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Tuning in to customers: Optimizing the online experience

The wide range of unstructured information in social media has motivated many companies to set up monitoring systems to keep track of statements by customers, partners and competitors. "In monitoring social media, it is important to keep in mind the fact that channels are used in different ways," McNeill says. "Online forums are a popular place for venting, but that does not necessarily translate into behavior change. Facebook, on the other hand, is more about evaluating people, products or places, and Twitter is popular for event-specific comments." The important thing is to evaluate and interpret social messages with an understanding of their context.

Another important part of a company's customer experience strategy should be aligning the multichannel customer experience with the brand, whether it's the contact center, website or in-person communication. "If the overall style of a company is friendly and humorous, all the channels should be consistent with that," says Anand Subramaniam, VP of marketing at eGain. eGain provides a unified customer interaction hub platform that integrates with leading customer relationship management (CRM) systems.

The management of tone is equally important for agent-assisted channels like chat or self-service systems such as chatbots and guided help. "Some of the high-touch brands are replicating that experience on websites," Subramaniam says, "using high-touch services such as proactive chat or co-browsing at the right place and time."

Periodically, eGain researches the websites of leading enterprises, sending out inquiries to sample accuracy and consistency in replies. "Often, a customer will get different answers from different channels if there is not a centralized knowledge management system, or even from the same channel," Subramaniam says. "A lot of that can be fixed by a unified multichannel approach."  

The feedback loop

Between data collected on websites, in call centers and from social media, there is no lack of information on customer behavior and opinions, but how effectively is it being used to guide decisions?

"As technology converges," says Leslie Owens, an analyst at Forrester, "companies have the opportunity to have a cross-channel perspective that provides a rich source of information. As customers move from one device or channel to another, the context of their experience goes with them."

Most companies are monitoring their brand online to discover trends, patterns and sentiment. Owens says, "People talk about their experiences, and companies do pick up on this to make their business run better."

Analytics help organizations segment their customers and understand who they are. "A company may see a spike in inquiry activity on its Facebook page, for example," Owens says, "and notify the individual who handles search on the website to see if customers are having trouble navigating the site."

What is less common is the ability to push the insights across the business, outside the closed loop of marketing. "Broader questions such as whether an organization should recruit staff differently or initiate new R&D as a result of customer feedback are not addressed as frequently," Owens says. "This work is not just a customer service issue, but can move to the strategic level, extending it out to bigger ticket decisions."

Delta Airlines, for example, noticed that customers were commenting extensively on the availability of WiFi on the flights. "Delta took the information and started pushing its WiFi," Owens says. "They added it as a selection item on the flights, used it as a differentiator and were then able to do a deeper analysis on their frequent fliers to segment the groups to understand pricing and modeling."

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