Omnichannel communication: anticipating and satisfying customer needs
It’s hard to believe that customer care for many companies once meant printing a 1-800 number on the side of a product package. Consumer service expectations have exploded. Today customers want the right information, delivered at the right time, over their preferred channel for communication. Companies with an eye toward their business future are developing omnichannel models for communicating with a more aware and more demanding public.
In traditional practice, a customer wrote a letter or telephoned a company contact centre with a question or complaint. The exchange between buyer and seller was private and to the point, solving a specific problem or providing additional information. Taking that approach today is a bit like trying to sell a monochrome solution in a full colour world. Consumers still want their questions answered, but they also want answers to questions they do not yet know they even have.
That’s where omnichannel communications comes in. For starters, it creates a consistent brand presence and set of capabilities across communication boundaries, whether in-store, by phone, through web pages, over social media, or on mobile devices. Coming soon, we can add wearables, implantables and machine-to-machine communication to the omnichannel mix.
Omnichannel is about technology, but its strategic dimensions make it very much a management decision too. Savvy customer care providers realise that some people may prefer to interact with a live customer service representative, while others may opt for the convenience of self-service. So many firms provide both. These ahead-of-the-curve companies are also partitioning their approach to customer care, with basic consumer queries handled in a more automated fashion and reserving other channels requiring greater dedication of time, skill or knowledge for the most challenging consumer concerns.
If omnichannel communication were nothing more than giving consumers a better, more flexible way to get their questions answered, it would be a big step forward. But it would also be somewhat transactional as opposed to interactional. Transactions build volume; interactions build recurring relationships.
Full-bodied interaction and personalisation are the full colour future of customer care. That means not only satisfying consumer needs, but anticipating them. It also means understanding the context of the problem to be solved and learning enough from the experience so that it does not happen again. The motorist stopping frequently to snap pictures or to make phone calls, for instance, does not want to be contacted repeatedly with offers for towing or mechanical breakdown insurance.
Omnichannel communication for customer care means being available, useful and smart. On the backend, offering consumers a seamless array of communication choices and high-quality company experiences will take not just an investment in the latest technology but in human capital as well. Those investing in technology-only approaches risk a madhouse of confusion as customer support representatives scramble to master the latest customer relationship management solution or social media outlet. Technology can make workflows repeatable and an abundance of account information retrievable. When it comes to delighting customers, only people, not machines, have the intuitive skills needed to build rapport, anticipate unfulfilled expectations, defuse frustrations, or flag new opportunities. People, therefore, complete the omnichannel communication equation. At least for now – and for the foreseeable future.