Our interactions with businesses are increasingly taking place online and now in most cases you can expect to find the information at the click of a button. Failing that, you might turn to a website’s live chat to find your answer. It’s likely that you’d try both of these methods, if offered, before considering making a call or sending an email.
The ways customers prefer to interact with businesses have changed significantly over the past five years. Whilst face to face or over the phone sales were previously the norm, we’re now faced with a multitude of possibilities, including social media, e-commerce, instant messaging and toll-free web-based calling.
We’re fast becoming an ‘always connected’ society, and amongst its benefits for us as consumers, it can pile on the pressure for businesses to provide services and support on a 24/7 basis and extend their reach to a number of different channels. However, simply adopting a multichannel approach isn’t enough.
Imagine, for instance, a customer browsing your webstore interacts with a live chat assistant, who offers a special discount. The customer returns a couple of days later, having decided to go ahead with the purchase, and not sure how to go about applying the discount, emails the sales team. They receive no reply. A couple of days later, they call customer service to be informed that there is no record of their live chat exchange and no such discount is being offered. This is enough to make a customer change their mind about the product and even their choice of supplier.
Poor experiences like these highlight the importance on the omnichannel approach; integrating different channels to provide a more seamless, intuitive and unified experience. So how can you make sure you’re nurturing positive customer experiences through all of your communication channels?
Break down barriers between internal and external communications
In many cases, businesses run separate systems for customer-to-business comms and colleague-to-colleague comms. Providing seamless support for customers can largely be helped by providing a seamless back-end experience for your sales staff to improve the quality of internal communications. Integrating both of these systems allows information to be shared and communicated faster. For example, if a customer called with a query but you needed some information from the finance department to answer, usually you’d need to put the customer on hold while you obtain the information from your colleague. An integrated approach would allow the information to be shared in real time to minimise the time customers spend waiting. With an accurate and frequently-updated CRM or similar tool, you ensure all employees are ‘singing from the same hymn sheet’ so customers are given the correct information when they need it.
Or you could go a step further and allow customers to self-service their information requirements. A Statista survey of the different channels UK consumers use to interact with businesses found that more than half of respondents prefer to use self-service portals and one in five said they use online communities and forums to find what they need. Providing informative website resources can alleviate the pressure on your customer service team and requires digital and marketing strategies to be aligned closely with your communications strategy; adding a whole new dimension to your integration.
While you can adopt a wider range of platforms to give customers more choice about how they interact with you, you cannot control the brand of app or platform they use to get in touch. Unlike the simplicity of traditional telephony, users on one app cannot speak directly to a user on another. You can’t send a message from Whatsapp, for example, directly to a user on Facebook chat. However, this should not be seen as a barrier. Increasingly, businesses are adopting collaboration platforms such as Microsoft Teams to combine elements such as email, web conferencing, social media, video, document sharing, instant messaging and more so operations can be handled smoothly from one platform. APIs and open architecture development are also becoming the norm as more vendors are prioritising the ability to plug in multiple channels. Not only does this future-proof your solution to some extent, but also allows customers to get in touch and interact with you how they like and receive the same quality response, regardless of their chosen platform.
The importance of effective staff training should not be overlooked. In a bid to adopt more channels and keep up with competitors, it can be tempting to add new channels to the mix as fast as possible, which can lead to staff training lagging behind implementation. However, customers will not excuse below-par or inadequate service just because you’re able to answer their query over a different platform. It’s vital that staff have a comprehensive understanding of every new tool, platform and feature they’re expected to use so they’re able to provide a quality and consistent customer experience. In an age where delivery drivers and service engineers are expected to text customers arrival times and discuss arrangements, this stems beyond just training employees on the logistics of the technology they’ll be using. You may also want to consider training your workforce on customer-facing etiquette and interaction.
Embrace cloud technology
The diversification of comms channels can pose daunting technical and logistical obstacles for businesses, yet cloud technology has helped many organisations overcome them. Offering quicker and simpler deployment of the latest communication technologies, the cloud allows businesses to implement new programmes and developments much more easily when the time comes to adopt a new channel or scale up. Being able to run services remotely from a data centre simply using an internet connection removes the need for manual updates and installs, enabling your business to take a more strategic view and prioritise service quality and customer experience.
With more programmes, apps, updates and features coming into use every day, keeping up with communications technologies is no mean feat. However, adopting an omnichannel approach is simply a case of worker smarter, not harder. Not only does omnichannel make operations simpler and more efficient across the business, but it allows both customers and employers to have full visibility and control over communications across multiple channels, reaping the benefits for productivity, customer-business relations, and crucially, your bottom line.
Terry Cocker, proposition manager, M247
Matt Clegg, voice solutions architect, M247
Image Credit: M247