Is Your Contact Center Built for Multichannel Customers?

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In my previous column ("Multiplicity Means More," February 2008, page 8), I suggested that true multichannel CRM requires proactively implementing customer-facing processes and technology to facilitate the sharing of real-time customer information across multiple channels; I also noted the financial impact of a well-executed multichannel strategy. What we haven't discussed is why the contact center is at the core of every successful multichannel CRM initiative.

The simple answer is this: because the Digital Client increasingly demands it. Organizations are having difficulty keeping up with the growing demand for self-service from today's Digital Clients, who feel completely at home utilizing self-service capabilities within an integrated, multichannel environment. In fact, most Digital Clients insist on self-service -- it's just part of how they grew up -- and their needs go far beyond a Frequently Asked Questions page.

Scenario A: Web Inquiry
Prior to making a purchase decision, 90 percent of all Digital Clients access Web sites -- so you'll want to make sure that your site provides comprehensive, easy-to-understand (and easy-to-use) marketing and sales information based on what customers have asked for. A Digital Client may start an inquiry at your Web site, but she also expects to be able to seamlessly move from there to your contact center channel if she decides she'd like to speak with an agent. At a minimum, those agents need access to the internal-use knowledge bases that help drive high first-call resolution -- the key to customer satisfaction. Agents then provide this information to the Digital Client via the phone or email.

Even better, the Digital Client can self-serve her own inquiry resolution online if you provide direct access to your knowledge bases -- though those repositories may first need to be cleansed for external use. Cisco Systems for many years has led the way in Web-based customer self-servicing via the use of sophisticated knowledge bases; this has helped Cisco to substantially reduce its servicing costs while driving high customer satisfaction.

Scenario B: Contact Center Inquiry
When a Digital Client has a question or service issue after making a purchase -- via any number of channels (e.g., at a store, or via a salesperson, kiosk, or the Web) -- she may prefer to call your contact center for a quick answer rather than search online. Needless to say, she expects your agent to know that she has purchased the product via another channel! To help ensure an optimal experience, contact centers are deploying the latest customer-driven self-service tools, including natural-language speech recognition (one of the more successful telephony-based, self-service applications). Up to 75 percent of all contact center phone interactions can be successfully handled by these natural-language systems.

A successful scenario is win-win-win: The Digital Client is content because she is able to self-serve, you're happy because you're able to drive up first-call resolution while driving down contact center cost-per-call, and your contact center agents are pleased because they now have the time to concentrate on high-value-add customer service issues. Cellular telephone companies (e.g., Verizon Wireless) and financial services companies (e.g., USAA) have led the way in optimizing the contact center scenario.

Under both of these scenarios, the contact center is at the core of the Digital Client experience. Some customers will reach your contact center only after a Web inquiry, while others will turn to the contact center first. To accommodate all these customers, your multichannel CRM initiative must be built around a strategy that both acknowledges the central role of the contact center and is supported by appropriate customer-facing business processes and technologies.

Barton Goldenberg (bgoldenberg@ismguide.com) is president and founder of ISM Inc., a CRM real-time enterprise consulting firm in Bethesda, Md. He is the publisher of The Guide to CRM Automation and author of the new CRM in Real Time: Empowering Customer Relationships (Information Today, Inc.).

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