business, there are multiple factorsvr_Office_of_Finance_08_it_takes_too_long_to_close_the_books that prevent finance departments from becoming more strategic. The accounting close illustrates the range of challenges that finance executives may have to overcome in improving the department’s performance. Closing the books within one business week is generally acknowledged to be a best practice in finance. Yet our research finds that only 40 percent of companies complete the quarterly close in six or fewer business days and 53 percent close monthly in the same period. To accelerate the close, finance executives often must address multiple issues to improve performance.

Technology plays an important role in accelerating the close. Our research correlates using more automation and fewer manual spreadsheets in the close process with closing the books sooner. But that might not be the only thing that’s holding up the close. Another factor – one that’s hard to measure – is the impact of other parts of the business on preventing the department from finishing the process in a timely fashion. For example, nonfinance processes (such as doing inventory) that aren’t completed until the second or third week of the following month may hold up completion. The accounting organization has no direct control over when work performed in other departments is done. And those outside the finance organization may resist making these changes, which may seem to them arbitrary or unwarranted burden-shifting.

Some issues that hold up the close or create avoidable work in finance and accounting departments are not always easy to spot. For example, I recently wrote that companies that have even slightly complicated revenue recognition requirements under the new accounting rules ought to write and manage their contracts with customers with the explicit aim of minimizing the workload of the accounting department. Contracts that are poorly or inconsistently drafted or that do not enforce common language will make finance departments hire additional staff or temporary accountants and potentially delay the quarterly close. In addition, those working outside of the accounting department often don’t realize that they are doing things that complicate the accounting process. This is especially the case when, for instance, data is collected in spreadsheets rather than in a dedicated enterprise system or when the data entered is incomplete, inconsistent or not collected at all. Often, it’s less burdensome to address the source of the accounting hassle at the source. Here is another situation in which leadership matters. Unless the senior leadership team understands the ultimate impact of, say, people not following procedures or neglecting to fill in a couple of fields on a form, it’s unlikely they will be motivated to enforce the changes that must be made. It’s even harder if the CFO does not have a good working relationship with the rest of the organization or cannot effectively communicate the need for change.

A truly strategic finance organization is one that embraces continuous improvement, uncovering the root causes of time wasting activities, addressing them methodically and investing the time saved into finance transformation projects. Addressing the sources of time-wasting finance and accounting processes requires a CFO who is unwilling to accept the status quo and has sufficient interpersonal skills to drive change. The senior leadership team also has to support a more strategic finance department. For example, the CEO needs to make it clear that closing sooner is everyone’s business and with good reason. How soon after the end of a period the finance organization closes its books affects the timeliness of the information it provides to the rest of the organization: In our research, half of companies that complete their monthly close within four business days said the information the finance department provides is timely, compared to just 29 percent of those that take five to eight business days and 19 percent of those that take nine or more business days.

Implementing change in business is never easy. Finance transformation almost always requires fixing information and technology issues, especially those that automate and enhance control of finance and accounting processes. Without leadership by the CFO, though, very little will happen.

Regards,

Robert Kugel – SVP Research


Pitney Bowes Doubles Down on Customer Engagement

From its history of managing postal mail, Pitney Bowes has expanded into products for data management, analytics and location intelligence, as my colleague Mark Smith noted. Continuing this expansion through internal development and acquisitions of vendors such as Portrait Software and RTC, it has added to its portfolio products that include customer information management and customer engagement.

I have long maintained that companies can’t really improve customer engagement unless they know their customers. To get to know them they need systems that can extract fromvr_Customer_Analytics_05_dissatisfaction_with_customer_analytics all their data stores and analyze all forms of customer data. In this effort, our benchmark research into next-generation customer analytics shows, the most common impediment (for 63% of organizations) to applying such tools is that the data is not readily available. Pitney Bowes addresses this and related issues through Customer Information Management, a suite of products that provide data management and integration, data quality and customer analytics and enable companies to do customer analysis based on a range of data sources. As yet it doesn’t work with many unstructured sources of customer data such as call recordings and text-based records, which are needed to complete the full view of the customer to support information-driven decisions and actions.

For me the most interesting features are found in its suite of Customer Engagement products, which although having document management at their core are being developed to include an array of channels of engagement and handling of interactions across the enterprise. Pitney Bowes says that it has a five-year plan to create a single platform that will support omnichannel customer engagement across assisted and self-service channels throughout the customer life cycle and across the enterprise; the primary goal is to help users increase customer lifetime value. Recently the company announced the latest release of a key component, EngageOne Server 4.0, which will be the foundation for the complete platform. EngageOne Server enables companies to manage all aspects of producing electronic documents and delivering them to customers through a variety of channels. It includes capabilities to create and manage document templates, author and approve text-based content, produce required content as a batch process, on demand or interactively, and deliver the content in print, fax, email or SMS forms or on the company’s website. All of this content can be stored securely for later retrieval and use. Release 4.0 adds several new features to enhance functionality and make it easier to use, more scalable, accessible and secure, and cloud-ready.

The first non-text-based channel it supports is personalized interactive video (PIV). This comes by way of the acquisition of RTC and to my knowledge makes Pitney Bowes the first vendor to support this as a self-service channel. The concept is simple: Instead of making a phone call customers connect to a voice-activated video that enables them to have an interactive dialogue in much the same way as talking to an agent. The dialogue can include a real person or an animated character asking questions or presenting answers, video clips, links to other shared content such as a website and presentation of content such as a document. It can change dynamically depending on information provided or the customer’s responses to questions, so that with the right programming the interaction can be personalized for the caller and the issue.

The interaction thus can take many forms – a Q&A session, a request for information, a complaint about a product or a query about a bill. Here is a relatively simple example: The caller provides his or her name, asks a question about the latest bill, is presented with an image of the bill and then engages in a Q&A session to resolve the issue using the bill to focus the dialogue. In trying the system, I found it easier to use than touch-tone or visual IVR, more engaging than a video call and more satisfying than speech-activated software-based agents. However, I caution companies choosing to work with this channel to create such videos with the customer in mind, ensuring that it supports what customers want to do and how they want to do it, rather than as a means of trying to reduce the cost of handling interactions.

Our benchmark research into next-generation customer engagement shows that companies have three main challenges in providing customers with the omnichannel experiences they expect: It is difficult to integrate systems (for 49%), channels vr_NGCE_15_supporting_multiple_channelsare managed as silos (47%), and responses to customers across channels are inconsistent (39%). Addressing all these challenges is not easy, as I explained in a recent perspective about the technologies required to deliver EPIC customer experiences. The Pitney Bowes products have capabilities that can help address these issues, including tools that  integrate with third-party products and other tools for collaboration that enable users to share information and join in the resolution of issues, which has the potential to improve consistency in interaction handling.

EngageOne Server has more work to be a complete omnichannel product, but Pitney Bowes says it is committed to developing it into a comprehensive customer engagement platform that supports consistent handling of interactions across all channels and throughout the customer life cycle. My research shows that video calling is a channel likely to take off as consumers use video calls to engage with each other. PIV innovatively builds on video calling and has the potential to accelerate adoption of interactive self-service.

As I recently wrote I advocate customer lifetime value as a key customer experience metric, but it is not easy to calculate. Pitney Bowes has a development program in place to create products that should help companies meet these objective so I will keenly watch how it develops both its customer information and customer engagement products and recommend that companies seeking to improve these aspects do likewise.

Regards,

Richard J. Snow

VP & Research Director


 

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