Many important aspects of the global contact center industry are slowly but surely changing. While some of these changes are proving to be quite subtle, others will essentially revolutionize what we accept today as an efficient and memorable customer experience. One of the solutions leading the industry revolution in the field of customer self-service is the customer community. 

The customer on-line community is not a new concept, but it is evolving to take on a new role in response to the generational factors that are behind many of the industry changes taking place today. On-line communities first came to prominence as a means of connecting companies with their customers in about 1994. In those days, communities were often referred to as "Forums" and typically focused on product or technology discussions with the purpose of addressing product questions, sharing product tips, and discussing other related business issues. 

Today, communities have evolved into highly efficient self-service solutions that provide customers with a private, on-line site to find relevant product or company information, share experiences and get technical assistance. The evolution of the on-line community is being driven in large part by the expectations and demands of the new generation of customers. The new generation of customers I refer to is comprised of members of both the Millennial generation and Generation Z, also referred to as "Gen Z." Loosely defined, Millennials are those individuals born between 1982 and the early 2000s. According to Pew Research, Millennials will outnumber Baby Boomers in 2019. 

There is widespread disagreement regarding the birth years of Generation Z, and there seems to be some overlap with Millennial birth years, but Generation Z spans roughly the late 1990s to about 2010. This is a group that is just beginning to feel its collective muscle as customers. 

We know that both of these generations are quite self-reliant and when it comes to customer service, they value additional, digital self-service options beyond IVRs. Along with conversational IVR and access to FAQ pages, customer communities reside at the top of the list of self-service solutions sought by the new generation of customers. 

Legacy on-line customer communities typically relied on both customer input and contributions from company employees to ensure appropriate knowledge was available in the customer forum or community. Today, technology plays an important role in ensuring that accurate information is always available to on-line customer communities. 

Verint Telligent Community has taken customer community self-service to the next level by providing integration with Verint knowledge management in order to simplify and streamline the information search process for customer community members. This integration to the enterprise's knowledge base provides community members with an unprecedented ability to access the information they need and get questions answered on their own while extending the business value of the knowledge management implementation and investment. 

Knowledge management's inherent ability to continually update enterprise information based upon customers' frequently asked questions and issues discussed means that community members always have access to up-to-date information. On the enterprise side, customer communities are complementary to enterprise intelligence initiatives, as they also allow companies to capture customer feedback and identify customer needs and preferences. This information is critically important for future product development and market strategies. 

The most recent customer research data from Saddletree Research, illustrated in the figure below, indicates that about 23% of the market will be evaluating customer community software for purchase in 2019. Beyond that, about four percent of current community users will be upgrading their community solution in 2019.

Source: Saddletree Research 

Market penetration of customer communities is expected to double in size during 2019. As the preferences of the new generation of customers continues to drive market changes, we expect to see many of those with no current plans for communities to rethink their position and move into the market or risk being left behind by their customers. Saddletree Research believes that customer community software is poised to be among the leaders of the self-service revolution that is, and will continue to be, a driving force in the global contact center market.

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