Time to Harmonize Your Cross-Channel Customer Experience

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As the economy comes out of its slumber, it’s time to stop worrying about cutting costs and survival. And start thinking more strategically about the customer experience.

One area that is probably overdue for a tune up is the cross-channel customer experience. By “cross” I mean experiences that involve more than one channel for a consumer to make a purchase or to get service. It’s not enough to just offer multiple channels and “tune” them independently, they should work together in harmony.

Like an orchestra with an expert conductor, it’s the total experience that matters, not how good an individual instrument sounds. The conductor needs to bring out the best in all performers/channels.

Explosion of channels

Remember the “good old days” when if you wanted to interact with a customer you had a meeting, made a phone call from your office, or sent a letter?

Well, those days are gone obviously. Starting with email in the 1980s, then fax, mobile phones, chat, SMS and now social media — we keep adding new and mostly electronic channels. Why? To provide more convenient service and, let’s be honest, to cut costs. E-channels are much cheaper than agents on the phone or other human-assisted channels.

Sadly, all too often, interactions aren’t coordinated across channels, leading to customers repeating themselves as they move between channels. And now we have social channels (e.g. Twitter for customer service) to further complicate things.

Impact on loyalty and purchase rate

If you’re a large enterprise selling to thousands or millions of consumers, I’m willing to bet that it’s a bigger problem than you realize. And I have some research to back up that bold statement…

My 2009 study of “considered purchases” with US consumers found that 70% of large enterprises admitted the don’t remember customer information from one touchpoint to the next. And 78% of consumers reported that information had to be repeated during complex (multi-touch) service experiences.

Interesting stats, but so what? Well, consumers that had to interact with companies suffering from this “touchpoint amnesia”
* were 50% less likely to recommend that company.
* Had purchases rates 24% to 35% lower

Did that get your attention?

If you need further motivation, a new ClickFox study found the top customer frustration was, “Having to speak with multiple agents and starting over every time.” See chart below.


ClickFox says about 1500 of their contacts completed the survey. While probably not a perfectly representative sample, the findings are still quite interesting and useful nonetheless. It probably won’t surprise anyone that cable and phone companies were the two most frustrating for consumers, followed by banks!

Cross-channel analytics

Now ClickFox has been a trailblazer in the area of cross-channel analysis, which they call Customer Experience Analytics. A few years ago they started by working with customers using IVR and phone channels to try to figure how why callers were abandoning the automated system to call agents. Since then, they’ve added web channels and social is in the works, according to CMO Anna Convery.

Last year I planned to write an article about cross-channel experiences, but couldn’t find companies willing to talk about it. Of course, it was the middle of the Great Recession, but this is also a leading-edge area and potential source of competitive advantage. While some companies may be shy to share their experiences, my sense is that the space is still immature where vendors are out ahead of market.

I did speak with one company off-the-record who told me it took about 3 years for management to get fully on board and finally commit some real budget. Analytics showed the true cost of bad cross-channel experiences in agent call time savings — due to poorly designed IVR systems that caused customers to call an agent. A double whammy because it degrades the experience plus wasted agent time.

Has anything changed in 2010? Convery says that there has been a shift from cost savings (e.g. saving agent time) mainly driving interest to a more mature appreciation of the value of good customer experience — because it reduces churn and translates into revenue. An improving economy certainly helps support a more growth-oriented view.

But before you throw technology at the cross-channel problem (and yes, you’ll need some), consider this. Convery says that “organizational readiness” is a key issue for success. Ideally you should have a “chief experience officer” or someone who owns the end-to-end experience, and reports to the CEO. Cross-channel metrics tied to rewards/compensation are also key. Otherwise, you’ll continue to optimize individual channels owned by departmental “silos.”

And a one and a two…

Are you conducting your multi-channel experience with all channels working together in harmony? If not, maybe it’s time to figure out just what those sour notes are costing you.

Could be just the ticket to create the differentiated customer experience that will cause customers to buy from you, and not your competitors.

Further reading:
* ClickFox Releases Results of Consumer Tipping Point Survey
* Can You Keep Tabs of Your Customers Across Multiple Channels? An Interview With Marco Pacelli
* Selling the “New Consumer” with Smart Conversations, Not Blind Automation

1 COMMENT

  1. Great post which raises many issues facing organisations currently – proliferation of customer touchpoints, cost efficiency vs customer satisfaction etc. What seems a common underlying theme, however, is how customers and companies are seemingly still no closer to finding a common language to actually understand each other.

    Companies are forever chasing after the tail of cost efficiency. Customers, on the other hand, simply want to be heard, their query or complaint acknowledged, regardless of the channels on offer.

    In spite of this channel proliferation, particularly in the online space, the telephone still seems to me to be king. And yet, companies are forever trying to deflect phone calls (Zappos excepted, but they tend to be the exception no matter what!). And yet, the phone call is perhaps the only time a company – post-sale – actually has the opportunity to directly engage with its customers.

    Until companies can even resolve such a fundamental gap in understanding, it is likely that ‘never the twain shall meet’ and the cross channel experience will continue to be an aspiration rather than a reality that meets the needs of customers.

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