You can't move in CRM and marketing circles these days without the (buzz)word 'omni-channel' creeping in at a fairly early stage.
We used to talk about multi-channel, but of late the likes of Marc Benioff over at Salesforce.com has been pitching the omni-aspect - an appropriate enough reflection of the increased number of channels for customer interaction and engagement.
Having a single view of the customer has remained one of the goals of CRM strategies, but increasingly the ambition is also to have an integrated view of all the various customer engagement channels, be they voice, email, chat or whatever.
Just as that single view of the customer has remained an elusive Holy Grail, so too the integrated view of the multiple channels is also presenting significant challenges.
Let me illustrate with a personal example from last week. I had pre-ordered a DVD from Zavvi.co.uk via PlayTrade.com and basically forgotten about it until I noticed it sitting on the shelves at my local HMV.
I assumed it would appear in the post in a day or so. Over a week later it had still not appeared. I went onto the website and checked out the status of my order.
The last entry - 20th May - told me that my order was being processed in the warehouse. As such there was no option to cancel on the site.
By 27th May, the DVD had still not appeared, the status remained the same and Play.com had taken the money out of my bank account for the transaction.
At this point I got irritated and emailed Zavvi via Play.com. No immediate response.
I emailed Zavvi via Zavvi's own site. No immediate response.
So I went on Zavvi's Facebook page and complained loudly and noisily about what I now felt was pretty bad customer service.
Soon afterward I started to get responses from various places and with varying status reports.
One email told me:
I am sorry for your recent experience with us. Our pre order stock has arrived at Warehouse but is not ready to be sent out yet.
But a second email from a different source told me:
Unfortunately it appears that our suppliers are unable to provide us with this product. We have contacted our suppliers again today and it would appear that they are finding it increasingly difficult to source this item and they are unable to provide me with an estimated dispatch date.
So we have:
- Two different answers
- From two different people
- Two different emails coming from two different web sites
- One single provider.
- One single (hacked off) customer.
The one thing both emails did have in common was that they told me my order would be cancelled. Or as one of them eloquently put it (and I reproduce in full as written):
On this occasion we have had to cancel your order and process you a full refund I think the best course of action for this order now would be to cancel the order and process a full refund back on to your account which will allow you to source the item from elsewhere. I have processed a cancellation request through our system and your refund will be credited back on your account.
But over on Facebook, it seems they didn't know that these emails had been sent at all and over came a Facebook message promising to look into cancelling my order - which was of course now theoretically actioned.
When I told them I'd had these emails from elsewhere within Zavvi, the Facebook customer service people had no knowledge of this, proceeded to have to ask me which advisors I'd been talking to and what my order number was.
Clearly there was no single record view of my engagement with Zavvi. They had no single idea of me as a customer.
By now I was more than a little irritated and went promptly to Play.com and cancelled all future Zavvi orders on the spot.
So a trip to HMV for me, but lost business for Zavvi in a hugely competitive market as I had pre-ordered a number of items over a series of coming months.
My set of actions is pretty typical, according to Ann Ruckstuhl, CMO at LiveOps, which promises to “answer the call of modern day customer engagement" and provide "a 24/7, 360-degree ability to connect with consumers faster, better and cost-effectively".
Organisations now have a number of main channels to deal with, argues Ruckstuhl: voice, email, chat, SMS, social media, mobile.
But customers still end up "hopping all over the place" as Ruckstuhl puts it:
"When I'm not happy with something, I send an email. I don't get a reply so I go to the company web site. Then I can't find the phone number to call someone so I'm now really upset. So I go to Twitter and I vent my annoyance there and get some attention. But all of those interactions are handled separately by the organisation so they don't know all about me as customer."
- 92% of consumers report that an agent’s perceived “happiness” impacts their brand experience.
- 85% of consumers feel that how a brand handles issues on their website or social channels is a good indicator of their quality of support.
- 89% of consumers believe it’s important to be able to communicate with companies through any channel and still receive the same quality of response.
- However, 61% of social media users feel that brands failed to communicate with them effectively on these channels.
- 90% of customers value the ability to communicate with a live person on any channel.
All of that's a key part of the LiveOps pitch to the customer services market, a cloud-based solution that offers the scalability and economic benefits of the cloud.
Whereas on average, a contact center agent might end up having to work with up to eight open applications to deal with inbound or outbound multichannel communications, its LiveOps Engage is a browser-based desktop agent app that centralizes channels - phone, email, live chat, SMS, Twitter and Facebook - on one screen.
Most importantly, LiveOps reckons it can deliver a 25-50% increase in agent productivity as well as a 25% increase in overall cost savings.
Ruckstuhl makes a compelling case that organisations need to rethink the way they apply social media as part of their customer engagement strategies.
What currently happens, she argues, is that social media strategies are set up in place by the marketing department with the emphasis heavily placed on monitoring what's happening out in the Twitter-sphere.
But once an organisation is out there on a social platform, there's no controlling what will come back in via it. Typically there will be rash of complaints, comments and requests back into the organisation that the marketing team is simply not placed to deal with. So a state of fearful inertia slips in.
Ruckstuhl's advice? Look at social media interactions in a different way:
"Stop monitoring and doing all the analysis. The question is 'How are you going to use social media to engage with your customers?'. We treat every tweet like we would treat an email."
Sound advice I think.
By the way, while conceding that she is "hesitant" about the current popularity of the term omni-channel, Ruckstuhl notes that multi-channel was a term that was in use before the likes of social media and mobile technologies were in the mainstream and as such the use of omni- does reflect the increased multiplicity of channel options.
Fair point. Just another buzzword I need to get immune to I guess.