Having multiple channels of communication is all well and good, but ultimately ineffective if they are not tied together through an omnichannel platform. Matthieu Clauzure, brand and marketing manager, CCA International, outlines how brands can set about providing customer experience that’s relevant to the next generation.
Within e-commerce, customer service has had to adapt to the evolution of technology and multichannel in order to be at the heart of a new age in customer experience. An experience that is more than just transactional, where service teams simply pick up the phone and answer queries. It now needs to be timely, personalised and contextual; supporting a customer’s full journey anywhere, at any time and on any device. Call centres are now much more than just phone banks; they must now be at the core of customer value generation to help retailers overcome new challenges, such as managing the huge amounts of data created by social media; dealing with the concentration of CRM data; and integrating multiple channels.
According to American Express, 46 percent of customers still prefer to use the phone for complicated customer service issues. Yet it is rapidly losing its dominance in the face of digital channels such as social media, live chats and click to call. For instance, in the financial industry, more and more customers are moving away from branch and desktop banking, within financial services for example, brands such as Nationwide creating banking apps that can deal with all their issues from the comfort of a smartphone. In energy and utilities, the growth of smart meters is creating an entirely new channel that replaces a large amount of traditional customer services; after all, why contact British Gas to enquire about your bill and usage when your meter gives all the information you need? And in tourism, a visit to an airline’s website or LastMinute.com long ago replaced a call or visit to the travel agent.
In this era of digital proliferation, simply adding new channels and advanced software on top of existing platforms can be tempting; yet does this really drive customer loyalty in the digital age?
The danger of multichannel
Within retail and e-commerce, the modern customer experience is a journey. A brand can have a call centre; an email customer service team; live webchats; teams on social media such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram; and new teams as new channels are added, yet if a customer cannot travel from start to finish across all channels in one smooth line, any value is mostly wasted. For instance, there’s little value in a customer having a highly personalised experience with a brand over Twitter if, when they connect over another channel, the brand treats them as a complete stranger. Brands have to both allow a seamless journey, and be flexible enough to let the customer dictate the pace.
Similarly, this disconnect prevents organisations from being proactive, and responding to customers’ needs before they even express them. Delivering a modern customer experience requires brands to deeply understand their customers so they can interact with them. For instance, a few months ago a soft drink brand monitoring social media spotted that a key influencer’s office fridge had broken. Rather than leaving them be, the brand sent them a brand-new mini-fridge crammed with drinks; ultimately leading to new customer leads thanks to the positive image it presented. If social had operated in a vacuum, then it couldn’t have worked with other channels to make this happen, missing a crucial opportunity and instead most likely seeing multiple, complaining tweets about drinking warm soda pop.
From multichannel to omnichannel: “Go with a hub”
Context retention and customer service consistency is the main challenge of omnichannel. The goal of any organisation should be to consolidate customer interactions, knowledge, context, workflow and rules in a single platform, or hub, that can provide a seamless experience regardless of how, where and what customers demand. In doing so, brands can move from a multi to omnichannel interactions without having to ask customers to repeat their information. This improves customer experience and ensure that answers and processes are consistent across all channels to boost productivity. The hub could include areas such as customer analytics: monitoring for mentions on social media combined with other channels, however traditional or modern they are, that customers can use to interact with brands.
When put into practice, a brand could communicate with its customers across any channel, as and when necessary. For instance, a global brand could run competitions and promotions around events such as the Olympics; encouraging customers to share their experiences or snapshots across social media, websites, email or apps and rewarding them with free products, tickets or simply recognition. A lot of the value of a brand lies in the emotional reaction consumers have to it, and an integrated hub approach makes it much easier to ensure positive experiences.
The real world
Moving from a multichannel to a single omnichannel customer experience doesn’t happen overnight. It requires resources and expertise many retailers don’t have ready access to, meaning they must either invest in skills and infrastructure, or rely on the assistance of experts. However, there are still short-term steps that organisations can take.
To begin with, customer experience is a strategic decision, requiring brands to ask themselves questions. What is our current customer journey? Are customers satisfied with it? How can we improve it? What channels do they use and why they use them? What are the expected outcomes? Most importantly, what can we deliver so that we create a stronger customer experience than our competitors?
Mapping, understanding and setting goals for your customer experience are the right steps to take if brands want to play and win the game. For each persona, brands must map the most common customer journey; detailing channels and activities through those channels. For instance, a potential car buyer might first look at a blog or social media to get more information about the vehicle, then go on the website and call a representative or ask questions through live chat, or even watch video. Vauxhall is one example of a company that has allowed this approach. Over 17 years it has merged multiple channels into a single, unified approach, while also adding new channels, such as social media or live chat, as they have appeared. For instance, when customers fill in a web form, Vauxhall can follow-up via SMS to speed up the customer journey and ensure a favourable outcome.
Once those questions are answered, brands should ensure that any new channels added do not follow the multichannel approach. The hub enables brands to plug in new channels in unified manner as the customer journey evolves. With a single omnichannel base, brands can avoid knowledge silos that frustrate customers. This creates a virtuous circle, with more positive experiences over more channels creating a better customer experience and, ultimately, greater engagement and even more leads.
Providing a winning, modern customer experience doesn’t just mean providing new channels depending on what’s in fashion. It’s all about integrating all channels, ensuring that the brand can deal with both inbound, reactive and outbound, proactive communications. While change cannot happen immediately, over time an evolution to a hub-based approach will increase engagement and build the emotional value of the brand.
By Matthieu Clauzure
Brand and marketing manager