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Effective multichannel CRM requires sharing, attention to security

CRM pros explain what it takes to maintain a single view of the customer -- regardless of how that customer chooses to contact a business.

As director of the workplace services call center at financial firm Deloitte Services, Gerry Barber has seen contact center trends come and go. In the 1970s, call center workers were mostly unionized, he recalled, and today the ranks of call centers have become more diverse, multilingual and tech-savvy. He thinks "the next big thing" is the move toward multichannel CRM.

Multichannel customer service is all about allowing customers to contact companies through all available means -- whether it's through social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, mobile apps, company websites or the good, old-fashioned telephone. It's also about making sure the customer has one identity regardless of which -- or how many -- communications channels they use.

Effective multichannel CRM strategies offer many benefits. They give customers more flexibility and help organizations create brand loyalty. But achieving success can mean reorganizing how customer service duties are performed. Traditionally, when customers needed help from a company, there was one way of getting it. They simply called and spoke with a customer service representative. Sure, some people sent letters to the customer service department, but the vast majority of requests took place over the phone. In the days before decentralized customer services teams, remote employees and cloud computing, keeping track of customer data was also much simpler. All a company needed was a server and a place to put it.

Modern companies cannot assume that customers want to reach them by phone. According to industry experts and CRM professionals, companies need to be flexible and let customers contact them on their own terms -- via email, chat, SMS, social networks or through a mobile application. And they must track all customer interactions to provide contact center agents with a single view of each customer

"Multichannel customer service is still in its infancy," said Nicolas de Kouchkovsky, analyst and operator of CaCube Consulting, a business development consultancy in San Francisco. "You can no longer optimize a single channel in isolation. Providing a consistent experience across those channels and understanding the journey clients and prospects are going to go through is very, very important."

The best multichannel strategies are based on a philosophy of sharing, according to Nathan Pepper, a cloud developer at legal document provider LegalZoom.com and the founder of the Los Angeles Force.com, a Salesforce CRM developer group.

As customer service requests come in through various channels, various departments may be tasked with responding. According to Pepper, departments need to share that information to avoid creating information siloes.

Pepper described a state of utter confusion at his former employer, Guidance Software, a vendor of computer forensics applications in the Los Angeles area. Guidance had two separate sales teams. Because the groups didn't communicate and each one considered leads private, customers were often given two files. Pepper said he spent more time reorganizing and cleaning up data than doing the job he was supposed to be doing -- customizing Salesforce applications. This scenario plays out daily in customer service and sales departments where poor logging of customer contact takes place, and, in a multichannel business, such practices pose a real problem. While helping customers resolve issues is always a part of their job descriptions, many reps find it difficult or inconvenient to log each interaction because of time constraints. 

For more on mulitchannel CRM

Building a multichannel contact center

Multichannel integration: It's coming

Being able to keep the data organized, available to all teams and safe in a multichannel customer service culture is becoming a differentiator between mediocre customer service and world-class customer service, according to David Loshin, president of Knowledge Integrity Inc., a Maryland-based IT consultancy.

"Not having the right information available is definitely going to contribute to a negative customer experience," Loshin said. "You want to maximize the opportunity for creative value at every touch point."

It's also important to remember that each industry has its own rules and, regardless of its universal appeal, customer data shouldn't be available to everyone in an organization, according to Frank Eliason, director of global social media for financial services titan Citigroup Inc. To be safe, Eliason frequently deals in demographical data that has been made anonymous. That's how he likes it.

To increase security and minimize the risk of a data leak, Eliason said, companies should let employees from various departments access nothing more than the information they need to do their jobs well. While sharing is necessary and important, providing too much information to the wrong employee can lead to trouble, he said.

Eliason points out that the European Union has been a leader in developing strict privacy controls and standards and that other nations would do well to emulate them. 

"We're living in a global world," he said. "I think companies are going to have to get clearer about what data they're using and how they're using it."

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