CSE Day 3 Speakers Say Omnichannel Customer Service Remains Elusive

WASHINGTON -- Only 3 percent of all companies can start a customer interaction on one channel and seamlessly move to another channel, while still maintaining all the context of the previous interactions, Kate Leggett, a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, reported during her morning keynote to open the third day of the Customer Service Experience conference.

"We have a long way to go to allow customers to have easy, effective communications with companies," she said.

Customers, she added, expect their communications with companies to be "easy, effective, and emotional," but few companies can deliver on all three.

As for the easy part, "customers just want to get quick answers to their questions and get on with their day," regardless of the channel, she said.

Jeff Toister, president of Toister Performance Solutions, agreed. Customers, he said in a panel later in the day, "do not think about channels," but rather, "will use whatever is the most convenient for them at the time."

For companies, that isn't easy, Toister pointed out, "because there is a lack of connections and integrations that is eroding agent performance."

"Unless you have a really good system that is fully buttoned down, you will do multiple channels badly," he said.

Esteban Kolsky, program chairman of the conference and founder and principal analyst at ThinkJar, agreed. Omnichannel customer service, he said, is a bad idea for that reason.

"There is no technology today that can provider true omnichannel customer service," Kolsky said.

As an alternative, Kolsky suggested that companies focus on doing one channel right.

Kolsky maintains that customers switch between channels because companies do not respond adequately on all channels.

As an example, Leggett noted that the phone is still being used by customers, but largely as an escalation channel. Customers she said, will look for the information they need on their own, and will call a company only when they can't find it.

They're also turning to more digital channels, like chat and video, according to Leggett.

And as they do, knowledge management becomes even more critical. "Today, you need a solid foundation of knowledge management, including user-generated content," Leggett said.

But even knowledge management "has a long way to go before it becomes truly useful for both agents and customers," Leggett argued.

Toister agreed here as well. "When effective, knowledge management can solve a lot of problems," he said. "Technology has made it more accessible and easier to update, but knowledge management's problems have multiplied because of technology."

Social media has played a big role in that, according to Kolsky. With social media, the amount of data coming into companies is staggering, and many simply can't handle it all, he said.

And it's also changing customer service and how customers shop. "Through social, we've built a reliance on complete strangers for advice, to tell us what to buy," Toister said.

Other technologies that are expected to have a transformative effect on customer service include connected devices, real-time and predictive analytics, proactive communications, and automatic pushes of guidance to agents.

But despite all of the technological advances in contact center systems, customer service is at an all-time low, Toister said. The reason, he pointed out, is that "companies are making it so complicated that they are doing it badly."

"You don't have to do everything. If you can do a few things really well, you will stand out with customers," Toister stated. "The companies that make it easy to resolve an issue will be the ones that win.

"The biggest thing your organization can do is define what outstanding service means for the organization and then make sure that you are consistently delivering exceptional service on the channels that matter most," he concluded.