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GUEST COMMENT Delivering ‘omnichannel’ in a new age of customer amplification

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Today’s technological shift to multi-channel customer support or ‘omnichannel’ is being driven by customers as they increasingly use multiple technologies and expect businesses to do the same. This evolution means that all the ways customers may reach you for service and support – from ‘phone and email, to newer technologies including social media, knowledge bases, communities and live chat tools – should offer seamless customer service.

Delivering the omnichannel experience correctly with a ‘one face of the brand’ approach will increase the efficiency of your organisation, customer satisfaction and generate new sales opportunities. But mishandled, or insufficiently addressed, and you run the risk of being left behind.

But providing a consistent omnichannel experience across all shopping channels – from email, to phone, chat, or on social media – whilst empowering consumers, is also a big challenge for any retailer. What’s more, when businesses get customer service wrong, the voice of the consumer has never been louder. Customers not only have the power and volume to bring you greater business, but also to drive it away, via recommendations or rants on social media. This is the new age of customer amplification.

It’s no surprise then that switched on retailers such as Next and John Lewis have put omnichannel at the heart of their marketing operations, across call channels from advertising to customer service and currently the businesses that are also delivering the best financial results.

Research conducted for Zendesk revealed that globally, 67% of customers admit to using more than one platform before deciding on a purchase. But only 7% were extremely satisfied with the omnichannel customer service offered to them by brands, with the great majority, 87%, believing that brands must work harder to create a seamless customer service.

Businesses which do get it right not only win financially, but also in terms of brand advocacy. One in three shopping admits to spending more money when customer service is excellent. Then, 82% would use a company again if they’ve received excellent customer service and 62% would recommend it to friends or family.

Most, if not all, online shoppers will be using email, smart phones and at least one social platform. These connected, tech-savvy consumers know that it should be possible to create seamless customer service across every touchpoint within the customer channel. Internet retailers need to make sure that their customers receive the same level of service, however the initial touch is made – more than 37% of consumer in the research said that they would like to speak to the same representative, regardless of which channel they are using.

So online retailers need to give customer service teams’ access to the channels they want to provide support to, and make it easy for them. If a consumer gets one answer on Twitter and a different answer on email it quickly destroys trust and will clearly show that you don’t know what you’re doing. Use the same team for all channels – and not dedicated ‘social media ninjas’ (only handling social networking channels and no other customer service which normally results in inconsistent messages).

Today’s customers want help and support wherever they are and through which every channel they choose – and now. Mobile technology has transformed the way consumers live their lives, and the pace. Easy and immediate access to information 24 hours a day is the new norm. Consumers have become used to interacting with friends and acquaintances online and with these experiences permeating their personal life, the more they want and expect the same experience from brands.

Speed is also increasingly of the essence in building trust in the omnichannel experience. While people expect different response times depending on the channel they reach you through, generally the faster you respond the happier they’ll be, especially with a customer service issue.

The suggested response timing on social media is a maximum of a couple of hours, while phone and chat requests should be answered in minutes and emails should take a maximum of 24 hours. Social media requirements are becoming quicker as more and more people see them as live conversations.

Internet retailing means most of your customers will be browsing and buying when it suits them – which will often be at night. So you need to be there when they are – usual office hours are increasingly become a thing of the past, so you may need to shift your hours of customer service to provide help later rather than earlier.

Digitally, retailers need to understand the channels and where your customers are – with over 2000 active social networking sites around the world as well as online-live chat and more traditional customer channels you need to listen and understand where you need to be. Listen first. Detail where customers are talking about you, what they are saying, and if they need a response. The channels you market on most are likely to be the highest volume channels, but look for any others too.

Next, now the biggest fashion retail on the high street, has become the king of omnichannel. Throughout its expansion from catalogue retailer and high street to multi-channel operator – online, retail, mobile and tablet – it has kept the needs of their customer and how they shop front of mind. Whether you email them, Tweet @Nexthelp, post on their Facebook wall, call (or ask them to call you), any customer will get a helpful, friendly response in minutes. The company views social media as an enabler of direct communication between customers and the company, they own those social channels, are easy to find and respond quickly and efficiently to solve customer service issues.

Social media is exactly that, social; so when people reach out to you businesses need to engage with them honestly and openly. Drive proactive not just reactive customer conversations. Listen, listen, and listen again to valuable feedback and view every conversation as an opportunity. Getting this right can generate goodwill not as readily available in more traditional channels along with a whole community of extremely influential and loyal brand ambassadors who will independently champion your products and service, from best-sellers to new product launches.

These open and honest conversations across social media are just as important across traditional channels and helpdesks. Customers are people and they want to speak to people that will listen, understand and respond in an appropriate and human way. Don’t encourage employees to be robots, trust them to speak for themselves and make the right decision for the customer. Getting teams to rely on scripts and ‘approved’ answers can often get in the way of good customer service, rather than help it.

As the younger generations adopt new and ever greater numbers of communication channels, omnichannel is here to stay. Increasingly, these consumers will abandon traditional channels in favour of online and increasingly social channels and want to communicate using IM, Skype and Twitter – while sharing their experiences via social media. In this new age of customer amplification, brands that consistently get it right and keep pace with these customer expectations will ensure they are successful not only now, but in the future.

Nick Peart is marketing director EMEA, for Zendesk

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