This is the time of year for predictions and trends forecasting in the coming year, so before the famous lit bill drops in New York City's Times Square I'll offer a few of mine for 2010 and beyond:
1. The arrival of web/videoconferencing
Videoconferencing especially has long been regarded even by me as a 'tomorrow technology' ranking somewhere up there with jetpacks and hovercars i.e. cool to have, but horrendously expensive and complicated to implement.
No more. The tools and the pipes are there, they are easier to use with both more innovation and lower prices on their way prompted by Cisco's acquisition of Tandberg, forcing competitors to become even savvier. And thanks to a combination of cost crunches and the need to extract more productivity, increased awareness of the need to go green, and more travel hassles such as new security restrictions put in place after the botched bombing of Flight 253 so is the motivation.
Will there still be a need for face-to-face? Yes. But that will be the purview of those echelons who can justify flying business class or on corporate jets. With air travel for most consisting of being poked and prodded at security then being into squeezed into girdle-like seating for hours on end while attempting to digest wolfed-down 'airport food', will employees really miss this 'perq'?
2. Going home, literally
As organizations pick themselves up the smart ones, realizing that their staff and customers communicate much more electronically than face-to-face are at last figuring out that leasing, buying, and fitting out offices is a waste of scarce money in this slow growth era, and are sending more of their employees home. They're getting it that resources poured into such 'overheard' are resources that could have been used to find ways to improve or create new products and services or lower sourcing, manufacturing, and distribution costs resulting in greater profits.
The Telework Coalition and others estimate that a home working strategy can create gains from cost savings and productivity improvements between $10,000 to $20,000 per/employee per year. Add that up and the result in plenty of green in more ways than one. A truly green i.e. eco-friendly office is no office at all.
3. The live agent perq
What will be the true sign that you've made it? When you get a live agent when you call a company. The middle class, long in trouble for the past decades, underwent a serious meltdown in the collapse of the 'Ponzi Economy' and it isn't coming back for many years with the kinds of income that enabled it to buy the cool stuff that they did 5 years ago. That leaves an economy with a stark two-class system that mirrors the so-called Pareto principle of 20 percent of one's customers are going to generate 80 percent of revenues.
That's exactly how firms are going to gear up their CRM systems, which they did before the 2001 downturn. Only this time it will be with more affordable speech rec systems and web self-service rather than the infamous IVR menus from Hades for the hoi polloi. After all where are they going to go when every firm offers the same level of service?
And those live agents, where will they be based? Either in agents' homes in North America for English or French speakers or Central or South American contact centers for Spanish speakers as long as they continue to hire workers from the middle/upper-middle class elites. Upper-middle-class consumers and businesses of all sizes won't tolerate agents who can't understand them ASAP.
4. Analyzed up the tailbone
Forget astronauts. Contact center agents are the ones who are monitored and their performance analyzed up the tailbone, with every last minute scheduled. Expect more of this via performance analytics and workforce optimization tools as organizations seek to extract last penny of efficiency and to uncover ways to sell more to that hallowed 20 percent of customers. Expect too that self-service systems will be analyzed more thoroughly to find ways of keeping more customers in that low-cost channel.
5. Ignore social media at your peril
Social media has become the darling of marketing departments, a playground for branding. Yet if they are not careful they will find themselves being bitten and hard. That's because the 'inmates' are in charge i.e. us consumers rule the new channel.
Don't believe me? Just ask Simon Cowell.
As reported by Lyndsey Parker's Reality Rocks blog, carried on Yahoo! and reported in this blog the single from the winner of his X Factor reality show, a cover of Miley Cyrus's 'The Climb' sung by Joe McElderry has been beaten out for Britain's top Xmas pop song by a 17-year-old Rage Against The Machine track, 'Killing In The Name' 500,000 copies sold, compared to 450,000. RATM fan Jon Morter instigated the drive in what the blog reported was "a protest effort to stop Simon Cowell's empire from dominating the music industry--since Simon is the main X Factor judge and X Factor winner McElderry just signed to Simon's SyCo record label."
The upper middle classes--the key 20 percent-- are also known as the 'chattering classes' and that chatter is taking place online. Listen and respond effectively, including paying heed to their suggestions and your firm may win their loyalty. Ignore it and you risk being tomorrow's recyclables.
I wish all of you a prosperous, happy, and healthy 2010