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The One Thing Companies Must Do Right: Omnichannel or Die

Spotlight on Operations: Join Bob at ICMI Contact Center Connections from October 28-30 in Chicago. He'll be speaking in session 106: "The Future of Engagement: What You Need to Know." 

I recently had one of those customer service experiences that I knew I would write about in the end. It was disjointed, policy-driven and clear proof as to why companies like Amazon, who does omnichannel and digital channels very well, are putting pressure on all industries - to be better or die!

When buying a gift for my wife, I settled on Disney luggage (yes, we are those people). I searched on Google, which took me to a nationally recognized brand. I found what I thought was the perfect piece of luggage and clicked BUY. When the package arrived, it was much larger than I thought - who knew that the difference between a 24 inch and a 28 inch was the difference between a toaster and a car. I went back to their website and clicked returns. The site clicked through to a page that would not load.

Omnichannel customer service

Next, I called the 800 number. The agent was friendly but told me, "oh, that page does not work right, just print out your order receipt and ship it back to us at this address." I asked, how do I get a return UPS label. She said, "oh, we don't pay for shipping." "What?" I asked, "what do you mean you don't do labels - and I have to pay for return?" My brain is thinking: when I order from Amazon, that is not the experience?

She told me, "oh we don't do that - that is not our policy…"

It was clear that doing business with this national chain was not what I expected. Like any socially active customer, I went to Twitter and shared my unexpected experience. I immediately received a return tweet and a direct message from what turned out to be an entirely different team. They said, "we can help…" She went on to explain that she would "send an email to the customer service team and get everything fixed."

Eight direct messages, three public tweets and four emails later, I finally received a UPS label to allow me to return the item - and order the right size.

This story is the perfect example of why you - and our industry - have to start getting omnichannel right! We have been talking about it for at least eight years. And this story is an example of a major brand that is still not doing it right. I applaud them for engaging on social media - but did you catch that the agent responding to my Tweet had to email other agents in customer service to take care of the problem? Not a synced omni (single channel) experience - but a completely out of sync experience.

What does it take to get omnichannel right? Let's explore five steps:

1.    Inventory what you have, what you need and the engagement experience for each one. Success hint: you have to be where your customers are already. Consider text messaging, chat, in-app service and social messaging (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) - and of course the paths of typical channels like IVR, telephony, and email.

2.    Ensure that your CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system can manage cases effectively - across all channels! Allow agents that may be segmented by channel to at least engage and interact - treat me as one customer and one case - with escalations, SLAs and entitlements all blending into the agent experience (so the customer never feels like they are being bounced around).

3.    As a starting point, create journey maps of your top 10 customer interactions. Live the experience across all of your channels. If the COO or CMO of the luggage company knew how bad my customer journey was, I have to believe they would fix it immediately. Measure your success against your most recent experience with Amazon or other consumer retailers. Even if you are a B2B company, the people calling your contact center are comparing their experience with your company to their best experience across both B2B and B2C.

4.    Discover how you can update key transactions to offer them digitally. If you are a B2C retail company, the refund process is pretty important. As my son says, "Who wants to call a contact center? Why would I want to talk to customer service?"

5.    Prepare your agents for the new world of digital self-help. Ensure they can pick up a conversation after the customer has tried the digital channel. Make sure they understand the customer journey and where the customer might opt-out to a human.

6.    Explore how you can prepare to engage in the next big thing in our industry - AI. At Bluewolf, an IBM company, we see AI as being more about augmented intelligence instead of artificial intelligence. While doing the basics of omnichannel are the first step, we believe AI will improve service in at least three ways.  One: a more consistent experience (AI-assisted digital channels become more effective); two: AI will change the agent experience - integrating with Knowledge to bring the answer forward, not just a link to the content or article; three: Provide the ability to gather data from the customer on digital channels and then pass the interaction to a human with context and data.

After more than 15 interactions, I was finally able to solve my luggage gift problem. I can only assume that the major brand is working to improve their customer service. As a customer, I can only hope that omnichannel success is at the top of their list - and yours.