A Consistent Customer Experience Requires Consistency In Managing Voice, Electronic, And Social Interactions

Customers expect the same experience every time they interact with a company — whether it be when researching a product, completing a sales transaction, or getting customer service — over all the communication channels that a company offers. They also expect companies to have an understanding of their past purchase history and prior interactions. Finally, customers further expect that each interaction with a company adds value to their prior interactions so that, for example, they do not have to repeat themselves to a customer service agent when being transferred or when migrating from one communication channel to another during a multistep interaction.

How many companies can deliver a consistent service experience in this scenario?

Three fundamental elements are needed to deliver a consistent customer experience across all communication channels:

  • A unified communications model. Companies need to queue, route, and work on every interaction over all communication channels in the same manner, following the company business processes that uphold its brand.
  • A unified view of the customer. Each agent needs to have a full view of all interactions that a customer has had over all supported communication channels so that the agent can build on the information and experience that has already been communicated to the customer.
  • Unified knowledge and data. Agents need to have access to the same knowledge and the same data across all communication channels so that they can communicate the same story to their customers.

Best-of-breed multichannel vendors such as eGain, RightNow, Moxie Software, and KANA Software have been delivering these three elements in robust solutions for the last decade for electronic channel management (e.g., email, chat, and SMS). Companies have historically managed the voice channel independently from electronic channels. This is because the agents fielding electronic interactions are typically organizationally siloed from voice agents, and the core technology is not integrated. However, to deliver on the promise of consistent customer experiences, this model must now be extended to encompass all communication channels: voice, electronic, and social.

These best-of-breed multichannel vendors are extending their models to encompass voice and social channels; unified communications vendors such as Cisco, Genesys, and Avaya are also  embracing this model and have developed robust chat and email solutions. These solutions use the same routing and queuing model for voice and electronic interactions. In addition, a single agent desktop allows all of these interactions to be managed in a consistent manner, enhancing productivity as agents no longer have to juggle between disconnected systems to find the information they are looking for.

This focus on consistency continues; for example, last week Avaya announced their release of the Aura Contact Center 6.2 which, among other enhancements, allows agents to respond to social media inquiries from Facebook and Twitter directly from the desktop that they use to manage voice and electronic inquiries. It will be an interesting battle to watch as these unified communications players move into the space that has historically been owned by multichannel vendors.


This is very important. Too

This is very important. Too many retailers (still) see these channels as segmented and silos. Online, they can begin building profiles of their customers and personalising their experience. When they walk into the store (or contact centre), they are anonymous again, and often staff have no way of accessing that online data.

We wrote a whitepaper on various strategies to blur the boundaries between virtual and physical spaces a while back which you might find interesting.


Why 'Carmageddon' helped reset expectations of what CX can be

Dear Kate,

Thank you for continuing to highlight this issue with your clients: “customers expect the same experience every time they interact with a company.” I was interested to read your note didn’t say customers also expect a great (or even a good) experience, though I suppose years of frustration have whittled away consumer expectations to the point where we’re now content with merely getting a consistent experience. As someone who works in the customer experience industry (at RightNow) it’s especially frustrating for me since I know what’s possible with the technology that’s available today. Years of inconsistent experiences, however, have lowered the bar for what we’ll accept.

Some companies though – Porter Airlines, Zappos, Nikon, Overstock, to name a few – have made customer experience a differentiator that works in their favour. They’ve created a business advantage by making positive and engaging customer experiences a consistent part of their brand and, in doing so, they’re winning over jaded consumers. They’re actually raising the bar in terms of what, as consumers, we should expect. And they’re showing that managing service-related business processes, such as migrating from one communication channel to another during a multistep interaction, needn’t be difficult or a point of frustration for the consumer.

In his comment to your post, Tom Weaver points out that “Too many retailers (still) see these channels as segmented and silos.” Retail is a good example as retail consumers can “vote with their wallets” by choosing to do business with organizations that meet their customer experience needs. I agree with Tom and I’ll extend his comment by saying organizations of all kinds – your cable company (Telecom); the airline on which you collect “miles” (Transportation); the University where you register for courses (Public Sector) – can make better use of email, chat and SMS in conjunction with a knowledge foundation to deliver of up-to-date, contextual, and timely information that is consistent across all channels.

We saw it work this weekend: as my colleagues in the industry, Esteban Kolsky and Jeremiah Owyang, pointed out, “carmageddon” was essentially a non-event due to proper notifications. “Carmageddon,” of course, was the term given to this weekend’s closure of an 11-mile stretch of freeway in the nations second most populous city. That section of the I-405 normally handles half a million cars every weekend and in order to widen it the freeway was closed for 53-hours. But citizens in L.A. had proper notifications via government Web sites and phone channels, social media sites including Facebook and Twitter, and via free applications they were encouraged to download. One such application called Waze for Android, iPhone and BlackBerry phones provided updates on traffic congestion and offered immediate re-routes based on the crowdsourced, user-generated data.

The point here is customer experience technology can work and it does provide organizations with a competitive advantage when it goes beyond merely meeting customer expectations for consistency and turns an acceptable experience into a great one.

Rob Hilsen
Twitter: @rhilsen

Its about being true to your brand

Forrester has a lot of data that shows that a good customer experience correlates to increased customer loyalty, as measured by the likelihood to purchase additional products, likelihood to recommend the product to friends or collegues, and the reluctance to switch away from the brand.

However, I disagree with the word "exceptional." What is important is to deliver the customer experience that is in line with your brand value - and to do it well so that your customers are satisfied. A customer experience from Apple is not the right experience for Apple or for Ikea customers.

One more point

In addition, a great experience starts with a consistent one - you got to get the foundations in order before being able to differentiate yourself from your competitors

A knowledge foundation is the essence of CX

Agreed. And both good points: a customer experience doesn't have to be exceptional in order to satisfy the consumer; it's also true the foundation needs to be in place before an organization can offer up a consistent, satisfactory or exceptional experience. A knowledge foundation is the essence of every positive customer experience, which is at the core of business success.

And the good news is there are lots of tools available to help organizations solidify their foundations and "tame the volume of corporate knowledge that exists in disconnected silos."

Specific best practices are available, too, on organizational structure alignment, designing a framework for knowledge management, creating and maintaining relevant content, empowering customers with usable content, etc. I hope many more organizations will benefit from hearing you outline these best practices on your July 19th Webinar.


Brands and customer touch points

Great post, Kate. I agree with you that companies need to consider all touch points if they want to achieve a consistent customer service. Too often, as Tom points out, the touch points are silo'd and customers receive inconsistent or poor levels of service as a result. For example, it's inconsistent to provide quick customer service to someone who complains via social media over a customer who is struggling to be heard on email or voice channels. Companies cannot scale up their social media operation to rival the voice channels as customers cotton on to the fact that social is quickest. They need a way of monitoring all touch points. The single agent desk top using KANA's Service Experience Management makes this possible.

Brands also need to get real about what their level of service actually is. As KANA's EVP Mark Angel points out in his recent blog 'When Good is Best' (http://is.gd/NeJHBC) sometimes being good is 'good enough' (read appropriate). To quote Mark 'The most important concept of Service Experience Management is that the Customer Service organization does not exist to make customers happy – that’s right NOT. The goal of customer service is to deliver optimal service outcomes for the enterprise: balancing cost, short-term revenue generation, long-term loyalty and process compliance. The right service experience is the experience that reinforces THE BRAND, and reflects the brand promise at the heart of the customer relationship.

Looked at this way, there is not only no point in trying to deliver what might be called “excess” service, there is positive harm. Imposing costs on the enterprise that don’t drive value for customers inevitably sucks resources from activities like manufacturing, packaging and design. Over-engineering service experience is as destructive to the business model as over-engineering any other business process. And, high cost service is inherently out of step with the most common strategy for competitive differentiation: selling at low-cost. For Walmart, being the low-cost leader means the only gold-plated business process is supplier management.'


Anne- I disagree with the comment " The goal of customer service is to deliver optimal service outcomes for the enterprise: balancing cost, short-term revenue generation, long-term loyalty and process compliance". Its about a pragmatic balance between the needs of the business and the needs of the customer. If you dont keep your customers satisfied by delivering consistent service, in-line with your brand proposition, customers will take their business elsewhere. Forrester has a lot of data that proves this point.


I can't argue on Mark's behalf, Kate, other than to say I believe you are both saying the same thing but in a different way.

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