11 Best Practices for Online Chat Sales and Customer Service
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As I wrote two weeks ago, some companies are beginning to see the idea of a consistent customer experience offered across all channels, including the Web, contact centers and social networks, as a competitive differentiator. Yet many of them struggle to deliver this unified customer experience. Too often companies maintain all the data, processes and technologies associated with each channel in individual silos. So if a customer interacts with a company on the Web, either on a corporate website or via Facebook, that information most likely won't be available to agents in the call center.
Can the cloud help companies break down these silos? Jason Mittelstaedt, chief marketing officer for RightNow Technologies, certainly thinks so. (And it's not surprising, given the cloud-based nature of his company's flagship CX software. Sure, a fair amount of what he said during our recent interview was mostly about promoting RightNow products. (I think every journalist dies a little inside when he/she hears, "Our core value proposition is ...") But plenty of it also makes good sense.
The cloud's flexibility and scalability allow companies to respond quickly to growing customer activity in different channels without making a big upfront investment, Mittelstaedt told me:
[The cloud] gives you flexibility on so many fronts. There's configuration and the adoption of the technology that allows you to engage on a new channel. With a lot of these channels, it's difficult to predict the volume of interactions. When you're getting started on Twitter, you don't know if you'll have a hundred interactions or a hundred thousand. So the inherent scalability of a cloud platform is important.
The only way to get that kind of flexibility from an on-premise solution is to "dramatically overbuy," he added, purchasing more servers and software licenses than needed to try to stay ahead of customer usage.
The cloud also offers a greater rate of innovation, with cloud-based software undergoing frequent changes to accommodate market shifts. That's important, he said, given the "incredible" pace of consumer change:
When you're talking about anything that touches the consumer, you need to be able to innovate and adapt rapidly.
The cloud also makes it relatively easy to integrate customer-facing data. And at least initially, the information that directly touches the customer is what counts, Mittelstaedt told me:
... These backend systems are complicated. Many aren't going anywhere soon. So I think first you focus on what is customer-facing. You can bring much together through a consistent experience layer without going and unplugging all these back-office systems. You want to leverage integration technology to pull it together into a unified front. Many organizations have a history of spending a lot of time and money in the back office. It's important, but I think the customer experience imperative is the customer-facing experience. When you see the statistics about the number of customers that leave companies because of bad experiences, every day that you delay doing something to improve the customer-facing experience is a day that you have customers defecting.
In a follow-up email Mittelstaedt shared several interesting statistics from a RightNow-sponsored Harris Interactive survey, including one that helped illustrate his point about the possible loss of customers: Eighty-two percent of respondents said they'd stopped doing business with an organization due to a poor customer experience. (I'm among them. Tip: Don't ask me why I never fly United unless you want to hear a story that ends with me in a profanity-laden meltdown at O'Hare.) Seventy-nine percent of respondents told others about it -- like I just did. Facebook and Twitter make it oh-so-easy to do so.