Forget about Omnichannel hype when your Basic Customer Service Sucks


Everyone is talking about how to get to the right strategy for omnichannel customer communications, yet no one really knows what it means. First of all, let’s just get it out there that omnichannel is one of those terms everyone loves to hate.  It’s ubiquitous, it’s vague, and it’s a misnomer– “omni” is impossible and customers don’t think in terms of channels.  That said, omnichannel is an aspirational goal pointing many service providers and enterprises in the right direction toward really getting customer experience right.  So with that in mind, it has become my mission to dissect the subject, get past the hype, and figure out where the opportunities lie for the services industry.  

The keys to creating an omnichannel experience are the following: 

  • Non-creepy Individualization: “We know the name of your cat because we stalk your Facebook updates” (we’ve seen these creepy mistakes backfire bigtime). And please stop talking about customer “intimacy.”  Customers don’t want you to be intimate with them, they just want to be acknowledged as individuals (especially those self-centered millennials), and for you to know their buying patterns and preferences.  This is part of the Amazonization of the consumer experience that just isn’t going away anytime soon – and striking the right balance is essential.
  • Simplicity: Making it easy for the customer to do business with you is at the heart of customer satisfaction.  More than anything, customers want want to be able to get information, interact, and buy products and services easily, without jumping through hoops.  Our “one-click” ordering culture has raised the bar for the way we expect to get things done.  Look at reservation systems for example—why should I have to call, sit on hold, and speak to a person when I could simply use an online scheduling system? 
  • Consistency: Whether it’s about product pricing and discounting, visual design or cultural feel, it’s crucial to the omnichannel experience to have consistency across devices, physical experiences and interactions.  Making a brand one that customers relate to and develop an affinity with goes a long way toward generating loyalty.  Apple for example, has done this well with creating an in-store and online consistent experience as well as developed a culture that people want to be a part of.  

Executing on these concepts is no easy task, involving many facets of the organization, and most companies are coming nowhere near these ideals. One of the biggest opportunities, and yet most troubling elements of this omnichannel notion is where contact center fits into the paradigm.  The conversations consumers have with businesses are at the heart of creating a differentiated experience, but let’s face it, right now contact centers are not pivoting to be strategic differentiators.   Most of us deal with this pain regularly in our personal lives.  Just last week I called my bank with a simple question (which could have likely been answered via self-service), was transferred and repeated information 3 times before I even reached the right department.  As much promise as there is for a utopian omnichannel world, most are struggling with the basics.

The Bottom-line: work on fixing broken customer service (keeping the goal of omnichannel in mind)

Contact center service providers are acutely aware of these opportunities and desperately trying to carve out an omnichannel story and capabilities.  As we noted in our recent Contact Center Operations Blueprint, while many of the pilots and messages are spot on, client adoption is low and stories of omnichannel success are few and far between.  Many buyers are just grappling with implementing digital channels, and a total redesign of customer experience is far too daunting.  Service providers need to help their clients (with the goals of personalization, consistency and simplicity in mind), to start making some real changes in bite sized pieces to improve customer experience. Instead of trying to “delight and surprise” the customer at every turn, just taking some basic steps to make customers’ lives easier could go a long way.  Omnichannel is the future of customer experience (or whatever the next buzzword that encapsulates a seamless customer journey may be), and one of the biggest steps toward that is a clear and focused contact center strategy.

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