Is the answer to cross-channel service like asking elephants to play with lions?

Is the answer to cross-channel service like asking elephants to play with lions?

Who do you think are the multichannel champions? What channels do you think are best for customer support?
Join the discussion at this <a href="http://www.mycustomer.com/files/siftmedia-mycustomer/smarter_channels/in... multichannel hub</a>.
To download Mark Dauban's white paper Smarter Channels: Which Channel Do You Bet On?, <a href="www.mycustomer.com/downloads/ibm-cmo/sep12/157472">click here</a>.

Fresh from conducting research into multichannel service, IBM's Mark Dauban outlines the technologies and strategies that support a successful cross-channel service strategy.

The term ‘multichannel’ is almost a misnomer for what we as customers expect now, implying as it does, separate channels. Most people don’t consider the channel they’re using; they expect to interact with companies however, and whenever they want. So it’s more appropriate to talk about cross-channel, or even ‘omni-channel’ marketing, with the implication of a seamless experience - across web, phone, mobile or face to face interactions.

Good cross-channel marketing or selling should feel like a service to the consumer and people shouldn’t experience any difference in the character of the organisation whether the dialogue is by phone, in the store or via the website. There should be no need to duplicate information on different channels – if I’ve already raised a complaint in branch that morning, I shouldn’t have to explain it all over again when I phone up later in the day. Similarly, when I’ve put all my information into a comparison website to renew my car insurance, I shouldn’t need to go through all the same details all over again when I speak to my chosen insurance company’s call centre.
The reason many companies are struggling to provide a seamless cross-channel service to customers, is that their own internal organisation is not customer-centric and doesn’t support integration between departments. Typically, the branch or shop is managed by the sales division, the contact centre by operations or customer service and the website by IT or marketing. Often the different departments have different – or, worse still - competing targets in terms of sales and revenue. On that back of that, the underlying technology that supports these departments has historically been supplied by separate and niche vendors, with little or no capability to integrate or link the customer journey. Breaking down these silos is sometimes like asking elephants to play with lions!
The key technologies needed to support a customer-centric organisation are a CRM system and analytics engine which enable customers to be understood as individuals; an ERP system to support customer oriented business processes; a knowledge management system to provide product and proposition information; systems to manage – and preferably automate - the marketing, sales and service processes; a unified desktop to knit it all together for front-line staff, and performance management and reporting tools – all able to ‘speak’ to each other.
Core differentiators
I have some sympathy with the view, expressed on the MyCustomer.com Smarter Channels hub, that it might be easier to focus solely on one channel and do it well, rather than spread too thinly over all channels. However, in reality, people expect to be able to interact over more than one channel and the key is to understand which channels your core customers really value. My Smarter Channels white paper highlights the fact that there needs to be a balance between what your customers want, and what your value proposition is. Success is about prioritising effort on those channels that support both of these key elements.
I have been asked about the value of outsourcing some channels. I think it is key to consider which channels drive your core differentiators – it could be risky to outsource these. However, if you want to provide a competitive, but not differentiated service over a particular channel, it can be a very good idea to outsource that channel. For example, if the call centre isn’t the main way that your core customers interact with you, it might not strongly support how you differentiate yourself in your value proposition, and in this case it could make sense to outsource your call centre activities.
With new channels emerging all the time, it is important to assess each one in terms of value to your core customers. If the latest device or means of communication with your company is likely to appeal to your most important customers, then adopt it by all means, but in a way that blends in with existing channels so that it adds to the overall customer experience rather than feeling like a disjointed ‘add on’.
Many companies still haven’t achieved seamless cross-channel experience yet – it’s not easy to even know where to start – but it can lead to significant rises in customer satisfaction, market share and profit for those that do. There are good examples in UK banking, retail and telecoms sectors – I’m sure you can think of some; however, there is still a long way to go for many. My suggestion would be to learn from others who have accomplished it, or at least have accomplished the first stages and have a plan to implement the rest.
Most successful companies have realised the benefit of working with and through partners to accelerate themselves along this path. One way to transforming your customers’ experience across all the channels you use, is to fast track with what we in IBM call a Business Value Accelerator method. Working with some of our client CMOs and COOs in this way, we’ve helped them to assess where they are now, visualise where they want to be in the future, highlighted the inhibitors and critical success factors and provided them with a roadmap and business case that they can present to their fellow board members.
Often this is just the catalyst needed to gain board level sponsorship and investment: done well, cross channel marketing, sales and service as we’ve discussed, requires all those areas of the business who previously owned the separate channels, to come together, think differently, act with their customers at the forefront of their minds and redesign processes, organisations and systems from the outside in so that their customers love dealing with them. When those customers then go on to recommend them to others, the potential for significant return on investment is obvious.
Mark Dauban is customer & channel strategy consultant, contact centre optimisation leader - NE Europe at IBM Global Business Services. To read Mark's whitepaper on customer-facing channels, click here.
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