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Why modern customer service has to be omnichannel

By Retail Technology | Tuesday April 9 2013

Mike Hughes, customer contact specialist, argues that retailers must adopt an omnichannel, 'big data' approach to meet modern customer service demands

The ways in which consumers engage with retail customer service have changed. They want to use the channel of their choice, whether that is a smartphone, Twitter, live chat or something else, and they want their issues resolved promptly and efficiently without having to repeat their details every single time. 

Yet not all retailers are using their most valuable asset – data – to offer omnichannel customer service and are at risk of consumers taking their business elsewhere. That’s according to Mike Hughes, European managing director of web and mobile customer contact and self-service software provider [24]7.

“We conducted research in Q4 2012 which revealed that three in ten consumers have not signed up to a service because of the bad customer service they received initially," said Hughes. "The survey also showed that more than half of respondents (51%) felt frustrated when companies do not know who they are or what their issue is, despite having interacted with that company via another channel previously. So, with consumers ready to take action when faced with poor service, retailers must offer the omnichannel customer service people are starting to expect.”

Big data for customer service

But retailers have at their fingertips a valuable asset that can enable them to provide the highest quality service across channels. Hughes added: “A retailer’s most valuable asset is its data, gleaned from every customer interaction including calls, chat, online, mobile location, social media and more. Retailers can use that big data to anticipate what consumers want, simplify interactions, and learn from those interactions so that future experiences are constantly improving, whatever the channel.”

He explained: “This means customers not having to repeat information they’ve already given instore, or putting them in direct contact with the right specialist at a contact centre depending on their place in the customer journey. This is all done by analysing the customer data and developing smart models, which learn to anticipate and adapt to customer needs. When applied to areas such as customer loyalty and reduction of customer effort, the application of smart data analysis and intuitive communication models can reap great rewards for retailers.”

The importance of omnichannel

The variety of channels that consumers can use to interact with customer service could be potentially bewildering for a retailer. But consumers expect and demand the same levels of customer service, irrespective of channel. This has given rise to concept of 'omnichannel,' as a key development in customer service according to Hughes: “Omnichannel focuses on improving the complexities in customer interactions and enabling a multichannel (online, mobile, speech, chat, store), multi-modal and multi-device experience. The omnichannel experience is continuous, consistent, and contextually relevant. This is turn allows a retailer to anticipate and influence the customer journey and deliver the customer service expected by consumers.”

He continued: “A good example of omnichannel would be when a customer uses their smartphone to speak to a retailer’s customer service team. During the course of that exchange, the agent could send relevant interactive content to that smartphone, based on previous interactions with that customer. This will mean an interaction where speech, screen and touch are combined to drive an intuitive experience for the customer.”

Hughes believes that the only way to make it simple for consumers to connect with brands in today’s omnichannel age is through leveraging big data: “Ultimately, modelling the customer journey has benefits for the customer and the retailer. For example, if enough data is available on a customer, a retailer can make a strong estimate as to their likely requirements, with appropriate product options presented in a timely fashion. This is infinitely preferable to bombarding each visitor with irrelevant marketing offers in the hope one will hit the mark. 

“Retailers must use big data to anticipate consumer needs and provide omnichannel customer service if they are to survive and thrive in 2013,"he concluded. "Those that don’t keep pace with their customers may find those customers go to a competitor that can understand their needs, anticipate their journey and provide the same level of service across channels.

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