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Avoiding the Omnichannel Hype

Omnichannel customer service: Customers have never heard of it but still seem to demand it, and companies are all over the map on whether or how to offer it to them.   When it comes to omnichannel — customer service on every channel with seamless cross-channel transfers — there’s no shortage of hype.  So is it all hype?

Reality check: when it comes to omnichannel customer service, one size does not fit all. You absolutely do not have to be on every channel—just the channels that your customers use and expect - providing the same caliber of service regardless of the channel. When you get down to it, offering service and support on every channel simply may not be necessary.


The Omnichannel Challenge

Simply put, Omnichannel lets you meet customers where they already are instead of forcing them to jump through hoops to reach you.  So it’s not all hype.  And while it certainly entails a new set of challenges, companies who have made the commitment overwhelmingly report that the benefits to customer relationships and organizational alignment far outweigh the required effort.

First, you absolutely need the ability to pivot interactions from one channel to another. It’s not omnichannel service if you can’t seamlessly move a customer interaction from Twitter to live chat. But of course, technology alone is never enough.  You also need the right team, with the experience and confidence to handle interactions across channels.  And last but certainly not least—you need the resources and processes in place to be available across the channels you implement.  That likely all represents more people, time, technology and budget than you’ve historically planned for – and it’s all essential to serving modern, digital customers to drive retention, loyalty, and revenue.

The good news is that you probably don’t have to do it all at once.  And in fact, that could be a recipe for disaster.  Given the time, energy, and resources required – coupled with the constant pressure to demonstrate a return on new investments – the best approach is likely to be a methodical transition, starting with the highest-priority channels, and leveraging a flexible platform that will let you add additional channels as needed over time.

The entire point of moving to a more customer-centric service model is to break the cycle of being tactical and reactionary, and to become more deliberate, strategic, and proactive in serving your company and your customers.  So having a solid plan in place is essential to your credibility when running this up the flagpole. 

Here’s a few tips to help get you started:

Three Tips for Outstanding Omnichannel Service

1.    Do Your Research. Analyze your customers. You may think you know exactly how they want to get in touch with you, but chances are they have ideas you aren’t aware of. So ask them!

  • Add a question at the end of phone calls asking if there’s another way your customers would like to contact you. Or send a survey via email.
  • Ask what social communities and online tools they use. Like I said earlier, you don’t have to be everywhere, but you do want to be where your customers are.
  • Monitor social channels to see where your brand is being discussed the most. You want to be there, too.

Tally up your results, whether formal survey results or observational research. Then, and this is important—Act! Put your research into action. One of the greatest things about digital consumers is that they leave “fingerprints” everywhere, so there’s a wealth of behavioral insight available to you for analysis and planning. When you know when, where and how your customers communicate, you can plan to be there first. And you’ll discover where you need to reallocate resources to ensure coverage and availability.

2.    Roll Out New Channels One at a Time. You’ve done all that research to find the right channels—take the time to make sure your initial customer experiences are positive ones. Make sure your agents are trained and ready to take on the new channel or channels. And if you haven’t considered it before, consider adding a knowledge base as a channel. Customers are increasingly turning to self-service before making contact, and a robust knowledge base can facilitate self-service and save both the customer and agent time. And as we all know, time equals money.

3.    Implement the Right Tools and Technologies to Make Customer Service and Support on Multiple Channels Both Simple and Manageable. This can be a tough one. You’ll need a scalable platform that supports every channel: phone, email, live chat, SMS, social and whatever comes next. Ideally, every channel will be viewable and accessible on one screen for seamless pivots. And the platform you choose must be easy for agents to use. There are few things more frustrating than being put on hold or having to wait because the system is moving slowly (or the agent is having trouble accessing what is needed to help the customer). Eliminate both agent and customer frustration to make simple, seamless, satisfying interactions the norm.

The Potential Pitfalls of Omnichannel

You already know that customer expectations are sky-high. Tech-savvy customers who want will not hesitate to slam you online – and mainstream media is tuning in looking for a good headliner.  So you should also make your teams aware that there are different expectations with different contact channels. People expect some time on hold when calling a company, but there’s an expectation for faster responses with SMS. Customers are used to waiting 24 hours for an email response, but that won’t fly on Twitter. Tell customers when they can expect a response. Maybe it’s a recording on a call noting the number of minutes until an agent answers, or an auto-reply to a tweet thanking them for reaching out and someone will follow up that day—something to let them know they are in the queue. And make sure your agents understand the timeliness required for responses on each channel.

The best rule of thumb is to “do unto others.” In other words, respond as quickly as you would personally like to receive a response – we’re all customers after all.  Make that your goal and work to achieve it, consistently and on every channel.

The reality is that omnichannel service is difficult to do well.  Even multi-million dollar companies struggle to support multiple channels, so they often focus on just a few where they can be successful, and they are maniacally data-driven when it comes to determining which channel to roll out next.

Remember – this isn’t really about you at all.  It’s all about the customer.  So be methodical and think long-term.  Don’t let the hype push you move to quickly or in a manner that sets you and your customers up for disappointment.  That would defeat the entire purpose.

Listen to your customers. Do your research. Get your tools and technologies in place. Make sure your team is prepared.  Then go do what you do best:  make the world just a little bit brighter, one experience at a time.