Cisco recently co-sponsored a survey which asked over 1800 consumers from six countries (USA, Canada, UK, France, Germany, and Australia) a set of questions focused on their perceptions of Speech Recognition and Self-Service as used for customer care. Although this is the third annual edition of the survey, this year marks the first time consumers were asked about the different channels they use to contact a business or organization for customer service.I was struck by the result that 44 per cent of the consumers surveyed said that they use online methods first (e.g., the web, e-mail, user forums, click-to-chat, etc.) to obtain customer service, whereas only 20 per cent said that they would choose the phone first. Even more striking, 52 per cent of respondents in the 16 to 34 age bracket (the new generation of consumers) indicated preference for using online methods first.By Murali SitaramVice President and General Manager, Cisco Customer Contact Center Business UnitDoes this mean that the traditional contact center is going away? Not at all, but I believe that it does underscore how important it is for businesses and organizations to provide customer care in the manner in which customers wish to be served. This goes far beyond what many have termed the “multi-channel contact center” and into the realm of what we call “Customer Collaboration”, where a wealth of collaboration technologies are applied that enable businesses and organizations to forge real relationships with their customers and elevate customer care to the next level.Customer Collaboration recognizes that customer interactions can take place in social media such as Facebook, Myspace, and Twitter. Customer Collaboration reaches customers in those networks, delivering proactive services where the customer is already comfortable. Customer Collaboration leverages state-of the-art video capabilities such as Telepresence to enable meaningful, person-to-person interactions between consumers and on-demand experts. Customer Collaboration leverages modern network smart-tagging methods to enable the formation of teams of experts on the fly that can proactively address customer needs. Customer Collaboration is boundary-less, real-time, multi-party, adaptive, and personal. Moreover, Customer Collaboration technologies will not only maintain and manage customer satisfaction but will also help with brand management in the future. Although Cisco’s vision for Customer Collaboration preceded the survey of those 1800 consumers, I found it gratifying to see the survey results confirming our initiative. I’m looking forward to realizing our vision of Customer Collaboration. It’s going to be quite a ride!