By Andrew Kokes,
Global marketing leader,
HGS

Communication is evolving. It is no longer enough to interact with customers through voice and email. Today’s customers are turning to alternate channels for queries and purchases.

Millennials are now the largest working demographic. This massive pool of wage-earning, digital natives, according to Pew Research, not only prefers text messaging, social media and online videos over phone calls for business communications, but they are more likely to give preference to companies that support those channels, even if those businesses aren’t the cheapest. In fact, millennials said they are more likely to renew purchases, join a loyalty program and leave a positive review if a business supports their preferred channels. That’s right: They will buy from digital savvy businesses without competing on price.

Why, then, aren’t companies providing the channels that customers prefer?

A recent HGS-sponsored survey of customer experience (CX) executives commissioned by my company revealed that voice (64%) and email (46%) are very important to resolving customer issues. Only 24% view chat as very important to resolving customer issues, 9% view SMS/text as very important and just 4% see video as very important. This data highlights a fundamental gap between what companies are providing and what customers want.

Some company executives acknowledge that preferences are shifting. The same survey revealed that 39% believe that adopting/unifying channels is their most important future performance consideration. However, 82% describe the prospect of expanding as difficult.

Let’s, for a moment, examine the barriers to digital transformation and consider three actionable ideas for bridging the omnichannel gap.

1. Break down silos and engage the resources that lead to an integrated, omnichannel experience.

Integrated communication starts with engaging the right talent and creating a united team. Artificial separations between customer service and marketing, teams dedicated to specific channels and contact types, and teams created around software are likely affecting your ability to unify the CX.

To promote brand consistency, consider taking cues from outsourcers. Apply the same successful processes and job descriptions when hiring. Ensure there are common training modules across channels, departments and offices.

Engage technology specialists who can see the big picture and integrate platforms. Designate your CRM tool as your hub and leverage APIs to integrate technologies ― and then teams.

Finally, a chief customer officer (CCO) can work wonders. CCOs can overcome cross-departmental obstacles and enable customers to start, stop and continue inquiries whenever and however convenient.

2. Understand your customers’ channel preferences.

Customers multitask, use a number of devices and move. It’s important to understand when and how they are likely to engage with you.

Data can help you optimize UX based on customer preferences. Analytics related to past interactions can inform future interactions, affect which channels are offered and highlight where humans versus bots should be implemented. According to the HGS-sponsored survey, though, barely half of companies are using analytics for digital transformation.

A pilot project ― for a product, language, query type or season ― powered by data can confirm customer channels of interest.

3. Strengthen your brand strategy across all channels.

Customer convenience, comfort and control come first. Customers want to be in charge of managing services and buying products. Make it easy for them. Ensure brand visuals and messaging provide clear direction. Use logos, colors, fonts, tone and terminology consistently. Introduce a knowledge base that all voice, email, chat, SMS/text, front counter and social agents use. Helpful agents with information at their fingertips win customer confidence.

On paper, these three ideas may sound easy, but there’s truth to the survey results ― channel pivoting can be difficult to implement. Bridging the gap can take time and often requires investment in talent, training, technology and other resources. There are ways to make this transition easier:

• To minimize staff time to introduce a new channel, outsource or hire a consultant. Service vendors, as innovation hubs, can incubate new ideas via proof of concept. Separating the day to day from special projects enables you to apply discrete criteria to evaluate success.

• To limit costs, increase self-service options or automated responses. Self-service platforms (e.g., FAQs, how-to videos, peer-to-peer communities) and chat offerings, for example, enable customers to take more control and balance costs. In my experience, self-service solutions and chatbots can be introduced within 60 to 90 days.

• To maintain service levels as you add new channels, implement them one at a time. For a manufacturer of luxury vehicles, my company began with voice and email in seven languages. Later, the team added chat. Even later, video chat helped to overcome language and accent challenges.

Executives deem competing on CX as strategic. Customers think companies are doing a poor job of interacting. Looking at companies on the Fortune 500 list 60 years ago, 88% are now out of business. Why did they fail? Closing the gaps between customer expectations and business realities is a constant struggle. Closing the omnichannel gap can increase competitiveness and inspire the customer-centric focus that is critical to business survival.

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