It’s been more than 10 years since Time magazine named Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos Person of the Year for his success in popularizing the ability to shop for and purchase just about anything online. At that time, you didn’t have to go far to find experts touting e-commerce as the total replacement for the communication channels typically used in a traditional “brick and mortar” organization.
However, consumers and businesses have not moved exclusively to online shopping; most have simply added the online channel to a growing list of resources at their disposal, often taking advantage of multiple channel resources in the course of a single interaction. With the more recent introduction of online social networks, the online channel has arguably become the most disruptive and opportunistic new business practice of this decade.
Today’s online channels not only serve as marketplaces, but more critically, they serve as public forums in which consumers and businesses sound off about your products, your service, your people and your brand. No longer do companies serve customers in a one-to-one environment, regardless of channel. Thanks to the Web, every interaction has the potential to become broadcast as one-to-many, for better or for worse. In fact, one of the largest assets developing around corporations today is the amount of content, knowledge and brand promoters that have developed over social networks. Companies must now manage external assets, which are starting to have a greater impact to their business than their own internal assets. Companies that are able to leverage social networking, content and knowledge assets will be those best positioned for future success.
That’s why it’s more important than ever for companies to take a multichannel approach to customer relationship management that recognizes the unique role that social online channels play across all interactions.
Before any discussion of multichannel management, it is important to develop a strategy to move different types of transactions to the most appropriate and cost-effective channel. Self-service, chat, voice and social communities all have an impact on customer satisfaction and company cost. Driving activity to the right channel can improve satisfaction, reach more customers at lower costs, improve responsiveness and speed issue resolution.
There has been a fundamental shift in the amount of external control that a company has over its brand, its service model and even the type and amount of product or service information that is available. In the past, companies organized around their internal functional areas and built a customer relationship management program that was controlled from this perspective. We defined product offers, training, built IVRs, and even on the Web we could define content and control it. But in today’s social forums and online channels, customers are shaping the conversation outside of the boundaries of the enterprise, replacing scripted FAQs with their own questions — and their own answers. Recognizing this, companies must respond by first reevaluating the manner in which they organize and control internal operations to focus on the customer rather than on internal functions.
We commonly see companies struggle to accomplish this as internal work groups have competing interests, and disparate information systems and platforms: Perhaps marketing runs the website and brand reputation monitoring, the product management team coordinates product innovation, and a third group oversees customer service. It is an organizational imperative for these groups to approach the customer experience from a holistic perspective. This approach involves every level of the organization, from executive strategies and objectives, to contact center employee training, and is best deployed with the support of the proper technical, analytical and human resources.
Monitor and Engage
There are endless online platforms that serve as forums for consumers or businesses to log a complaint, ask a question or give advice. The first critical step in implementing a more effective multichannel approach is to listen to your customers in this environment, become a participant in the social conversation and transparently serve as a guide representing your brand.
For most large brands, this effort requires appropriate resource support, which includes properly training employees who can engage with customers in social communities and represent your brand. Companies need to ensure that employees have the expertise to respond to questions and are empowered to use existing company systems to provide answers in real time.
Creating Branded Communities
In addition to becoming an active participant in existing online communities, significant opportunities come from creating your own communities. This approach allows for additional control of your brand, the ability to register users, track them through your customer relationship management (CRM) system, and also yields larger volumes of knowledge that can be tapped via advanced analytics programs.
Companies who create their own communities can more formally integrate their existing support systems with the conversations occurring in the community to better support customers and more efficiently apply learning across all channels.
Once a customer registers to participate in a branded community, a link can be established between the customer’s activity in the community and their record in a company’s CRM system or customer knowledgebase. This linkage allows the company to create a complete view of the customer’s activity regardless of where it occurs. A traditional contact center employee can see the customer’s previous community activity when they make contact through a traditional channel (voice, chat, e-mail, etc.). Conversely, an employee monitoring the social community can have a full view of the customer’s activity in the CRM system as they engage the customer.
Another critical element of the emerging multichannel world is the ability to capture and organize knowledge from each channel. The channels within the company’s control are relatively straightforward to manage. But what about the knowledge being created in social communities? Vast amounts of information will be created in the social space as users interact and answer each other’s questions. This information creates a rich environment to help extend brand loyalty and reference selling, gather product feedback, uncover product innovation ideas and identify resolutions to support issues. This unstructured information needs to be gathered and organized in a way that can be leveraged by companies for better customer support and revenue generation programs. Once organized, marketing can monitor brand reputation, sales can identify selling opportunities, product management will have direct customer feedback on product innovation ideas and support will have access to thousands of new solutions being created by community participants.
Complete the Cycle of Feedback
By investing in online conversations with customers and cross-channel conversations with internal parties, companies can not only offer a more consistent customer experience across all channels, they can actually see a significant payback.
This customer-centric approach allows companies to live and learn from those who are closest to their products, which can lead to product improvements, new product development, more robust support offering
Carol Kline is chief information officer at TeleTech.