As the consumer's adoption of smart phones, tablets and the internet has exploded over the past few years, the opportunity for brands to deliver the best customer experience has intensified, according to Nick Mylum, commercial director for Eclipse Marketing, who here explains how brands investing in true cross-channel business can improve both sales and profit margins from new and existing customers - which in turn will lead to higher retention rates and greater lifetime values. This article is copyright 2014 The Best Customer Guide.

It can be a minefield when brands are planning to start from scratch, or thinking about how to improve on existing processes. Bringing pre-sale, point of purchase and after-sale together, across a variety of channels, can often be daunting but it doesn't have to be. An experienced outsourced partner has the technology, capabilities and skill sets to do this and bring together the right mix of systems, workflow and fulfilment.

"The most common question I am asked is 'where do we start?' and this is no real surprise," said Mylum. "Typically, my answer is nearly always the same. We need to understand the expectations and needs of the customer and then organise service delivery and systems around this. That's the first objective in my book and we work in this customer-centric way for all our clients. Once we've established a starting point, and processes and systems are up and running, we need to be able to understand how satisfied the customers are."

It is tempting to really try and understand the whole picture right from the offset, tracking every interaction that a customer has with the company, across every channel at each stage in the lifecycle. Our advice is to refrain from this initially as it is too much of a 'Customer Experience Nirvana'. Instead, focus on getting the basics right and moving forward from a solid base. A good place to start is simply to understand where in the customer journey it's possible to make the right use of feedback. One of the most powerful metrics is the likelihood of a customer to recommend the product or service and this can be done through - for example, the Net Promoter Score (NPS).

NPS is a common methodology, used across many leading organisations but it's important to not fall into the trap of assuming that if someone chooses to 'not intend to recommend a product or service' then it is likely to spread negativity. This isn't the case and this kind of rating will not necessarily detract others from using the brand's product or service. In fact, the detractors (as they are labelled by the NPS system) do not portray nearly as much negativity as previously assumed. To get a better handle on this area, new methodology is now available to enhance the NPS process. It includes questions such as 'likelihood to detract'; and knowing the subtle difference is key to getting the service design right from the beginning.

Closing the loop on this is vital and working with an established outsourced provider offering expertise and flexibility is paramount. It is as important as choosing the right tool, whether post-transaction NPS surveys, customer panels or after sales survey.

Businesses that integrate their Contact Centre and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solutions will be the ones to benefit from customer feedback. The feedback ascertained in the Contact Centre can feed back into the CRM programmes and close the loop. In our world this is too often where brands fall down; they collect the customer experience data but fail to develop processes to act upon these. There's just no joined-up solution.

"If we're running NPS or Customer Satisfaction Surveys (CSS) simply to measure the propensity of things, it seems silly not to go that extra step and build objectives and outbound resources to follow up on this with 'actual' relevant offers and samples to the original customer that was surveyed", concluded Mylum.

And finally, it is crucial to make sure that feedback channels actually work for the customer. If there is the need to complain then there's nothing worse for them and their experience than being caught in a round robin between departments or having to engage with people that have no care or empowerment to recover their custom. Building the customer experience on solid foundations really helps to eradicate this possibility.