• October 1, 2015
  • By Leonard Klie, Editor, CRM magazine and SmarCustomerService.com

On the Scene--Customer Service Experience: Explore New Channels, but Invest Wisely

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It's always smart to service customers on the channels they prefer, yet attendees at this year's Customer Service Experience conference, held in New York in August, were urged not to add channels like chat and social media just because they were among the event’s hottest topics.

"You will not become a better business just by becoming omnichannel," warned Omer Minkara, a research director at Aberdeen Group.

Companies also should not plan on adding new channels and technologies until they are ready to fully integrate them, said Esteban Kolsky, founder of ThinkJar and chairman of the conference.

According to Aberdeen's research, 100 percent of companies today offer customers more than one way to reach them. "There is not one business out there that does not have more than one channel—they all offer at least phone and email," Minkara said. "And most are using an average of four [channels]."

But just because they offer multichannel customer service does not make them a unified omnichannel department. With multichannel offerings, not all the technologies are integrated or consistent, as they are in a unified omnichannel environment.

According to Kolsky, only about 30 percent of companies have some degree of omnichannel capabilities, and even those are limited right now. "Everyone is talking about omnichannel, but we don't yet have the technology to deliver it well," he said. "It will take about three or four years before we can get to a model where you can do omnichannel right."

Kolsky also warned against adding more channels for the wrong reasons. "Many times, companies add channels because their existing channels are not working," he said. "If it takes too long for you to get back to the customer on phone or email, adding chat will not fix that."

Despite all the warnings, though, companies should not overlook other channels, especially social communities. "If you're not doing social communities, you're missing a lot," Kolsky said.

Mark Browne, principal social engagement manager at EMC, a provider of IT and data storage hardware solutions, noted that with social media and social communities, it's better to have unhappy customers discuss their issues online in channels where the company has some control. "If not, [customers] will hop on channels that you have no control over," he said.

One of the biggest problems companies have with social communities, though, is that they haven't integrated them into their CRM systems. Today, only 31 percent of business-to-business companies have done so, according to John Ragsdale, vice president of research at the Technology Services Industry Association (TSIA).

Ragsdale also pointed out that only 40 percent of business-to-business companies today offer support via social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, down from 46 percent a year ago.

As to why customer service through social media isn't more prevalent, Kolsky said the answer is simple: Customers simply don't want it. "It sucks for customer service," he stated. "It's not the right channel to solve customers' problems. It's a horrible channel for dealing with customers."

Regardless of the channel though, one truism applies: Companies need a single view of the customer across interaction channels and devices, said Bob Stutz, corporate vice president of Dynamics CRM at Microsoft, during a lunch keynote.

That goes against the current mind-set at most companies today. "Customers think in terms of a journey, but companies think operationally," often leading them to look at metrics that do little to improve the overall customer experience, said Anuj Bhalia, global lead for service analytics strategy at Accenture Management Consulting. "You need to change the operational mind-set. Operational metrics have a place in shaping how you run your business, [but] not the customer experience."

The customer journey, Bhalia said, looks at the entire experience in the context of all interactions with the company, not a single exchange with an agent in a contact center.

"Take a sledgehammer to your silos," he added. "Every channel is a unique form of contact with your brand, but each is interrelated to form the overall experience."

"The biggest barrier to an extraordinary customer experience is not having a single view of the customer," said Martin Schneider, CRM evangelist at SugarCRM. "Stop thinking of [customer experiences] as silos and start tying them together.

"The goal of CRM is to support the entire customer journey," Schneider said. "The channel is irrelevant. You need to know the customer no matter which channel he uses." 

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