When customer self service transcends knowledge bases

A distinguished Gartner Analyst, Michael Maoz, recently published a paper titled “A Framework for Creating the Future of Customer Centric Web.” In that paper, Michael asserted that for many organizations, “IT professionals are struggling to create holistic, convenient web sites.” He then cites Amazon and Facebook as benchmarks for consumer expectations. For example, if one analyzes an Amazon page for a specific book, one finds information that:
1) Attracts one to read more on the page about the book
2) Provides pre-sales information such as descriptions, ratings, comments and reviews
3) Enables one to purchase the book
4) Allows one to comment on the book (presumably once purchased)

In short, all phases of the customer life cycle are represented on one page. From an enterprise perspective, the interests of marketing, sales, finance and customer support are all represented on one web page. At the same time. Now let’s juxtapose this thought with how various enterprise software markets have evolved. Rationally, businesses have focused on specific business processes to automate as they acquired automation software. In turn, specific software markets and products have formed for sales automation, marketing enablement, e-commerce and customer service (among others). Yet, with the move by business to the Web , and with examples like Amazon, the notion of separate web applications (and accompanying data sets) are now perceived by customers as artificial and even sub-standard.

Of course, purchase cycles for books and similar things often occur within minutes, so having the entire cycle represented in one page makes sense. On the other hand, business-sized purchases of software, services and material occur at a much slower pace. Nevertheless, the standard for efficiently enabling purchase cycles has been set in the consumer world.

This new customer experience standard means that post-sales knowledge bases are necessary but not sufficient. Customers now expect to access many different types of information relating to different elements of the purchase cycle that cannot be managed realistically by a KM system. Examples of data which will likely be distributed across multiple data systems are past transactions, comments/opinions mined from the web, incident tickets, and social media content. In fact, many of Exalead customers do exactly this – they have distributed data systems over which they layer an access system that allows query-time integration of information to accommodate multiple stages of the sales cycle in one view or web page.