Meeting Today's Customer Expectations Means Taking a Multichannel CRM Approach

Customer Experience
Customer Experience
Any time of year, but especially at the holidays, businesses must embrace multichannel CRM to best serve customers.

The holidays are a notoriously busy time, but few businesses feel the hustle and bustle of the season more than retailers and their customer support systems. With Web traffic, contact center interactions, and general service inquiries seen doubling in the months surrounding the holidays, anything these companies can do to deliver quicker, more informative answers to customer questions is valuable during this high-volume time.

Complicating matters, however, is the fact that customers are interacting with companies through an ever-increasing number of channels, including the Web, email, live chat, and phone, as well as emerging social channels, such as discussion forums, Facebook, and Twitter. An intelligent, multichannel CRM strategy is therefore becoming a necessity.

The advantage of such an approach is that it allows customers to interact with the company through the medium they are most comfortable with or that is most convenient for them. There are a number of key factors to consider in rolling out a multichannel CRM strategy, such analyzing usage trends to identify and right-channel inquiries to the most appropriate sources; automating and routing these channels; and ensuring that you have a solid knowledgebase in place that is able to get answers from a range of information sources. But there are other, perhaps less obvious, aspects to also consider that will ultimately impact success.

Regardless of the channel customers use, misunderstanding or misdiagnosing a customer's question or issue will negatively impact a company's ability to deliver quick, relevant answers. This will lead to an increase in repeat inquiries and overall poor customer experiences. This holds true whether an agent is helping a customer via voice, email, chat, or social sites, or even when the customer is searching for answers on a company's website without agent assistance.

One way to overcome this is by supplementing CRM solutions with software designed to interpret customer intent that can easily interface with existing CRM desktops, allowing agents to understand not only what the customer is asking, but why they have that particular question and what questions they will most likely ask next. By understanding not only the customer question, but also the underlying problem, the agent is better equipped to give information-rich answers that can solve the immediate issue at hand, as well as avoid potential future problems.

This applies to Web self-service, too. It's not enough for search functionality to simply return adequate results based on the exact words a customer searched for; instead, it should also be able to understand what the customer meant to search for, or the underlying issue the customer is trying to solve, based on the way the person posed the question, what we know about them in a CRM system, and an analysis of what other people have searched for in the past.

Interpreting intent also makes it easier for the agent to ask the right questions, in addition to giving the right answers. Agents are more able to quickly get at the root cause of a problem and solicit information from the customer that advances the resolution of the issue. This time savings not only helps to improve agent efficiency, but it also results in a more positive service experience for the consumer, who is given more relevant information more quickly.

The ability of agents to share knowledge with each other, both across and within channels, is an important aspect of the multichannel approach. This ensures consistent service and eliminates the need to reinvent answers within business units or across channel divisions. Developing and sharing best practices for an emerging product issue or even something unique to the holiday season now becomes the immediate focus for the new collaborative workplace. For agents in this situation, access to and delivery of just-in-time knowledge is key. When an agent is able to gain insight into a common issue or question, they need the ability to quickly share their ideas in the context of their daily workflow.

Knowledge tools integrated at the desktop are not only helpful for assisting customers, but are also useful for real-time collaboration and knowledge sharing. Ideas and best practices can often come from people outside your organization. Crowd-sourcing knowledge has become a new social way for customers to help other customers using collaborative discussion forums to exchange peer information. At a time when your transaction volume is doubling but your staff volume isn't, embracing social forums to turn crowd-sourced conversations into reusable knowledge is a welcomed efficiency.

The holidays are an important time of year for many businesses - it should not be the time of increased service delays or decreased customer satisfaction. Understanding the consumer's true intent and using appropriate tools to intelligently connect people to the answers they are looking will foster confidence in your workforce, increase your capacity to service more customers, and create a customer experience that is sure to spread some needed holiday cheer.

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About the Author: Chris Hall is vice president of marketing at InQuira