Self-service tools will gain adoption as ERM systems evolve.

Considering that only about a quarter of all U.S. companies have deployed a formal e-mail management system, it would seem that the ERM market is poised for significant growth. Not so, according to Gartner Inc. "We are moving away from stand-alone systems toward an integrated multichannel solution," says Gartner analyst Esteban Kolsky. Instead of separate systems for e-mail, chat and telephone support, "customer interaction hubs" would treat all incoming communications equally, by translating them into a common language and placing them into a single queue.

It's a lovely idea, but some observers are skeptical. "It would be wonderful if the e-mail and Web chat and telephone people were all able to make notes to the same file on a customer, but silos still exist," says author D'Ausilio. Even Kolsky admits it will take a while for such an application to materialize. "Though we see this as a model for the future, it isn't clear how far into the future we're talking. No one is actually doing this now."

What's more likely is the continued evolution of customer self-service tools that will encourage customers to find answers online without ever having to contact the company, by phone, e-mail or otherwise. That's the plan at Schwab, says Muir.

For example, "we knew that one of the most popular messages we would get concerned reordering checkbooks," he says. Although the company could have crafted a response to that query, Muir instead built a tool that lets customers reorder checkbooks on their own.

No matter how good automated services get, they will never replace the power of human interaction. "We may have virtual agents, but we will never have virtual customers," says D'Ausilio. And as for Rogers' garage shelves? "I found the same ones at Bed Bath & Beyond—and saved $500," she says.

Ask potential vendors:
  • Does your company plan to offer applications that merge call-center and e-mail applications?

    Ask your web team:
  • How might self-service tools reduce the number of customer queries?

    Click here to download a Fact Sheet

  • This article was originally published on 02-06-2006
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