Switched-on retailers and e-tailers alike are finally making multi-channel service delivery the reality it’s needed to be for some time, says Paul Sweeney of contact centre tech leader VoiceSage

An ability to deliver true multi-channel service to customers has been a claim for quite some time. The reality, as we know, has been somewhat lagging behind. It’s the equivalent of saying you have a full social strategy in place just because your CEO has someone write some tweets for them. But it just isn’t.

Some retailers are due for a rude awakening as they prep for the busiest shopping period in the calendar – the Christmas holidays. That’s because brands that have under-invested are going to feel the crush – and not in a good way.

The good news is that a digital and communications strategy cohering around the concept of the ‘customer journey’ is in a strong framework within which to change all this, and puts multi-channel right back at the heart of operations. The surge in online buying and click and collect is also going to mean contact centres will also be at the heart of these strategies, as they are central to any customer-driven marketing and customer service drive.

To make multi-channel work means being able to see all your historical interactions with customers and have the capacity to make intelligent, predictive recommendations to them in a real time context. This will mark a sharp dividing line between high performing organisations and their less successful peers.

And while by multichannel we typically mean seamless integration of mobile and Web with your core back end systems, a perhaps surprising addition to the multichannel suite this year is text messaging (SMS) – a mode we expect to see do a lot more work in 2015 and beyond.

In any case, by no matter what channel, key to the entire concept of multichannel will be the idea of persistent customer conversations across all modes. That will correct an over-emphasis by retailers on point-interactions that have occurred with customers and move it to where it should be: emphasizing on-going, back and forth conversations. Interactions are driven by ideas of process, automation, and friction reduction. Conversations, by contrast, feel more like Google predictive search: you will feel like the service knows you. And it will. It retains the context of your conversion to date and it has a strong idea of what’s next in that conversation.

Like all ostensibly complicated but highly impactful technologies, the key to all this is going to be simplification. Simple gives you the opportunity to create ‘wow experiences;’ customer-facing services that will be so incredibly simple to use, they will wonder why anyone would go anywhere else for this purpose. This simplicity will be on both the customers side of the interaction, and on the companies side of the interaction. It’s the simplicity that enables the service to feel like a conversation.

But to get there takes a whole layer of foundation work in the mobile, data, and cloud work we hope you have already invested in.

Can we sum this trend in a phrase? Sure: data driven mobile conversations. And a great example of the multi channel success in the retail sector is UK High Street budget retailer BrightHouse. Brighthouse, which turns over £330m a year, sells top-brand technology, furniture and household goods available through convenient credit, is winning huge support among British households; it already has nearly 290 branches serving more than 270,000 customers.

Managing and collecting payments is a critical element of the credit management service the firm offers its market. In BrightHouse’s case, this is handled at store level to cement personal relationships by having conversations with customers. But this is a challenge, as each collection team was effectively working as a silo – manually calling customers about their credit arrangements and payments.

As the business grew, this was becoming increasingly costly and unproductive, which led it to use the VoiceSage Contact, real-time, ‘best-time-to-contact’ platform. By using a cloud-based Interactive Voice Message (IVM) technology and complementary intelligence engine, we’ve crafted a way for Brighthouse staff, at the local store, to get the latest information for each customer. We also created a way for the transfer of customers between branches if call volumes are high without ever losing either the customer or the data about why they were calling.

The impact has been huge, says Alasdair Skeoch, the customer’s Head of Credit Operations. “It means we can treat each of our stores as a small contact centre, which is great, as it maintains the personalised, local experience while improving customer satisfaction and collections effectiveness all round.”

Voice, SMS, In Store, In other words: multi-channel – which in BrightHouse’s case has not just helped with customer satisfaction, but the bottom line, too: some 150 colleagues have been redeployed out of the accounts team to other customer-facing roles; resource savings which let the firm spend more on delighting customers.

I expect to see a lot more examples of true multi-channel customer satisfaction in 2015.

The author is Chief Product Officer at VoiceSage (www.voicesage.com), a business services company providing market-defining interactive voice messaging (IVM) and SMS solutions

Paul SweeneyPaul Sweeney
Chief Product Officer

With over 20 years’ experience in research, new venture development, venture capital and outsourcing across the telecoms, Internet and technology sectors, it was Paul who provided the original vision for VoiceSage. With particular expertise in software, SaaS (software as a service) and the cloud, he predicted the way the market would go and worked closely with Graham and Mark to move the business swiftly from great idea to marketable product. Today he leads VoiceSage’s product innovation and development, seeing through each new value proposition from concept stage right through to launching it on the international market.

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