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Portrait Paints Picture of Multichannel/Cross Communications

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April 09, 2010

Portrait Paints Picture of Multichannel/Cross Communications

By Brendan B. Read, Senior Contributing Editor

Communicating with customers is becoming much more than connecting the calls to the right agents. It is forming into a colorful and complex landscape of e-mails, chats, social media and automated voice and self-service.

Jeff Nicholson is Vice President of Product Marketing, Portrait Software. His firm's solutions integrate customer analytics, inbound and outbound campaign management and business process integration products. TMCnet approached Jeff and asked him about multichannel and cross channel contact center communications trends.

TMCnet: Are more contact centers using multiple channels to connect and reach out to customers? Are they also utilizing cross-channel communications i.e. engaging with them on one then either transferring them to another i.e. self service to live agent? Is the take-up greater or less than what you had expected and why?

JN: We are seeing an increased use of multiple channels to interact with customers.  For a long time, organizations thought that the solution to driving down costs was to push people to the company website, as this would save money spent on interactions with agents.  What they realized during the downturn was that the web is an engagement tool that leaves a lot to be desired as far as fostering meaningful interactions and creating a sense of urgency.

Case in point is First Direct. First Direct is a telephone and Internet-based retail bank in the UK and is a division of HSBC Bank plc. In order to drive down costs, the bank encouraged the use of their Internet-based self-service channels. The initiative was very successful in achieving the primary objective, but it has impacted their cross sell revenues. Since then, First Direct has been encouraging customers back to the phone. So we're now seeing organizations turn their attention back to the call center, as part of their new cross-channel strategy.  To do this, they're once again making their phone numbers available on their websites and even advertising the ability to speak with a real person, which has become somewhat of a rarity these days.

Real human interaction helps companies focus directly on customers, which cannot be as effectively done over the web. However, the company website is where many people turn to first, so it's critical to make sure that these otherwise independent marketing channels are connected. It is imperative that organizations connect experiences across disparate channels, as well as connect them across the same channel, which is not always achieved.

It is also now common for customers to utilize two channels at the same time, such as simultaneously visiting a company website and speaking with a live agent. These days, we have web services and real time decisioning technology to bring channels together, even if systems are dated and otherwise disconnected. This is critical for ensuring the highest quality customer experience possible.

TMCnet:  What channels are you seeing growing or lagging in popularity and why?

JN: The social media channel is growing in leaps and bounds. The challenge that arises with this growth is incorporating social media channels into the cross-channel marketing strategy in an integrated way; it should not be done independently. The same effort must be made to achieve relevance in the social media channel as in any other channel and this is why approaches such as preference management are so critical. This will allow customers to choose which products or services they want to hear more about through social media channels, to ensure that the message remains relevant and targeted.

Another growing channel is the mobile web. Web browsing on mobile devices is becoming more and more prevalent, and this channel presents new opportunities to achieve relevance by taking advantage of factors like proximity. As always, relevance is key. The mobile web allows marketers to conduct relevant campaigns in a whole new way by taking advantage of location based services and the requirement for the concise messaging, which is associated with mobile devices. We see that the key with this medium is that the marketing message must present a "mutual benefit." For example, with access to location information, marketers can configure their systems to direct customers to the nearest company branch to receive further information or even make offers that are applicable only for a specific time or location.

Direct mail is a channel that we've seen lag recently as many consumers turn their attention to digital and social media. That said, there are still some very influential segments of the population where e-mail is not as prevalent and direct mail is still an effective means for reaching them. It is still part of cross-channel marketing, and while its popularity is declining, it will likely never disappear entirely. The key is in truly understanding your customer segments and which channels are most important to them individually.

TMCnet: What are the key drivers to multichannel including cross-channel communications?

JN: The customer will always be the key driver in cross-channel communication. Of course, other drivers, such as cost, do exist, but ultimately the customer and the customer's needs are what drive cross-channel communications. Organizations don't need to rush out and do everything across all channels.  Instead, they need to leverage the channels that the customer uses in order to deliver the right message or offer at the right time. This is why integrating preferences is important. Preference management helps companies keep marketing campaigns relevant to individual customers at all times, through all channels.

TMCnet: Outline the key challenges of multi/cross-channel communications and why do they exist?

JN: The first big challenge is that organizations aren't often set up to be customer centric. The right hand doesn't often know what the left hand is doing, and the more customers a company serves, the more the problem is compounded. Think of all the different product managers, lines of businesses and channel owners, each with their own objectives for unit and dollar revenue. Determining who really owns the customer can be a major challenge. Companies must put systems in place for better customer governance to ensure that the right messages get through and that the conversations are relevant across these silos. To achieve this, companies need to connect departments and equip them with the same view of the customer, which can be achieved through the incorporation of intelligent analytics into current CRM systems.

Additionally, all too often our systems suffer from a sort of "amnesia," and each time a customer interacts, they need to start the dialogue from scratch. Think of a customer calling into a call center several times in a row… does the conversation pick up where it last left off, or do customers have to repeat information? This issue is only compounded when we consider the aspect of "cross-channel" dialogue. The good news is that incremental systems now exist which can solve this issue quite quickly:  without ripping and replacing existing infrastructure.

The second big challenge is overcoming the notion that e-mail is free. The concept of e-mail being free has been around for a long time, but the reality is that every irrelevant e-mail chips away at the likelihood of the next relevant one being read. This leads to opt out, negative spam ratings and more.

Think of the last e-mail campaign you ran - was your opt-out rate almost as much as your response rate? Once your customer opts out, you lose the ability to market to that customer moving forward. Now think of all the potential lifetime value you've lost from that customer because you sent them that irrelevant e-mail. It hurts organizations to overuse the e-mail channel, as it can damage customer lifetime value if not managed properly. Thankfully, marketers are now waking up to this fact and are using techniques such as uplift modeling, offer optimization and preference management to overcome this issue.

TMCnet: What are the best practices to leverage and enable successful multi/cross-channel interactions?

JN: The best practice is always to integrate the dialogue that occurs across channels. To achieve this, organizations need a clear, complete portrait of the individual customer, and they need to make it available to all departments.  Incorporating intelligent analytics into existing CRM systems can provide the insight needed to deliver this clear picture. Connecting departments in this way is the key to ensuring successful cross-channel dialogues and avoiding the customer irritation that can result when different functional groups aren't informed of previous interactions and individual preferences.

Brendan B. Read is TMCnet's Senior Contributing Editor. To read more of Brendan's articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Patrick Barnard

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