Multichannel Customer Experience: There’s a Role for Technology


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The emergence of multiple channels for interacting and transacting with customers has been a boon for CRM vendors, service providers and consultants. Consider banking. When I was a little ‘un, banks operated out of branch networks which they owned. Not only that but they closed at 3.00pm to balance the books. I remember those days well because my old man was a banker and was always home for dinner. What do we have now? Bank-owned branches, mobile service providers, internet banking, telephone banking, kiosks, remote ATM’s, franchises… and so on. Technology innovations including e-commerce and m-commerce have changed the face on retail banking.

It’s the same in many other sectors. Retailers transact through physical stores, concessions and e-stores, and service customers through call centres, and self-service technologies. Channels that were intermediated became disintermediated are now trending towards reintermediation.

Channel innovation for selling, service and marketing purposes has made the task of customer experience managers more complex. Customer often interact with one channel when they are acquired, a different channel when they buy, and yet another channel when they require service. This is not a world that my dad was familiar with. It is massively more complicated in the demands made upon managers.

My question is this. How much difference has technology made, and how much more can technology contribute to the delivery of excellent multi-channel customer experience? The tech firms tells us that customers want and value a consistent, seamless customer experience. Customers don’t want to call a customer service agent in an outsourced call centre to find that there is no record of a transaction. They don’t want to receive an offer in the mail, and go to a distributor who is not aware of the offer and therfore cannot fulfil. The holy grail, the tech firms tell us, is a well-implemented, technology-supported, customer management strategy that delivers a 360 degree view of the customer and a 360 degree view for the customer. Where is the evidence? Is this what customers want?

Has technology improved customer experience? If so, how? You can argue that self-service online allows customers to maintain have 24/7 accessibility to service, and to maintain control over their data. But is that all?

Perhaps technology is only one part of the solution. If your customer management strategy is poorly designed, if implementation is poor, does technology make things any better? Or worse?

Please join this conversation. What do you think?

Francis Buttle
Dr. Francis Buttle founded the consultancy that bears his name back in 1979. He has over 40 years of international experience in consulting, training, researching, educating, and writing about a broad range of marketing and customer management matters. He is author of 15 books, has been a full professor of Marketing, Customer Relationship Management, Relationship Marketing, and Management.


  1. Francis: Your questions are so thought provoking that the discussion would be better over a beer rather than a blog!

    Much of the discord in customer relations comes from these related problems:

    1) Businesses have lost perspective about the outcomes customers require.

    2) Businesses have invested in IT capabilities that don’t contribute to achieving corporate strategic goals.

    3) Legal restraints on businesses don’t sufficiently protect customers from corporate ethical improprieties.

    It happens over and over. Companies view the implementation of information technology itself as the goal, rather than focusing on strategic enablement. Here’s what that sounds like: “Our goal is to have a 360 degree view of the customer.” Why? What outcome is served? Who benefits? Who might be violated? Before deploying technology, does anyone ask “what’s the right thing to do?”

    Implementing technology without considering business strategy is not the right approach, and it’s the reason that many customers get stuck in endless cycles of customer service Press 1, Press-2, Press-3 purgatory. If you ask an executive why, the answer isn’t “because it’s what the customer wants,” it’s “because we can!” How many cases can you think of in which customers have gone screaming for the exits in the face of such stupidity?

    The most successful adoptions of information technology recognize that the greatest IT business value comes when business strategy drives IT strategy.


  2. Great question. Francis. It is very much after the heart of the readers of CustomerThink.

    Coming from a technology vendor myself (Unica), I am not someone who should be answering the question. But may I suggest one thought anyway:

    I think that CRM technology is totally taken for granted today and for that reason under appreciated. Imagine calling your bank on the phone and – not – being able to ask about the deposits that you have made? Or being told that for some accounts you have to go into the branch to do a transaction. Or imagine not being able to see your accounts on the web site. All of this is so much taken for granted today that we’d think it would be ridiculous not to be able to do these things.

    It reminds me of the fate of AI (artificial intelligence). One would think that AI was a funny thought that has died a long time ago. But what is the grammar check function that is built into Microsoft Word if it isn’t an amazing AI application? How about Bank of America’s ATMs that read the hand written dollar amount of checks when you deposit them? Or how about those voice prompts on call centers with voice recognition (as annoying as they still are today).

    Having said that, of course technology is only a part of the answer and wouldn’t be any useful by itself. Seems like us tech vendors are taking a loud and clear position (that is in part self serving, of course). I am curious whether consultancies would also be able to provide an equally clear recommendation about the parts that technology cannot solve?

    Thanks for raising the issue!

  3. Akin

    Thanks for your comment.

    I agree with your observation that CRM systems operate unnoticed under-the-cover, and they are taken for granted by customers. Indeed, most customers wouldn’t even know that their interaction or transaction is CRM-enabled. It is only when things go wrong that customers take up arms and critise technology performance.

    BTW, I see you have a book out on multi-channel marketing metrics, which I really must read. May it sell in huge numbers! Perhaps we can trade books? The second edition of my book “Customer relationship management: concepts and technologies” is out next month.

    Best wishes.

  4. Andrew,

    Thanks for your comments, which I endorse completely.

    Strategy first, technology second.

    One of the key strategies to be clear about is customer strategy (would you expect anything different on Customerthink?). Which customers do we want to attract, keep and grow? Which channels do should we use to market, sell and service them? Which value propositions do we want to make available in those channels to those customers?

    I’ve run many a corporate workshop on these topics and I can report to you that it is far from clear that companies have these issues sorted out before they invest in technology. Madness.

    I live in Sydney, Australia, but if you are ever travelling this way, let’s have that beer.


    Francis Buttle


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