For all the change confronting customer service programs, Gartner's annual ranking of the contact center customer service software vendors remains remarkably similar to prior years.
The Stamford, Conn.-based research firm recently released its Magic Quadrant for CRM Customer Service Contact Centers, and while last year's rankings focused on what the vendors were doing with social networks, not a lot changed in that area.
"Most gave it lip service as opposed to really doing anything about it, if you looked at it from the customer service side," said Michael Maoz, distinguished analyst and author of the report.
Some new features, like Salesforce.com's new Chatter collaboration tool, still focus mostly on sales, Maoz said.
"The only one that made a true move was RightNow with their purchase of HiveLive," he said.
In fact, integrating social CRM data will be one of the major customer service initiatives through the next several years, according to the report. Maoz predicts that by 2013 at least 35% of customer service centers will integrate some form of community/social capabilities as part of the contact center application. In fact, a new generation of customers who are beginning to resist telephone-based interactions is further complicating service requirements for contact centers and forcing them to expand into more and more channels. These customers turn instead to online self-service, customer communities or social networks. Gartner predicts that by 2017 all contact centers will provide access to mobile users and community views.
However, organizations that have launched multichannel customer service operations often find difficulty maintaining consistency across the channels and focusing on the customer versus their own processes.
"Most websites are not that user-centric; they're more internally focused," Maoz said. "You have to do a better job of having escalations to the contact center -- this whole idea of a context-based interaction becomes more important: 'You were doing this; how may I help you?' As opposed to, 'What do you need?'"
Tying together the service channels is another initiative that will dominate customer service strategy over the next four years, according to the report -- as is analyzing the customer experience and applying business rules and knowledge in real time. For now, no single vendor is able to offer all these capabilities, forcing customers to assemble applications from different niche providers.
"On the knowledge management front, like the social front, we've been telling clients it’s a best-of-breed market, and we tell them to go in that direction," Maoz said. "If they see something from OpenText or Jive, they should go in that direction. They shouldn't let the lack of a formal suite get in their way."
The customer service contact center software leaders, challengers and niche players
Gartner places vendors in one of four quadrants -- challengers, leaders, niche players, and visionaries -- based on a number of factors, including viability, functionality, market responsiveness, customer support, vision, and customer experience.
Oracle's Siebel application maintained its top position in the leaders quadrant, joined by Microsoft Dynamics CRM, Salesforce.com, RightNow and Pegasystems, (which recently acquired Chordiant, though that was not included in the evaluation).
SAP and Amdocs were listed as challengers; and Sword Ciboodle, Oracle E-Business Suite, Portrait Software, Jacada, eglue, Neocase Software, Astute Solutions and Chordiant Software were listed as niche players.
Oracle maintains two products in the Magic Quadrant, despite the fact that Maoz saw very little of Siebel this year and the few companies launching the E-Business Suite product were mostly running EBS on the back end.
"More and more, you see them migrating to Oracle On Demand as an alternative," Maoz said. "There's still the TeleService, but for whatever reason, Oracle seems to be actively -- though not in a stated way -- advising their Oracle EBS clients to take Oracle on Demand rather than TeleService products."
There were no companies in the visionary quadrant.
"It's a tough market," Maoz explained. "It's very difficult for someone new to emerge. This is not the small enterprise. This is not where investors are putting their money. You look at the big deals -- customer service is not the area where a new company is likely to get a big chunk of venture capital money."
The innovation that is being done around customer service is coming via mobile and self-service, Maoz said. There have also been gains in contact center infrastructure, which Gartner measures in another report.
In addition, although the concept of social CRM has received a great deal of hype, most social CRM products tend to focus on connecting with customers versus collaboration between individuals within a company, sometimes referred to as Enterprise 2.0. Maoz sees potential for the latter in CRM settings as well.
"This is a very vital area. The challenge is going to be how not to just create another island,” he said. “I've managed to connect the people in my enterprise, but how do I capture what I've been working on? Who knows about the customer? That's all stuff that would classically be sitting in a CRM system. No one vendor to date has really figured out how we bridge the gap between communication systems and the systems that help with the life of the customer. That's the next frontier."