• December 1, 2016
  • By Leonard Klie, Editor, CRM magazine and SmarCustomerService.com

Is an Omnichannel Environment Truly Attainable?

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Where multichannel customer service might have been enough in the past, today, it’s not. Customers expect to receive service on the channel of their choice, whether it’s phone, email, text, chat, web, mobile, or social media, and want to be able to start an interaction on one channel and then seamlessly transition to another. As far as they’re concerned, a conversation that begins on Twitter ought to be able to move to text messaging or a phone call, with the context preserved across channels.

That’s the essence of omnichannel service, which experts deem critical to building brand loyalty.

Noting that businesses globally lose $300 billion every year due to bad customer experiences, analyst firm Frost & Sullivan has concluded that omnichannel service has become “a strategic necessity.”

“All businesses should aim to provide a unified, omnichannel experience across all channels so that the process is seamless, consistent, and integrated as customers move through them,” wrote Krishna Baidya, associate director of digital transformation at Frost & Sullivan’s Asia-Pacific office, in a recent report.

But omnichannel customer service is rare today. Only 3 percent of companies can start a customer interaction on one channel and seamlessly move it to another, while still maintaining the full context of the interaction, Kate Leggett, a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, reported recently.

“There’s a long way to go before we can allow customers to have the easy, effective, omnichannel communications with companies that they want,” she says.

That’s not to say, though, that omnichannel customer experiences can never happen. And when that time comes, companies definitely don’t want to be caught unprepared.

“Organizations that aim to offer a consistent experience across multiple channels, capturing interactions across each touch point and making the conversation with the customer contextual, will hold a significant advantage,” predicts Vineeth Nayak, founder and managing director of Tetherfi, a provider of customer communications solutions.

With that in mind, companies that want to offer omnichannel customer service will need to ask some tough questions. The first, says Scott Horn, chief marketing officer at [24]7, a provider of contact center and customer communications software, must center on overall business goals, now and into the future.

Moving to an omnichannel customer experience environment is going to be a difficult and time-consuming process, so companies will need to have a clear reason for doing it. Common motivations might be cost savings, increasing customer satisfaction, or revenue growth, but companies will need to establish those up front so that they’ll have something to measure success against, Horn advises.

“You’ll need to evaluate where you are on the current maturity scale, then identify where you’d like to be, and plan toward that goal,” adds Dan Gordon, senior vice president of strategy and development at West Interactive.

Companies will also have to assess which channels they’ll want to support, both now and over time, according to Horn. “You’ll need to look for a platform where you can add channels easily, that’s channel-independent, and can work across applications,” he says. “And you’ll want to be able to leverage your investments in one channel into other channels, including some that probably haven’t even been launched yet.”

To that end, companies will likely have to revamp their infrastructures, software stacks, and platforms, none of which will be easy to do. Experts largely agree that omnichannel customer service will require cross-channel integration, built using a tightly integrated architectural approach.

A BREAK FROM TRADITION

That’s not how things have been done. When companies have added new communications channels and customer touch points, they’ve largely deployed them in silos and then failed to integrate them.

“Organizations, up until about two years ago, were very busy investing in individual channels, improving service and adding functionality to each channel separately,” notes Aviad Abiri, vice president of portfolio sales enablement at NICE, a provider of advanced analytics and workforce optimization solutions for the contact center market. “The bigger picture wasn’t there.”

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