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If financial viability is a company’s “bottom line,” customer retention is the bedrock: a foundation that supports the growth and success of the entire organization. And yet, the average company loses 45 to 50 percent of its customers every five years.1 The truth is, it can be difficult to please every customer every time. That’s why companies need a reliable, repeatable system for handling their customer interactions.
What is customer service software? Customer service software is any tool that helps a business manage inbound and outbound communications across multiple channels, efficiently deliver service, and resolve issues. There are hundreds of different solutions to choose from that vary by scale, industry use, platform type, compatibility, and features. This buyer’s guide will help you isolate the best customer service software for your business by defining the market and comparing four leading products.
Best Customer Service Software, by Category
|CRM||Help Desk||Live Chat||VoIP|
Uses and Types
The customer service software market used to be dominated by a select few on-premise systems, such as Avaya and Cisco. These systems certainly have their merits and are still being used by many established companies, but innovations in cloud technology and so-called “Web 2.0” have brought diverse wave of new products onto the market. Choosing the best software for your contact center is no longer an obvious choice between two or three incumbent systems.
When you compare Customer Service software, it’s important to remember that there is no single, all-encompassing definition of customer service software. Some systems are fully integrated product suites, meaning they combine record-keeping and service management with computer-telephony integration (CTI) for end-to-end functionality. Others focus more exclusively on CTI and the automation of inbound/outbound communication channels. Still, other systems are tailored to customer support and use ticketing workflows to resolve product and service issues.
While there is considerable deviation between products (depending on use intent and scope) most customer service software contains some or all of the following common features:
- Call Routing: A Customer Service system uses a variety of criteria to make sure calls get sent to the right representative. At the most basic level, calls are routed to the appropriate department based on what the customer is calling about. More sophisticated systems with automatic call distributors (ACD) can route calls based on which agents have been waiting the longest, taken the least calls for the day, or have the highest level of appropriate skill. Some solutions even let administrators establish custom rules for call routing based on more nuanced or industry-specific criteria (service level, account status, etc.).
- Auto-Attendant: An auto-attendant serves as a gatekeeper between initial dial-in and contact with a live representative. Most auto-attendants incorporate interactive voice response (IVR) technology, which lets the computer deliver dynamic responses and options based on voice commands or keypad entries. Some auto attendants merely function as secretaries directing calls to remote or in-house agents through an IP private branch exchange (PBX); others can actually answer questions and fulfill requests (such as account balance or device activation).
- Reporting/Analytics: Customer service software can help coaches, managers, and department heads guide their teams and make better decisions and by giving them access to data on call metrics (like average handle time and hold time), issue resolution, and customer satisfaction ratings. Most systems also incorporate call recording and archival to allow easy retrospective research and compliance management.
- Mobile Access: Some of the more modern Customer Service solutions offer mobile clients so users can access deskphone features from their mobile device. Mobile and remote service reps can make, receive, and transfer calls, access directories, and even use internal collaboration tools using a cellular or wifi network.
- Case Management: Referred to interchangeably as “ticketing,” this feature is an important inclusion in Customer Service software for support teams. It allows agents to track and resolve product and service issues through multiple channels, such as email, instant messaging, phone, and social media. Some software can even auto-generate tickets by transcribing voice messages or parsing data from customer correspondence.
Current Software Trends
Cloud vs. On-Premise
The majority of Customer Service software offers multiple options for deployment, including on-premise, software-as-a-service (cloud), or hosted, which is usually a hybrid of the two. Other vendors are predisposed toward one end of the spectrum, from completely virtual to completely proprietary. There are benefits and downsides to each, although many businesses are finding the mobility and lower upfront costs of cloud software better suited to their needs. A 2012 study by Aberdeen found that 34 percent of companies were using cloud-based contact centers, and 28 percent planned to move to the cloud within a year.2 That number has and will continue to climb in the foreseeable future, at least if the short-term savings and long-term ROI remain clear. On average, contact centers cut annual churn costs by almost 30 percent, not to mention the savings in IT administration.
The “customer experience” revolution of the past several years has awakened businesses to the importance of engaging customers when and how they prefer to be engaged. Software developers have responded by building solutions that manage interactions not only over the phone, but also on the web, on mobile devices, and through social media. This multi-channel approach is consistent with the reality that customers seek help in more than one place. In the coming years, businesses will use automation and data analytics to cultivate relationships in these channels, determining which add value and which do not. But even with a generation of millennials seeking omnipresent solutions, the telephone remains the preferred method for 88 percent of people seeking customer service.3
As with any business system, it’s important that peripheral functionality integrates with the business tools you may already have in place. That’s why most Customer Service software has pre-built integrations with popular customer relationship management (CRM) systems. What good are call routing and ticket management features if they don’t connect to a central database of customer data? CRM integration allows your Customer Service system to trigger screen pops (profile retrieval based on IVR input), log call history and notes, and get the most out of click-to-dial and other CTI abilities. Some sources suggest CRM integration saves 20 seconds per call, which can add up to thousands of hours per year.4
Alternatively, you can also find many CRMs with their own phone bridge features. Examples include:
You can view these and other CRMs in our 2015 CRM Market Index, which compares leading products based on utility, service, and market share.
Case Studies: Leading Customer Service Solutions
ShoreTel is a leading provider of hardware and software systems for contact centers. They offer on-premise and hosted IP systems for customer service and a variety of peripheral applications for internal collaboration, mobility, and remote agent management. ShoreTel’s solutions are designed to modernize call centers and empower agents to deliver outstanding customer interactions. Their services also integrate with many leading CRM systems, including Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics, Netsuite, Sage, and others through its universal CRM connector, “EasyPop.”
The core software uses workgroups and voice routing to connect customers to the right agent through a customizable auto-attendant. Integrated web conferencing, instant messaging, and screen sharing help agents collaborate to solve problems faster and keep customers happy. ShoreTel’s infrastructure is designed to support many different kinds of contact centers, from simple, inbound call centers to larger dispersed teams and multimedia environments. Agents can even make and receive calls on their mobile devices through the IP PBX. ShoreTel also offers built-in call recording and analytics, nuisance call handling, and user group scheduling in its portfolio of “advanced applications.”
Case Study: First Security Bank5
Based in Searcy, Arkansas, First Security Bank has almost 1,000 employees and 70 branches throughout the state. They provide customers with community banking solutions, as well as investment, real estate, and mortgage products. Prior to implementing ShoreTel, FSB let each branch take responsibility for its customer service and telephony systems, which translated to a lot of disparity and inefficient workflows across the company. Their search that led to ShoreTel began with centralizing communications responsibility within the IT department.
“Our communications system needed to be overhauled,” said Brody Walker, vice president and IT manager. “To build a cohesive, efficient system across the entire bank enterprise, it was essential that we start with a central management interface for all systems.”
They found their solution in ShoreTel, deciding after a thorough market search and hands-on testing to implement ShoreTel’s Unified Communications system, the Personal Access, Workgroups, and Enterprise Service applications, and a collection of ShoreTel IP phones and voice switches.
- 60 percent cost reduction (calls once handled by 15 agents now handled by four)
- Set up a separate, Spanish-speaking workgroup to attract and serve new customer base
- Can now use ShoreTel Director interface to make system changes remotely, in a matter of minutes
- Contact center reports help managers adjust ACD configuration based on customer trends and events
- Savings of almost 80 percent in management costs
Zendesk is a web-based customer service platform that helps businesses deliver solutions and support through phone, email, live chat, and social media. It also allows businesses to create custom online help centers, so customers can submit tickets directly or find their own answers through a public knowledge base. Over 40,000 organizations worldwide use Zendesk to deliver fast, efficient customer service.
When it comes to telephony, Zendesk is a bit less sophisticated than other enterprise CTI systems, but then again, those systems don’t provide integrated case management and help centers. For some businesses, simple is better. Zendesk’s phone system is designed to work with existing phone numbers and doesn’t require additional software or hardware to implement. Zendesk voice features include call transcription, agent forwarding, call handling schedules, call routing, voicemail-to-ticket, and call analytics. Agents can also have calls routed to their mobile devices. One of the bigger selling points for Zendesk is its extensibility through pre-built integrations with hundreds of third-party business applications. Administrators can choose from the wide selection in the Zendesk app store or integrate other tools via REST APIs.
Case Study: Foursquare6
Since its initial launch in 2009, over 45 million consumers and 1.6 million merchants have signed up with Foursquare in order to connect with friends or advertise their businesses. The company is centered around its local discovery app that helps people share their interests and activities and get personalized recommendations. Early on, Foursquare managed customer service through a central email system, but as thousands of app users turned into millions —tens of millions— they needed a better support infrastructure that could scale as they grew. With Zendesk, Foursquare is able to manage their entire customer service operation with a team of two full-time reps and a rotating team of interns. Here are some of the key benefits Foursquare enjoys through Zendesk:
- Global customer satisfaction rating of 95 percent, despite user-to-agent ratio of 6.7 million to 1
- Helps customers solve their own problems through online help center, macros, and public knowledge base
- Self-service-to-ticket ratio of 32 to 1
- Provide fast support tailored to the audience (advertisers or app users)
- 97 percent self-service success rate
Fonality provides Voice-over-Internet-Protocol (VoIP) business phone systems and software for companies in the insurance, technology, manufacturing, education, non-profit and other industries. The company currently has over 25,000 clients and 275,000 users across the globe.
Fonality’s business phone systems feature enhanced tools for multi-channel customer service management and integrated call management not found with traditional analog phone systems. Fonality’s Internet-based unified communications (UC) system allows for intuitive, drag-and-drop call handling; users can put a call on hold or transfer calls via their mouse, and also access, store or even automatically transcribe voicemails. In a call center delivery, Fonality calls can also be monitored, allowing managers to see which employees are on the phone, listen in, and “barge” in, if necessary. For those on the go, such as sales and service agents, personalized call routing and mobile device integration ensures important calls will always reach them, no matter where they roam. The Fonality Head-Up Display gives all agents access to powerful collaboration tools like internal messaging, screen sharing, and video conferencing.
The system can be deployed as a cloud-based VoIP platform, as a private hosted solution, or completely on-premise, through traditional phone lines and equipment. Like other customer service telephony systems, Fonality does not include its own ticketing or customer account modules, so most companies will need to utilize the CRM link for Salesforce, or Fonality’s TAPI interface to integrate with other CRM tools, but it’s important to note that homegrown integrations built with the API are not guaranteed or serviced by Fonality’s technical support team.
Case Study: The Michael Glick Agency7
The Michael Glick Agency is a North Carolina-based insurance company that provides insurance, retirement, and financial solutions to its clients, recognized by Nationwide Insurance with 13 consecutive President’s awards. They have over a dozen offices across the state, and a 24/7 claims center. Owner Michael Glick was looking for ways to grow and stay competitive in the marketplace, and he started with the agency’s nucleus: its customer service phone system. After viewing a live demo of Fonality’s solution, Glick was immediately impressed and decided to make the purchase. Since then, the Michael Glick Agency has enjoyed the strength and reliability of an on-premise system combined with the flexibility and cost savings of the cloud model. “Upgrading to a Fonality phone solution was one of the best decisions I’ve made for my business,” Glick says.
- Savings of over $500 per month compared to previous provider
- Unified communications and collaboration between multiple office locations and mobile users
- Handling customer requests faster through universal access and streamlined workflows
- Auto-attendant feature has led to a 10 percent increase in time saved per day
Mitel is a business communications provider with over 60 million users worldwide. Recently ranked as a “visionary” in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Unified Communications8, they offer VoIP phone systems and cloud-based software for interacting managing customer interactions across phone, email, chat, and social media.
Mitel’s product suite is divided into four main modules. The MiContact Center module can be scaled to fit any size call center, from enterprise to small office. It helps companies set up call routing, manage distributed or single-site architectures, monitor call data and agent productivity, and perform outbound dialing. MiContact Center also provides native screen-pop integration with most market leading CRM solutions. The MiVoice module serves as the communication infrastructure, giving companies IVR, and multimedia functionality, as well as hot desking and dynamic extensions for remote agents. The MiCollab module gives everyone in the organization real-time access to collaboration tools like audio, web, and video conferencing, and a unified, internal messaging system. The entire Mitel solutions is also broken down further into discrete applications, so your business can select the features you need and leave the ones you don’t.
Case Study: Aerial Capital Group9
Aerial Capital Group is an Australian transport logistics company responsible for a large fleet of cars-for-hire, taxis, and shuttle buses. They also provide telecommunication sales, service, and maintenance services through their communications subsidiary, Servitel. Before Mitel, ACG’s customer service system was struggling to keep up with high call volumes. On average, they missed out on about 15,000 opportunities per month by keeping customers on hold for too long and wading through inefficient booking processes. They were in the market for a solution that could handle peak call traffic and reduce operational costs when they discovered Mitel.
ACG decided to implement MiVoice MX-ONE and MiContact Center Enterprise edition. After doing so, they experienced a number of key benefits:
- Intelligent, skills-based call routing
- Incoming bookings now take 42 seconds, on average
- The IVR handles 42 percent of incoming calls, which means ACG can use 4 agents at a time instead of 60
- The flexibility of MiContact Center allowed development of a crowdsourced booking and service mobile app
- In total, ACG has saved $1.2 million per year since implementing Mitel
- “Customer Loyalty Research.” B2B International. Accessed March 5, 2015. https://www.b2binternational.com/research/services/customer-loyalty-research/
- “The Hidden ROI of a Cloud-Based Contact Center.” Aberdeen. Last modified January 2013. http://www.oracle.com/us/products/applications/aberdeen-roi-cloud-contactcctr-1902159.pdf
- Barakat, Christie. “Customer Service: Human Interactions More Effective Than Social Media.” Last modified June 6, 2014. http://www.adweek.com/socialtimes/human-customer-service-interactions-still-satisfying/199086
- “Connector for Microsoft Dynamics CRM.” Mitel. Accessed March 5, 2015. http://www.mitel.com/sites/default/files/Connector-For-Microsoft-Dynamics-CRM.pdf
- “First Security Bank Deploys ShoreTel.” ShoreTel. Accessed March 5, 2015. http://media.shoretel.com/documents/FirstSecurityBank_CaseStudy_v4.pdf
- Foursquare Customer Study. Zendesk. Accessed March 6, 2015. https://www.zendesk.com/customer/foursquare
- “The Michael Glick Agency.” Fonality. Accessed March 6, 2015. http://www.fonality.com/customers/the-michael-glick-agency
- “A Leader in the Gartner Magic Quadrant.” Mitel. Accessed March 6, 2015. http://www.mitel.com/aleader
- “Customer Success Story: Aerial Capital Group.” Mitel. Accessed March 6, 2015. http://www.mitel.com/article/customer-success-story-aerial-capital-group