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We Live In A Multichannel World

Have you heard the voice of your customer?

Probably not, entirely. It's not your fault. It's because the world has become so damn complicated. Remember when your customers could reach your business through one-to-one channels such as mail, the phone or in person? Forget that.

I just watched a popular news channel that spent 20 minutes—I swear—reading tweets about the news report they had just broadcasted 20 minutes before. Instant feedback. Instant reply. That's also what business communication has become.

The thing is: Where is it? Can your marcom group locate the disgruntled customer who posted a terrible critique of your company an hour ago? Can you round up the (hopefully) many folks who praised the latest release of your bla bla software?

Probably not.

The conversations that mention, describe, criticize and even (sometimes) praise your business are taking place among your customers and potential customers and they are happening right now. It's called "many-to-many," but all you need to know it's also "us-to-you." You gotta get with it. While the telephone is still the main channel customers use to interact with your business, its use is decreasing rapidly. Other channels are taking its place. An Aberdeen report estimated that phone and email had decreased from 73% of customer communication to 59% over the past two years. And that's an old report!

Can you deal with that? As Kelly Koelliker writes in this white paper, "Not only must you provide every avenue of service to your customers, but each channel must also offer consistent answers and seamless transition from one channel to the next. If a customer starts a chat with you, then sends a tweet, then picks up the phone, you must link these interactions together into one continuous journey...The reality is that most organizations are not close to this level of service. The scope of work required to achieve this multichannel utopia can be overwhelming."

But it shouldn't stop you from trying. Hard. We're talking about how the world wants to reach you for service and support and that might mean the telephone (I still do that!) and email (that too!), but also newer technologies, including social tools and other self-service options such as knowledgebases, on-line communities and live chat tools. As customers turn to these options, you must also. Your customers are using these emerging technologies and you have to also.

As Mike Vertal puts it in his article, there are basically three emerging phenomena. First, he thinks is social. "The Web is becoming increasingly more social and much less anonymous. Today's digital experience is all about connecting and collaborating with others."

Next, and I think interestingly in contrast to the first, is personal. "While the Internet is continuously expanding, individual user experiences have become much more localized, personalized and relevant."

Finally, Mike puts a particular emphasis on mobile. "The explosion of mobile computing has resulted in ubiquitous content consumption, where digital content, information and experiences must be accessible anytime and anywhere," Mike writes.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I came to "social networking" for business late and then only reluctantly. In fact, I am personally living only on the furthest outskirts of the social neighborhood. I don't Twitter, nor Tweet. I haven't linked up with LinkedIn. I have no interest in Pinterest. I'm too anti-social to collaborate. I can't even say "wiki" without smirking.

I do enjoy Facebook, but mainly as a way to reconnect with old friends, remote friends and new acquaintances I never would have known otherwise. But it's also a localized, interpersonal thing in real life. I think of Facebook as a sort of secret handshake. If I'm at the grocery store and run into a Facebook friend, there's a new and unique little vibe to our encounter. It almost always starts with a small laugh of recognition, and a knowing acknowledgement in our eye contact—"I saw that thing you posted" is the new "Nice weather we're having."

But when it comes to finding the business value in social networking, I'm starting to come around. It's not because of the expectation of the inevitable, either. I know that there are many business owners who are mandating that their businesses "go social," even when they don't entirely understand what that means. They just came back from a management conference somewhere, and some guy persuaded them that "the future is in social."

I was worried about social networking in business suffering in the same spiral to hell as knowledge management. I lived through the "KM adoption and denial" years, and so I know a little bit about this. And I can tell you the single difference: KM was forced onto the workforce; social is welcomed by the workforce. That reality has its own set of problems, of course, but the general, organic and welcome adoption of social—unlike KM—is not one of them.

But that was then; this is now. The fact is, most of the customers coming into any marketplace, either consumer or business, expect to be served, as they say, "in the manner to which they are accustomed." The emerging workforce and market, both, are social savvy and pretty much require these kinds of interactions with you to take place.

Like Mike Vertal says, "As the number of touchpoints increase, so do the expectations of consumers, who are now consumers of digital experiences. To stay in the game, enterprises must strive to create online experiences optimized for these different channels and usage contexts."

I'm not the first one to say it: Customer satisfaction is a moving target.

It should not be thought of as a technology fix, entirely, but baby, that's a big part of it. I like how Kelly puts it later in this paper: "As with any journey, your chances of success are higher with help. Multichannel customer experience management is not just about technology. In fact, one of the most difficult problems to tackle is how to manage the organizational chasms that exist between departments. When a customer calls about their mortgage, they expect you to also know about the checking account and retirement plan. They expect a company to speak with one voice, not only across channels, but across departments throughout the organization. The only way this can happen is if people within an organization begin to work together to solve this problem."  

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