Customer service used to be straightforward: People called companies on the phone when they had a question, issue or complaint. Email added a second layer to customer relationship management (CRM) which further diversified communication.
Over the past five years or so, customer service has changed drastically with the rise of multichannel CRM, analysts say. Customers want to communicate through social media, text, Web chat, video chat and more, and they expect companies to respond in the channel they prefer.
"Channel evolution… has taken a lot of corporations by surprise in the way it's changed in the past four or five years," said Peter Ryan, principal analyst at Ovum, a London-based global market research and analysis firm. "Ten years ago, customers were using handheld telephones or desktop PCs. It's very tough to keep up with this."
The companies that succeed with multichannel, analysts and users, are those tailoring their multichannel strategies to customer preferences. They are investing in strong, scalable technology and work toward seamless integration across all channels to improve the customer experience.
"Customer service is all about meeting and exceeding customer expectations," said Jeremy Curley, director of business solutions at Bomgar Corp., a remote desktop control software provider based out of Jackson, Miss., that uses chat and self-service, among other channels, for sales and customer support. "Companies, of course, have to meet those rising expectations. Companies are going to the channels where their customers are."
How to master multichannel CRM
The first and most important step toward multichannel CRM is to analyze your customers and incorporate the channels they are most likely to use, Ryan said. "[You need to] figure out … how those channels are going to evolve over the next couple years," he said.
Customer preferences for certain channels vary depending on the company and the industry, Ryan said. A gaming company might emphasize Web chat more than other types of companies, while an automotive or plumbing supplier could decide that using video chat to demonstrate product installations is the best way to communicate with customers, he said.
According to Curley, data should decide which new channels are used. Companies should gather information on the current customer experience, he said, and use that data to determine which channels will improve that experience and which metrics will define success.
Data and system integration is the next thing to think about, said Matthew D'Uva, president and CEO of the Society of Consumer Affairs Professionals in Business (SOCAP International), a group of customer service professionals across various industries.
"Text, mobile, chat … [companies are asking], 'How do we integrate all of these things?'" D'Uva said. "How do you ensure that a customer has a seamless experience? If you're having a conversation in social media and need to make it private, how do you ensure that the transfer is seamless?"
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