Customer Service Experience, Day Three: Companies Are Urged to Take Measured Approach to Omnichannel

NEW YORK — On the last day of the Customer Service Experience conference, attendees were urged not to go back to their offices and work on bringing in omnichannel customer service technologies just because they were among the event's hottest topics.

"You will not become a better business just by becoming omnichannel," warned Omer Minkara, a research director at Aberdeen Group.

Companies also should not plan on adopting the technologies until they are ready to fully integrate them, said Esteban Kolsky, founder of ThinkJar and chairman of the conference.

According to Aberdeen's research, 100 percent of companies today offer their customers more than one way to reach them. "There is not one business out there that does not have more than one channel—they all offer at least phone and email," Minkara said. "And most are using an average of four [channels]."

But just because they offer multichannel customer service does not make them omnichannel. With multichannel offerings, not all the technologies are integrated or consistent, as they are when a business is omnichannel.

According to Kolsky, only about 30 percent of companies have some degree of omnichannel capabilities, and even those are limited right now.

"Everyone is talking about omnichannel, but we don't yet have the technology to deliver it well," he said. "It will take about three or four years before we can get to a model where you can do omnichannel right."

Further curtailing more widespread adoption is the fact that "it is very hard to find one vendor that offers everything," Kolsky said.

Yet that doesn't mean companies shouldn't strive toward achieving omnichannel success. Along the way, they should empower their agents, increase the visibility of their contact centers, and incorporate analytics to convert raw data to insights, Minkara said.

Of those, empowering agents is the most difficult. Under current deployments, most agents have to navigate between an average of six screens per customer interaction, Minkara pointed out. He recalled one insurance firm whose agents routinely juggled 18 screens and applications.

"On average, 15 percent of an agent's time is spent looking for information across all those screens," he said.

And then each of those screens operate independently, with their own unique knowledge bases, data streams, workflows, business rules, and other elements that keep them in silos, Kolsky added.

Kolsky also warned against adding more channels for the wrong reasons. "Many times, companies add channels because their existing channels are not working," he said. "If it takes too long to get back to the customer on phone or email, adding chat will not fix that."

But he and other speakers warned companies not to overlook other channels, especially social media and social communities.

"If you're not doing social communities, you're missing a lot," Kolsky said.

As an example, EMC, a provider of IT and data storage hardware solutions, has a social community of about 250,000 members who answer about half of all questions raised. That has led to huge customer service savings, according to Mark Brown, principal social engagement manager at EMC.

At Aetna, its social community fields about 3 million customer posts per month, according to Lauren Vargas, its senior director of digital marketing.

The challenge for most companies with communities and a presence on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, though, is overcoming a fear of negative posts doing severe damage to a brand.

"Companies are so concerned with negative posts that they're not doing anything," said John Ragsdale, vice president of technology and social research for the Technology Services Industry Association (TSIA). For most, it's a fear that's unfounded, he added.

"At EMC, we've had issues where customers were upset. You need to make sure [their issue] is solved," Brown said. "Take the conversation offline, solve it, and then bring it back online so everyone can see the resolution."

Brown also noted that with social media and social communities, it's better to have unhappy customers discuss their issues online in channels where the company has some control. "If not, [customers] will hop on channels that you have no control over," he said.

And then, as with all other channels, social activity needs to be integrated into other CRM systems. Even more important, it needs to be staffed properly. "If you launch [a social community], make sure you have people ready to deliver content and a team behind it that can moderate and help," Brown said.

Because in the end, that should be the goal of any customer service initiative, regardless of the channel.