Make Integration Top Priority for Multi-channel Customer Experience

Ann All
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11 Best Practices for Online Chat Sales and Customer Service

Online chat is gaining attention as an effective customer service delivery method.

I wrote a post titled "Why Most Customer Service Sucks" last January. It's attracted a spate of comments in recent months, two of them from folks who identify themselves as customer service representatives, one working for Best Buy and the other for AT&T. Both of their comments help illustrate my point that companies often don't give front-line service representatives the appropriate information, policies and procedures they need to provide good service.


I'm with my IT Business Edge colleague Loraine Lawson in believing that better data integration would go a long way toward improving customer service, particularly when it comes to serving customers who do business in more than one channel. (And which customers don't, these days? My mom may be the only person I know who has never bought a product or service off the Internet. She actually has, indirectly, by having me do the actual mouse clicking while she peers over my shoulder at the PC.)


In her post, Loraine cites a survey done by several academics who found organizations derived a great deal of CRM value by adhering to four key integration practices: integrating more data sources, integrating offline data with online data, integrating external data and using an enterprise data warehouse or CRM-specific data repository to consolidate customer data.


In another post, Loraine cites an article that shows how some companies are making customer data a priority by integrating their CRM systems, websites, call centers and other channels. The article mentions UK retailer John Lewis, which credits an effective multi-channel strategy for helping boost its sales 24 percent during 2009's recession-whipped economy.


A proactive multi-channel strategy still seems to be the exception rather than the rule, however, judging by an Econsultancy survey that found just 3 percent of respondents describing their multi-channel customer experiences as "excellent," and 24 percent admitting they are "poor" or "very poor." Though the survey focuses on the online customer experience, it offers several interesting data points related to multi-channel strategies (or lack thereof). Among them:

  • Less than half of respondents, 49 percent, say they have processes in place to prioritize and rectify problems and issues customers face online.
  • Respondents estimate 15 percent of total inbound calls involve website problems. Despite this, 68 percent fail to give call center agents access to information about customers' online experiences.
  • Though 86 percent of respondents say call center agents are able to escalate website issues to the appropriate personnel, just 36 percent of them measure the extent to which the problems are resolved.


The survey also assigns staggering dollar figures, 14 billion (U.S. $22.5 billion) in the UK and $50 billion in the U.S., to the amount of online revenue it says companies lose each year due to providing sub-par customer experiences and failing to understand why customers abandon Web purchases. To the latter point, the survey found 78 percent of companies don't know why customers bail out of purchases without actually buying the items in their online shopping carts.


A CSM article about the survey includes this quote from EConsultancy CEO Ashley Friedlein:

... As the online channel becomes increasingly valuable for business, it is vital for companies to ensure the customer journey is as pain-free and seamless as possible. Companies that fail to put in place the technology and processes necessary to improve online experiences will miss out on this growing financial potential.

I was pleased to see Friedlein's mention of both processes and technology. I fear some companies make no effort to use the data they collect to improve the customer experience and may continue to focus on sales vs. overall experience, without understanding the connection between the two.


Remember the Why Most Customer Service Sucks post I mentioned in my first paragraph? A reader named George, who says he is employed by a company that provides customer service for AT&T Mobility customers, mentions a script he uses for calls that requires him, among other things, to say the customer's name twice and thank them for their business three times. He implies, and I agree, that this doesn't help him solve customer problems. I've been frustrated several times myself by agents offering obviously canned responses as they passed me off to other agents, referred me back to online instructions I'd already followed, etc.

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