Marketers in every sector are naturally showing a growing interest in the customer journey, which was traditionally an area 'owned' by the contact centre, according to Andy Smith, head of customer insight for EvaluAgent, who here explains how marketers are increasingly shifting their focus into new areas such as the customer experience, journey mapping and social media engagement. This article is copyright 2015 The Best Customer Guide.

As the future of marketing becomes more about building cohesive customer journeys across sales, service and marketing interactions, it is vital that brands develop a joined up approach to customer contacts. Brands might talk a good talk about the customer experience, but in spite - or perhaps because - of the proliferation of new service channels, customer frustration is at an all time high. So how can the contact centre work with the marketing department to deliver an outstanding customer experience, increased loyalty and ultimately, long-term revenues.

So who owns the customer experience? Tap this question into Google and in 39 seconds you'll be faced with 10,100,000 results. This is perhaps not surprising when you consider that research from Gartner's has found that customer experience is considered by many companies to be the top innovation project, just edging out product innovation. The contact centre is obviously a contender as the owner of the customer experience, but the right answer to this question is still eluding brands; at the moment, the attention is firmly on the marketing department.

Gartner's research late in 2014 found that the highest marketing technology investment is for customer experience. Recent research from Salesforce backs this up, reporting that marketers are increasingly shifting their focus into new territories, including customer experience, journey mapping and social media engagement.

As Scott McCorkle, Salesforce Marketing Cloud's CEO, pointed out in the report, "The future of marketing is building cohesive customer journeys across sales, service and marketing interactions. It is more important than ever to connect with each person interacting with your brand, and personalise journeys based on their actions and preferences." The report confirms that 86% of senior-level marketers believe it is now critical to "reate a cohesive customer journey across all touch points", using mobile apps, analytics tools and CRM as part of the process.

Creating a cohesive customer journey
The need for a cohesive customer journey is something that many contact centres are already getting to grips with. Traditionally a department set up to handle large volumes of telephone enquiries from customers, the contact centre is now also adapting its business processes to manage online and digital contacts, often with a directive from the board to put the customer experience at the heart of their operation. Yet while the contact centre faces constant pressure on cost management, it seems that 88% of UK marketers plan to increase or maintain their budgets for 2015.

The demand for a multichannel experience has added another level of complexity to the customer journey. Over the last year we've seen 'multichannel' move from somewhat of an industry buzzword to a reality. Each channel represents a huge opportunity to increase customer satisfaction and of course sales. Unfortunately, each one also gives your brand another chance to fail, by making it even more difficult to meet customers needs.

A cohesive customer journey is the utopia and this means the marketing department and contact centre really should be natural bedfellows rather than "frenemies". But while one function can be led by the emotive and aspirational elements of the customer experience the other is, by necessity, driven by cost, policy, targets and often the failings. It is when you add multichannel to the mix that you begin to understand the need for both to work together to make this united journey a reality.

The joined-up customer experience
Later research by EvaluAgent showed that nine out of ten contact centres are offering more than three channels and just under half offer more than six. Worryingly the research also shows a massive 90% of contact centres do not have a clear picture of the customer journey across all of their contact channels.

Customers no longer simply expect a range of channels; they expect consistency and continuity between them and failing to deliver a joined up experience will have a negative impact on their satisfaction.

The only way a brand can create a truly joined up and positive customer experience is to identify all the potential pain points in the customer journey, for example incomplete information on the company website, a failure to respond to an email within an acceptable timeframe, or having to repeat details of a past email query over the telephone. Customer experience is not just about one singular transaction but a collection of interactions over time.

With this in mind it's easy to see how multiple operational functions must work together to improve the customer experience. This represents probably the biggest opportunity for the relevant operational departments within a brand to work together to create a cohesive customer journey.

Friends or frenemies?
So how can marketing departments work together with contact centres to increase customer satisfaction? These steps represent a very good way to begin:

  1. Start a conversation with your contact centre
    Talk about how you can work together to personalise customer journeys based on your customer's actions and preferences - after all it is Customer Services who deal with the fall out of poor customer experiences. Be clear about what you want to get from the process of working together. How can contact centre processes be adapted to meet marketing objectives? What technology investment is required and are all your technology systems working together to provide the all-important 360 degree view of the customer relationship? Make sure you know what change you want to bring about and understand how the contact centre can be part of that process.
  2. Identify the contstraints and limitations
    Find out where the current constraints and limitations are within a given channel. It is easier to plan a smoother customer journey when you know where the jams are, what causes them and what the symptoms of failure are from a customer perspective. For example a poorly designed online Q&A or FAQs could be driving up volumes in the contact centre, using up valuable resources that could be focused on building better relationships with your customers - an excessive volume of FAQ suggests the product/service/ offering is poorly designed.
  3. Break down barriers between departments and channels
    Brands that are serious about improving the customer experience will realise that technology and process alignment across customer service and marketing is vital. Without the right cross-departmental processes to empower employees the customer is going to get a disjointed experience - however lofty your aims are, they will need solid foundations. Start with your channels and make sure you have a joined up multichannel strategy in place that can deliver a single view of customer contacts. There is absolutely no point in capturing customer feedback in silos and the contact centre is a valuable repository of information and insight in this respect. Remember that not all channels are suitable for every purpose so-look for trends, consistency, or perhaps inconsistency, and listen to what customers are saying about their experience - this will enable you to identify areas where you can build stronger relationships with your customers.

The buck stops... where?
Many brands are still dysfunctional when it comes to how the marketing and contact centre teams approach the customer experience. It is all too easy to keep things the same and avoid interfering with the status quo. Yet to create a truly connected and personalised customer experience, organisations need to have the difficult conversation about where the buck finally stops.

Some organisations are creating new roles to tackle the issue and many are giving the Customer Experience Director the task of building the bridges required for success. It might make sense for marketing to own some aspects of the customer journey, but the contact centre will be instrumental to transforming relationships with your customers. Building a sense of co-operation into your organisational culture is therefore vital.

"Ultimately we must be mindful of the fact that customers really don't care about your brand's internal structure; all they care about is having open, effective and meaningful interactions with your brand that meets their needs and resolves issues in the fastest and most convenient way possible," concluded Smith. "In this sense, it is the customer that ultimately owns the customer experience. It's now up to brands to ensure their departments work together to engage those customers, manage expectations and improve satisfaction, and with that, increase overall brand loyalty."