2009 Remembered: Top Three Customer Service Technology Trends

We all seem to be breathing a collective sigh of relief that 2009 is over. Thank goodness.  2009 started in a very dark place, with budgets in question, technology projects on hold, and a laser focus on ROI.  I remember advising our partners in January that, “2009 is not the year anyone wants to hear your Web 2.0 vision.” What a difference 12 months can make. As a buzz term, “Web 2.0”  certainly died, but it was replaced by the almost interchangeable “social media,” another generic term meaning whatever you want it to mean. Delayed projects seemed to mostly revive and continue by mid-2009, and judging by my inquiry volume from companies building RFPs for CRM and KM tools, 2010 will be a big year for updating infrastructure and building out some innovative technology areas.

As I look over 2009, with an eye toward what’s coming in 2010, here are the three technology trends I think most impacted the service and support industry this year:

#1. Converged:  Web Collaboration

I published a market overview of Web Collaboration in 2009, citing 10 distinct functional modules as the formerly separate worlds of remote control, online meetings and Web chat converged.  I expected to show that you couldn’t purchase everything from a single vendor, but I found that the Web collaboration market had already converged:  2 participating vendors had grown via acquisition and now offer all 10 functional modules, and several other vendors leveraged partnerships to offer almost all 10 modules. The convergence has occurred between these three formerly separate segments:

  • CRM/multi-channel service: Consona CRM, with their customer service-centric CRM suite, acquired the assets of SupportSoft, bringing remote control/diagnostics and self-healing to their already comprehensive suite of multi-channel, knowledge and search tools. RightNow introduced a full suite of co-browse and remote support tools. nGenera CIM began offering remote control and other web collaboration features via strategic partners.
  • Telephony. Genesys, via their acquisition of Motive, also added remote support capabilities to their multi-channel and telephony war chest. This seems an obvious extension to the Web chat platforms offered by other telephony vendors, particularly if they want to appeal to the high tech and internal IT markets.
  • Remote support. Traditional remote support vendors (Axeda, Bomgar, Cisco WebEx, Citrix Online, LogMeIn, NTRglobal) are expanding into more customer facing features like Web chat and proactive chat, as well as beefing up integration stories to CRM suites.

Offering popular Web collaboration modules pre-integrated to customer service platforms reduces integration costs, encourages adoption by employees, and automatically including Web collaboration session details in customer history means the infamous “360 view of the customer” takes one more step toward reality.

#2. Converging: Search Technology

My next big research project is a market overview of intelligent search, because I am seeing considerable convergence among three currently separate search technology categories, and I expect consolidation in this area in 2010.

  • Knowledgebase and customer service search (from vendors like InQuira and Consona) are crossing over into multi-department and enterprise search.  In fact, InQuira showed up in Forrester’s Wave of enterprise search vendors–and did well.
  • Enterprise search vendors, such as Coveo and Google, are developing offerings specifically for customer service, and winning more customer service deals.  With their expertise on structured and unstructured content, vendors like Coveo make easy work of indexing and searching the whole enterprise–not just a knowledgebase.
  • Social search vendors, like Baynote and Clarabridge, are finding their ways into customer service deals, often with their technology sitting on top of a self-service search engine to help better measure the customer experience.  With more customer traffic happening in communities outside corporate firewalls, these social search products help identify customer satisfaction issues and flag potential brand problems.

A good example of search convergence is Attensity, offering semantic/natural language search similar to customer service search specialists, workflow and business process support similar to enterprise content management systems (CMS), plus Attensity Analyze for “voice of the customer” and social media analysis.

#3. Needs to Converge: Social Media

Could I possibly write up trends and not address the elephant in the room?  In 2009, social media, which to me includes all collaborative communication such as discussion forums, blogs and microblogs (Twitter), and social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, went from “Do we need this?” to “How do we measure success?” If any area within customer service and support technology needs consolidation, it is social media. Early forum vendors remain focused on customer communities, ignoring requirements for internal communities. Companies have implemented discussion forums that are not integrated to the online knowledgebase, and vice versa. Many companies fixated on Twitter as a way of gaining some social media street cred, but it turns out your most important customers probably aren’t the ones complaining about you on Twitter, anyway. Many CRM vendors began touting some impressive new social media tools–but large companies are years away from being able to upgrade to current versions of enterprise CRM tools to take advantage of features.

Judging from the fact that a quarter of my inquiries in the last year were regarding CRM and incident management, 2010 is going to be a big year for throwing out your 15 year old Clarify, Vantive and Scopus implementations and bringing in some new tools.  And since incident management is typically the core infrastructure piece for support, the incident management vendor’s ecosystem of partners will greatly benefit, with companies looking for pre-integrated knowledge and search tools, self-service tools, social media tools, etc. Also, I expect the new breed of multi-channel and social platforms (Parature, HelpStream, Fuze) to gain a larger audience, with their one-stop shopping approach to incident management, KM and social media.

These are fairly large, inclusive trends, but together they represent the bulk of my member conversations in 2009, and I expect will drive the majority of my member work in 2010. What do you see as the biggest trends?  Anything obvious that I’ve overlooked? What do you think will be the biggest change in 2010?  Please add a comment.  I’d like to thank everyone for reading and participating in my blog, and I wish each of you a very Happy New Year.

Explore posts in the same categories: Best Practices, Consumer Support, customer support, Enterprise Support, knowledge management, social media, Technology

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6 Comments on “2009 Remembered: Top Three Customer Service Technology Trends”

  1. Allan Grohe Says:

    Excellent thoughts, as always, John!

    I’d love to see a savvy CRM vendor put together a comprehensive CRM and Customer Master offering that’s fully-integrated with top-tier KM/search platforms, social media suites for managing comments/feedback/blogs/forums, and that managed customer and internal collaboration as part of its core capabilities; with working reporting and analytics engines built-in. Unfortunately, we’re probably at least another, what, 3-5 years away from that kind of web 2.0 and social media penetration into the CRM core market??

    Happy New Year! 😀


  2. Allan – I agree wholeheartedly. I find that the current CRM systems are good but not great. They need to be be more “joined up” so we can easily use, integrate and download data from all of the different platforms. I really think that it will be a case of evolution than revolution, though.

    Kind regards, John

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  4. Andrew Hull Says:


    It is great to see you looking for the full package from CRM vendors and holding them to a high standard. As a seven year employee at RightNow, I believe we are heading with incredible speed towards the vision of a full customer experience suite that covers multi-channel interactions from the consumer’s perspective (web, social, contact center), supports the internal business processes (sales, service, marketing, feedback, analytics) and delivers the solution via the cloud . Full speed ahead!

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  6. Thanks a lot for sharing this information has really proven to be helpful. I really enjoy reading easy articles leading straight to the point.

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