As multi-channel communication has reshaped the way businesses and brands engage with customers, companies must recognise the importance of building context and rules into their conversations, according to Richard McCrossan, strategic business director for Genesys, who here identifies the four key steps for effective multi-channel communication: identification, prioritisation, distribution and resolution. This article is copyright 2012 The Best Customer Guide.

Bringing together all customer interactions across multiple channels creates a bank of data and context that can enable organisations to segment their customer base to ensure personalised customer service and sales outreach activities that extract maximum value.

As social media and multi-channel communication has reshaped the way businesses and brands engage with their customers, marketers must now realise that customer engagement can no longer be a single channel process. The technology is available to shape the 'New Conversation' - one that can now be a proper conversation with the customer based on contextual information and business rules. It is the balance between these two elements which enables a business to deliver service that satisfies the customer, supports the business and the brand, but is also affordable.

Getting the balance right
Take a Tax Office, for instance. Brand loyalty is not a pressing priority. Here, efficiency is key. To put it simply, people have to pay their taxes, so the Office focuses on being efficient and getting the job done.

On the other hand, if we consider Mercedes Benz - it's all about the brand. Whether it's offering prospective customers a test drive in the latest model, presenting a surprise bouquet of flowers with every purchase, or perhaps providing a luxurious lounge to wait in whilst the purchase is completed - all these aspects help to build the brand. Here, the balance is tipped in favour of delivering a good customer experience.

While cross-channel communication enables a new level of connection between the brand and the customer, it brings with it a new level of responsibility on behalf of the brand to manage those customer interactions:

  • Can I provide a better customer experience?
  • Do I know how to do that?
  • Do these conversations drive the right business outcomes?

It therefore has the knowledge to "remember me and personalise my experience, connect me across channels, and help me with empowered employees" - as today's customers are seeking a consistent, personalised experience where they want to talk to knowledgeable, empowered employees who can help them.

Context and rules for personalisation
As customers increasingly turn to multiple contact channels for doing business, it is crucial for organisations to tie these interactions together into a single conversation, to ensure that they have actionable data and information in order to achieve their customer engagement goals.

The process of communicating with customers using a cross-channel approach can be summed up in the following four steps:

  1. Identification
    Customers are identified through basic call information such as their call ID, account and PIN number, email address and so forth.
  2. Prioritisation
    Customers are then segmented according to priority. It is important to remember that this is not a simple process. The customer data helps to build a bank of management information with screening rules and standard responses, that determine how all customer interactions are handled. For instance, using Klout scores, customers with a high social media status and influence are put through to a specialised customer service agent; high spending customers are connected with high priority; while calls from less profitable customers are directed to self-service where possible. If we take the example of a customer who hasn't yet paid for one service, they can be refused access to customer service and will be automatically routed to finance first, no matter which channel they use.
  3. Distribution
    It is important that the right task is distributed to the right resource for completion. If we take the example of a patient calling into a hospital, due to the potentially sensitive nature of their call, they can be connected with their dedicated agent first. If not available, they can be given the option to talk to someone else. In this way, based on its core business, service levels, cost, skills, context and rules, an organisation can route lower-value tasks to a lower-cost region, or tailor its work distribution to branch offices or back-office workers during peak hours, serving to increase business effectiveness. Automating the customer service process with this intelligent routing ensures that staff are able to easily understand the customer conversation and then act on that understanding.
  4. Resolution
    The customer's history of interaction equips contact centre agents with the right information to handle customer queries. Screen pops, for example, provide agents with the right customer and transactional data on their computers. An answer library with information on products/services, solutions to problems, steps for troubleshooting, advice from other customers, and anything that could help answer a question or solve a problem, all add to improving resolution rates. This, in turn, strengthens the customer/brand relationship creating a more value laden and multi-beneficial dialogue.

With context and business rules, brands can create and deliver messages that are relevant and timely, conducted through proper channels and are personalised. Customers find that their interactions require less effort, leading to higher levels of satisfaction. By using context and rules to manage existing and emerging communication channels, organisations can not just manage customer conversations, but prioritise their efforts to achieve the greatest impact on their customers' experience - and their bottom line.