• November 1, 2013
  • By David Myron, Editorial Director, CRM and Speech Technology magazines and SmartCustomerService.com

Preparing for the Omnichannel Environment

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Managing the growing rate of customer interactions can be overwhelming for organizations. It's not always because businesses are necessarily dealing with more customers; it's often because customers are dispersed over multiple communication channels.

A quick look at the mobile device market reveals that smartphone sales have already exceeded 1 billion, and tablet sales are expected to exceed 227 million by the end of this year, according to published reports.

That's a large and rapidly growing customer base. Not surprisingly, a sizable army of marketers is already trying to figure out how to best target these consumers. In fact, shortly before writing this column, I joined a mobile marketing and advertising group on LinkedIn, which already has more than 89,000 members. But as popular as mobile devices are, they're not the only places to find customers.

Consumers have also flocked to the Web and social media to connect with people and quickly find and share information. It's empowering. And, not surprisingly, more customers are becoming technophiles who prefer these newer communication channels to traditional ones. What is surprising, though, is the percentage of people who've made the switch already. According to our cover story "Customer Support: Keeping Up with the Digital Migration," by News Editor Leonard Klie, "72 percent of consumers—regardless of age—prefer self-service to picking up the phone or sending email when it comes to resolving support issues." (Read this feature to see how customer service professionals can meet customer expectations on emerging channels.)

The drive toward multichannel interactions is permeating the enterprise, forcing sales and marketing professionals to take notice as well. However, as more consumers move to digital channels, marketers must avoid the mistakes made by many email marketers and resist the temptation to blast inexpensive, but irrelevant, messages to consumers. It's a surefire way to tarnish your brand or make consumers numb to your message. Marketers who want to deliver valuable messages to consumers and improve their brand should read the feature story "How to Build a Better Brand," by Associate Editor Maria Minsker. The story includes nine time-tested tips on how to craft effective messaging that improves the customer experience and the overall brand.

One of the nice things about these tips is that they are not technology dependent—they're appropriate for all interaction channels. This is helpful, considering the recent interest from customer strategists in building multiple and integrated customer communication channels—otherwise known as omnichannel environments. In these ideal environments, customers should be able to freely switch from one channel to another without disrupting the overall customer experience.

As companies prepare for these omnichannel environments, it's important to remember that technology alone is not enough. Organizations should make sure they are infusing humanity into their customer interactions. This was the main point of the opening keynote address at the CRM Evolution conference in August, delivered by Jeanne Bliss, founder of CustomerBliss.com. Bliss suggested that organizations should trust their customers, know when and how to apologize, and hire "memory makers" and not just functional employees.

For more takeaways from the CRM Evolution conference, read the story "Insert Humanity and Trust into Customer Relationships," by Michele Masterson and Maria Minsker. It serves as an important reminder that in a world where so much attention is placed on technology, we shouldn't lose sight of the human element.

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