The Case for Multichannel Customer Management

Over the past decade, the number of contact channels used by consumers to interact with enterprises has risen significantly, driven in large part by technology and consumer sophistication.

The manner in which these channels have changed over the past three decades has also changed significantly. What used to be done solely over landline telephones now incorporates multiple voice and nonvoice tools. While exciting in many ways, the pace at which this has occurred has made it tough for enterprises to keep up with the latest portals and technologies associated with multichannel management.

Contact channels typically fit into two categories:

  • Traditional contact channels. Traditional contact channels are those that have been in use by consumers for at least a decade. These include telephone, email, white mail, and facsimile transmissions. These channels retain their popularity primarily due to their familiarity.
  • Emerging contact channels. Emerging contact channels are those that have come to the forefront of CRM activity over the last 10 years. These include SMS/text messaging, social media, Web chat, and video interactions. These channels demonstrate the most rapid growth, due in large part to the uptake of popular technology among consumers, such as smartphones and other mobile Internet/media devices.

Growth of multichannel CRM

Over the past few years, there has been a palpable shift in the way consumers interact with the enterprises with which they do business, as well as with the channels that companies have made available to their end users.

Why are consumers adopting these new channels? Is it because there is a new generation of consumers who are more used to using a variety of multimedia, are tech-savvy, and expect a variety new channels at their fingertips? An instant gratification attitude does seem to exist among younger consumers, who want their queries answered immediately. There is also the challenge of the growing technological complexity. Combined, these forces have led consumers to choose emerging channels, which are more efficient and appropriate to their lifestyle than their traditional counterparts.

 Ovum's "2011 CRM Outsourcing Business Trends Survey" of 200 enterprise contact center decision makers in North America, Australia, and Western Europe (with fieldwork carried out in Q3 2011) made clear the extent to which multichannel CRM has been deployed. While significant adoption of the traditional contact channels (voice, email, and fax) remains, equally compelling is the fact that more than 40 percent of enterprises indicate the use of SMS messaging and social media as a means of interfacing with their end users, while Web chat has been adopted by one out of five. Enterprises clearly recognize that the CRM environment has become truly multichannel and are adapting to consumer shifts in interaction method.

Even more compelling is a noted change in how consumers are choosing to interact with enterprises. Voice-based interactions are projected to drop nearly 40 percent over the coming five years, relative to what they were over the past decade. Ten years ago, the number of consumers preferring nonvoice contact—including email, Web chat, and social media—was virtually zero. Over the next five years, that number is projected to reach 20 percent. A similar trend is seen with regard to self-service, which continues to gain favor among the general public. These are trends that, if ignored, will greatly impact the long-term revenue potential of any enterprise.

Enterprises need to champion multichannel CRM

Multichannel CRM is here to stay. Enterprises that fail to adapt to this reality will be left behind in regard to lost revenues and customers. It is imperative for companies across industries to incorporate a multichannel offering into their respective CRM strategies to obtain the following results:

  • Full view of the customer: By adopting a multichannel strategy, enterprises can gain valuable insight into their end users, coming from data harvested from nonvoice channels (such as email interactions or Web chat sessions), which they can then use to develop a fuller view of their customer base. This intelligence is crucial when developing accurate profiles of individual consumers' needs, concerns, and future purchasing plans.
  • Increased revenue opportunities: Logically, more contact channels means more chances to sell to end users. As discussed earlier, fewer consumers plan to interact with vendors via telephone but appear poised to rapidly adopt nonvoice methods. Not having a multichannel platform will immediately reduce a growing number of nonvoice cross-sell/upsell opportunities. In challenging economic times, the chance to maximize business from customers is something that no enterprise can afford to miss out on.
  • Reduced call volumes: Fewer calls into the contact center means lower overhead costs and higher margins. By instituting a multichannel CRM strategy that highlights self-service opportunities (via either the Web or IVR) as well as nonvoice agents handling simultaneous interactions, enterprises can reduce their total number of telephone-based contact center deployments, thereby increasing profitability.
  • Decreased cost of missing interactions: There is a real cost associated with not deploying a multichannel approach to CRM, which is missing the tactical opportunity to interact with customers. By not harnessing the full range of contact possibilities available, enterprises will be unable to respond to service-related issues from those preferring nonvoice mechanisms. The result will certainly be unsatisfied end users and increased customer churn, which will reduce both revenues and margins.

Multichannel CRM is a reality

The number of customers using nontraditional contact mechanisms is increasing significantly, and enterprises are responding in kind. With the proliferation of mobile devices and Internet penetration, companies across verticals should realize the importance of multichannel CRM in regard to their respective customer bases.

Firms needs to adapt CRM strategies that incorporate the contact channels that are relevant to their end users now, so as not to miss revenue opportunities, as well as the chance to build a full view of the customers and any service-related matters that need to be addressed. Further, enterprises with existing multichannel deployments need to remain diligent to ensure that their strategies are relevant over the long term.

Sean Canning is executive vice president, customer management, North America and Europe, for Firstsource Solutions Limited. He has over 20 years of experience in the contact center industry across a variety of roles.

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