Customer experience has become a key differentiator for businesses, and as we move into 2018, the predictions are that it will become more important than ever for organisations to deliver robust and reliable CX.
Indeed, in a recent Gartner survey of marketing bosses, 89% predicted that customer experience would be their primary basis for competitive differentiation by 2017.
Paul White, director of customer engagement at IFS-mplsystems, notes: “In a time when customers are not afraid to switch vendors in a heartbeat, the customer experience is one of the key ways that businesses can differentiate themselves in the market today. By placing a high strategic value on customer experience and engagement, which organisations can leverage to ensure that consumers stay loyal to them.”
A key tenet of a satisfying experience for today’s customers is a seamless interaction, even if the customer’s journey takes them across multiple channels.
“Gone are the days of waiting on hold via the phone,” says White. “With businesses offering increasingly commodified services, today’s customers expect instant and consistent service. What’s more, is that customers are contacting service divisions via multiple channels and it is important that companies can keep up with this.”
This has particular implications for contact centres and their infrastructure, to support multichannel interactions.
“The multichannel story has been around for a long time,” continues White. “Organisations need to make sure that all the multiple channels can work together. If someone starts a query on a self-service channel, for example, and then wants to migrate to talk to a human, it can all be done seamlessly.
“Quite often, when queries begin on a chat portal, when the software gets stuck or confused, it will provide the customer with a number to call, which will then place them in a queue and when they finally get through to an agent, they will have to repeat themselves again.
“A true omnichannel delivery is not just customer support via lots of different channels. It’s making sure that you can seamlessly slip between them so that the customer is not kept waiting and does not need to repeat themselves."
Fit for purpose?
However, according to White, one of the biggest obstacles to delivering a true omnichannel experience for both the customer and the agent is the traditional CRM system. Having pre-dated the advent of omnichannel by a couple of decades, CRM systems are not fit for purpose in today’s busy multichannel contact centres, says White.
White explains: “As the heart of the service division, contact centres are busy places and so need to react quickly, especially when call or contact volumes are high. Service agents need software that is able to guide them through complex issues in the most efficient way and provide them with the exact piece of customer information they need to resolve a specific request. Businesses have increasingly complex processes; managing parts, deliveries, engineer visits, invoicing and sales, and all these processes are unique to each call centre.
Traditional CRM solutions have created divisions within organisations, which has resulted in many customer service teams working in separate siloes.
“Deploying a standard CRM with multiple tabs and menus doesn’t work in this scenario. Rather than making the process more efficient, it delays agents and often the data they need resides on some other enterprise application.”
He continues: “Traditional CRM solutions have created divisions within organisations, which has resulted in many customer service teams working in separate siloes. This may be a good thing for operational purposes, but when you want to get across an integrated message, it’s a difficult problem to solve. These systems have been relatively ineffective in providing holistic views of the customer across the business. This holistic view of the customer is imperative to delivering the consistent support and service that is expected today.”
As an alternative to this approach, White proposes the concept of a desktop ‘mashup’. The mashup approach is a contrast to the traditional CRM approach, as the objective is not to replace existing enterprise systems, but rather to present the service desk agent with relevant customer data at the appropriate point in the interaction, through an intuitive desktop application, ‘fit for purpose’ for the support centre.
Susannah Richardson, marketing director at IFS-mplsystems, elaborates on the concept.
“The contact centre is awash with systems and applications, whether it’s call handling, dialling, CRM and case management, ERP, accounting, live chat, social media and email management systems,” she explains. “The lack of integration between these systems results in agents’ time being spent manipulating systems and data, rather than talking to the customer and resolving their issues. If an agent has to scour multiple sources of data to resolve conflicts or provide service, they risk the loss of the customer’s confidence, or worse, the loss of the customer.
“A unified agent desktop mashup resolves these issues by pulling together customer data from disparate sources and enterprise wide systems into a ‘simple, single’ agent view and contextualising this data for the customer and transaction that the agent is dealing with.”
Traditionally, creating a unified agent desktop has been problematic. The complexity involved means that many in-house efforts to implement the project can fail, with the extended integration timescales causing major headaches. But at the same time, the price tag for an external system integrator-led unified desktop can be too high for many and can take months, blowing most budgets.
Therefore, the concept of a mashup-style product can be an attractive alternative, representing a more affordable and simpler option.
The contact centre is awash with systems and applications, whether it’s call handling, dialling, CRM and case management, ERP, accounting, live chat, social media and email management systems.
Some High Street retailers are already adopting this model, opting for a combined contact centre and customer experience solution, rather than a separate CRM system. This is unifying their multiple contact channels and equipping service agents with a single, integrated view of a customer’s previous interactions by pulling information from numerous other existing systems.
Now when a customer calls or emails, the system identifies the customer, presents agents with all relevant customer data and guides the agent through the transaction whether their request is customer care, sales or another function. All of this – without the pain traditionally associated with a new CRM implementation. And Richardson believes that the mashup model may mark a move away from CRM systems.
Richardson concludes: “It’s an alternative to the traditional CRM approach, which is to rip and replace all enterprise systems which contain customer data with an overarching enterprise CRM system. These projects fail because they take so long and so many different departments have different systems containing data. Now businesses are favouring best of breed systems in different areas, rather than enterprise-wide. So for customer service, a unified desktop makes sense.
“Plus if the aim is to achieve omnichannel , the unified desktop brings together calls, emails and other channels within the same view and uses AI to deliver the relevant contextualised data and transactions for the agent, so they can deliver a rapid and informed service across multiple channels.”
About Neil Davey
Neil Davey is the managing editor of MyCustomer. An experienced business journalist and editor, Neil has worked on a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites over the past 15 years, including Internet Works, CXO magazine and Business Management. He joined Sift Media in 2007.