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

Is an Omnichannel Environment Truly Attainable?

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Gordon agrees, noting that connected customer experiences with a single flow of data between them haven’t been easy due to the environment at most companies.

“There is a disconnect between organizational structures and customer expectations. Most of the time, the different channels are owned by siloed organizations, and the data in them is also siloed,” he says.

In some cases, the social media team might not have access to phone data, or the call center agent might not have an email address. In most cases, the phone support team doesn’t communicate or share information with the email support team.

And technology vendors share the blame with end users, insiders lament.

“The industry has come out with niche solutions specific to each channel,” says Keith Pearce, vice president of product marketing for Salesforce.com’s Service Cloud. “Over time, this has created fractured experiences.”

Esteban Kolsky, founder and principal analyst at ThinkJar, paints an even bleaker picture. Though many companies claim to offer omnichannel solutions, “there is no single technology today that can provide true omnichannel customer service,” he states emphatically. “It is a technological impossibility under current setups.”

A CULTURE CLASH

Additionally, the omnichannel interaction gap is just as much a cultural issue as it is a technological one. Omnichannel might sound very forward-thinking, but it’s counter to the business-as-usual mentality.

Before companies can adopt an omnichannel strategy, they will need to undergo massive cultural shifts, Gordon contends. “The siloed organizational structure doesn’t match how customers want to communicate with brands,” he says. “Companies need to understand how customers want to interact with their brands and realign their organizations around that.”

Customer journey mapping that encompasses all steps in the process—from when customers initiate contact to issue resolution—is a great way to get at that information, according to most experts.

“You need to connect the dots and reconstruct the entire customer journey so you understand each step and what the customer did on it,” Abiri says. “It’s not just about connecting the dots but connecting the dots with context.”

For that reason, Abiri suggests that analytics will play a huge role in making omnichannel customer interactions a reality. “You need to be able to run interaction analytics with machine learning to understand the full journey,” he says.

Companies can also benefit from incorporating their voice-of-the-customer feedback into the process. “At every step, get the customer’s perception of the journey they went through,” Abiri continues. “Take the voice of the customer and bring it into the journey. Get an idea of the paths they took and their reactions to them.”

This feedback will also help companies know which channels to implement. Just because a company has enabled live-chat functionality on its website, for example, doesn’t mean that customers will use it. For what they want to do, customers might still prefer calls or email, and getting their input will help discover that.

IT TAKES AN ECOSYSTEM

Employee feedback is also valuable, and in preparing for omnichannel service, companies would do well to take an ecosystem approach that allows both IT and customer service leaders to collaborate.

At the same time, companies should be able to leverage existing technology investments, not just in the contact center but also in web and proactive outbound engagement, online community software, CRM software, marketing automation solutions, and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, among others. “There will be multiple integration points, depending on what you already have in place,” Horn says.

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