Multi-Channel CRM: It's in Your Future

Answer the phone!

As organizations become increasingly enamored with online support and other self-service applications (and yes, I’ve been happily helping folks up onto the bandwagon over the past couple of years), the question of “how much is enough” starts to come to mind. After your IT help desk moves frequently asked questions, software downloads and low-value-add support requests like password resets to self-service, should they stop there? On your customer-facing sites, what level of user adoption or successfully resolved cases or online orders should be your target? And assuming you have not fallen into some of the common self-service traps (see Can Self-Service Deliver Better Service?), once your self-service applications are up and running, how much call deflection is considered a success?

Eliminating phone calls or driving call deflection has been a central goal for self-service initiatives since the first intranets and support portals went live. But is there anyone who truly expects their call volume to drop to zero? Like any new media or interaction channel, the Web has found its role, and in some industries—think travel or real estate or certain high tech products—the majority of interactions and transactions are likely to occur online, with little assistance from traditional intermediaries like travel agents, brokers or sales reps. But when it comes to tech support and customer service, despite numerous success stories, Web self-service will just be one of the channels you will need to support, along with voice response, text chat, email, SMS, etc.

For many, the challenge is finding the right role for each channel, and the right mix of options for each user that you support. Equally important is to know what to measure across all of your service and support channels so that you can balance the mix of benefits for IT, the business and the end user. Understanding your customer and educating them about how to get help, where to find answers or experts, and indeed when to call is critical. If you do this well, when they call, there’s an awful good chance that it will be worth answering!

Know Your Customer

As discussed in prior columns, segmenting customers is essential to providing both a compelling, tailored online experience and having a chance at optimizing your various interaction channels. This includes doing surveys or focus groups, defining categories or groups of users, mapping their entitlements (recall that a call can only be considered deflected if the customers was allowed to call you), and ideally identifying each group of customers’ preferred channel for various tasks, e.g., they want to share tips with other users and get upgrades online, receive service alerts via e-mail and have the ability to call if they have warranty issues.

Remember that not everyone wants self-service. And even the most Web-savvy users will encounter situations when they need to send an e-mail or will want to chat with an agent or even send a fax. From a business perspective, there are also times when you want users to call. In situations such as a product recall where there is an issue of safety, or when there appears to be a good, old-fashioned sales opportunity, we can’t forget that a live interaction may be the most effective option.

It’s a Multi-Channel World

In a research study published by Yankee Group in 2006, analysts point out that customers often choose self-service as the way they interact with companies, and that Web-based service channels will grow the most (compared to other options), with an expected increase of 86 percent from 2006 to 2008. Meanwhile, live-agent calls are projected to decline by an average of 18 percent during the same period. Yet, the same study shows that even after this shift, Web self-service interactions will still account for less than 15 percent of all interactions, with chat and e-mail accounting for another 30 percent.

So, yes, as eVergance and others have predicted, self-service has taken off. But the phone (or e-mail for that matter) is not going away. And just to complicate things further, more and more interactions span multiple channels before they are completed. A request that starts by searching in an online knowledge base may lead to a chat session, which escalates to a call, and then is confirmed via an e-mail message. In fact, Yankee estimates that 60 percent of interactions between customers and organizations are cross-channel and span the entire customer lifecycle.

Are You Ready?

This complexity puts a premium on having a CRM optimization strategy that is truly multi-channel and supports all of the “old” (phone, IVR, e-mail) and “new” (chat and IM, forums, wikis, RSS) channels. Despite the emergence of open source components and the appeal of a best of breed approach, it also may swing the pendulum a bit back to suite vendors—and especially those that offer a multi-channel framework approach that provides the flexibility of best-of-breed, with the simplicity and scale of pre-integrated solutions.

If customer service channels behave like media channels, the latest approaches will continue to provide new capabilities (think Web 2.0) and take “share” from existing channels, but will never completely replace them. This is similar to the historical impact of broadcast television on radio, or what online media (and eBay!) initially did to newspapers. We can do things we never dreamed of online, yet despite their challenges, newspapers or broadcast radio stations aren’t going away anytime soon.

At the same time, we are all becoming more specific about how and when we consume media—and what experience we want on each channel. Just as I listen to the radio on my drive to the office and to streaming audio on my PC late at night, I want to be able to call JetBlue or Verizon or BMW if I have product questions or want to confirm an order or service appointment even though my first preference is to interact online. Each of those companies has been an innovator with Web self-service, and for the most part provides a consistent (and satisfying) experience across all of their interaction channels. But most importantly, they know me, and certainly know that if I’m calling it must be important.

Allen Bonde is Senior Vice President and CMO at eVergance, an independent subsidiary of KANA Software which delivers strategic consulting services focused on CRM optimization and knowledge management. Prior to joining eVergance, Allen was the founder of strategic advisory firm ABG, Inc., a practice expert at McKinsey, the director of management consulting at Extraprise, and an analyst at the Yankee Group. An authority on Web self-service trends and applications, he started his career in corporate R&D at a leading telecommunications company.

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