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Before diving into multichannel strategies, get your house in order

Companies that don't develop processes and internal structures for handling their multichannel strategy can fall short on serving customers through multiple communication channels.

Companies are rushing headlong into multichannel customer service because their customers are rushing there even faster, experts say. In this "age of the customer," as Forrester Research analyst Kate Leggett has characterized it, companies need to be ready to serve customers according to the customers' preferences.

Communication mediums have become prime examples of this shift. Multichannel strategies enable companies to serve customers wherever they are and according to their preferences -- whether consumers communicate via a company's website, via email, by text message or social media platform. As the channels of communication proliferate and as customers turn to them over traditional phone calls, this approach to customer service has often become a matter of company survival.

Brent LearyBrent Leary

But experts like Brent Leary, a founder and partner at CRM Essentials LLC, agree that many companies have gotten aboard the multichannel train without really thinking through their next steps or aligning their channel processes and strategies with the rest of the company structure. As a result, companies that dive too quickly without examining internal structure are often doomed to failure. Trying to connect data and communication between channels is difficult enough, but it becomes impossible when a company's departments don't share information and communicate well.

Often, companies that view multichannel as a matter of simply hiring staff to respond to Facebook and Twitter rather than a planned strategy can get lost in a sea of tweets and comments without really addressing customer issues and creating the right customer experience. Customers expect that they shouldn't have to repeat account and order information as they get bounced around between departments, Leary said. "It gets frustrating. You start feeling like, 'Does this company even know me?' And that is the last thing you want to have a customer start thinking," he said.

As companies look internally at their structure, processes, communication gaps and workflows, they can start to make the necessary connections to build multichannel strategies that connect data between communication points and get the necessary teams involved -- and trained to handle the information. "In a short amount of time, it's become critical to address this [problem]," Leary said. "What experiences are we trying to create for customers? How real-time do they need to be? What are the expectations of a tweet versus an email use case versus a phone use case? Are they different? If you don't go through that analysis and use case development, you may be opening yourself up to a huge problem. And as we know, problems on the Internet can go viral very quickly."

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