Will customer service omnichannel arrive?

Customer service omnichannel

Marketers play a starring role in the five-second window, but they aren’t the only ones. Truth is, customers interact with brands on mobile devices, over many channels, throughout the customer journey. Post-sale is when customer service omnichannel agents take over as stewards of the customer relationship.

In fact, a case can be made that customer service is more important than marketing when it comes to winning in the five-second window. After ponying up cash, customers are vested and vocal. A bad customer experience with a product or service can lead to a social media shaming, in the form of negative reviews and comments.

Related: Inside the “five second window”

It’s critical that customer service people become customer obsessed and focus on the three fundamentals of a great customer experience: ease, effectiveness and emotion, says a new Forrester report entitled “Trends 2016: The Future of Customer Service.”

Forrester predicts customer service departments will adopt a myriad of channels to interact with customers, such as Facebook Messenger, WeChat and video chat. This will make it easier for customers, because they’ll be able to choose how to communicate with customer service.

Are customer service agents obsessed with customers?

One of the most effective ways customer service can impress customers is by anticipating a customer’s needs. In the past, customer service often operated in a silo forcing customers to explain their concerns over and over again to multiple customer service representatives. Customer service, though, needs to be proactive.

The most prominent example of this is Tesla Motors pushing software patches to connected cars. Forrester cites other examples, too, such as Nintendo monitoring its products to understand what customers were doing prior to a failure, and Rolls-Royce Motor Cars monitoring jet engines and offering hourly maintenance costs.

When customers run into problems with products or services, customer service can get ahead of the complaint and keep situations from getting out of hand.

“We are still at least a few years away from these omnichannel experiences being remotely common.” – Forrester analyst Ian Jacobs

For instance, Forrester cites Delta Air Lines’ system for matching the caller ID of an incoming call with a phone that just received a text message about a cancelled flight. The system knows the caller isn’t in the best mood. Instead of presenting the caller with a standard, hair-pulling menu of options, the system will ask the caller, “Are you calling about the text message we just sent you?” This familiarity with the caller’s concerns immediately puts the caller at ease.

Similarly, Banana Republic Credit Card customer service turns the tables when a customer gets hit with a nonpayment fee. The irate customer will often call customer service right away. Banana Republic diffuses the situation by proactively asking if this call is about the nonpayment fee and then offering to waive it one time. Forrester points out that the pain a customer feels from getting hit with a $20 fee is two to five times worse than the pleasure the customer derives from a $20 reward.

Forrester advises companies: “Customer service organizations must strive to form an emotional bond with their customer by looking out for their best interests, identifying points of friction and empowering agents to do the right thing for the customer.”

Challenges facing customer service omnichannel

Sounds nice, but it isn’t easy.

To get to a point where a company knows what a customer did on, say, Twitter before calling into a call center, several things need to happen, says Forrester analyst Ian Jacobs. The company would need to glean the tweet, identify it as being from the same person in its CRM system, store that information somewhere, figure out when and how to use that information, and then actually use it.

“They would need to have the same tools and processes worked out for chat, for Facebook, for email, for SMS, for the voice self-service system, for WeChat, and on and on and on,” Jacobs says. “That also says nothing about the privacy, security and risk implications of harvesting and storing that information.”

Related: ChiefMarTec Founder Scott Brinker on re-engineering your organization to the five second window

While context-repository tools have hit the market, most companies don’t even have the basic dependencies and operational issues worked out, Jacobs says.

For instance, when an irate customer calls into a call center, do you send the caller to a retention agent? Do you provide a normal agent with a script? Do you tell the agent to offer a coupon? Should the agent let the customer know that they know the customer is upset? Companies must figure out what to do with the information that a known upset customer is on the line.

“All of those operational process issues need to be ironed out before the technology will truly allow for the much-promised omnichannel service,” Jacobs says. “Even when the technology is fully baked, and as our communication channel usage preferences keep shifting, that is a hard problem to solve. We are still at least a few years away from these omnichannel experiences being remotely common.”


Tom Kaneshige is editor of Five2ndWindow. For more than two decades, he has been keeping an eye on the seam between business and technology. You can reach him at tom.kaneshige@penton.com.

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