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This post has been contributed by TextMagic.

Chances are, your business already has more than one channel of customer support. It could be phone and email or social media and chat – no matter the combo, most companies offer at least two. That said, most of those same businesses don’t provide a seamless experience between those channels. Ten years ago, this may not have been an issue. People back then were used to sticking to one contact form between themselves and a given business.

Now, however, customers expect to be able to keep in touch with a brand in multiple ways. Nearly half of your customers will, reportedly, use at least four touchpoints, with a significant percentage using six or more. In many cases, those same customers will switch devices during that contact process. That switch is most often from desktop to mobile.

The omnichannel approach implies that no matter what channel or device a customer is using, they get a smooth, cohesive experience. In the same way, it should mean that your support team has integrated in such a way that if a customer follows up a phone call with an SMS inquiry, they feel like the conversation is continued, not set back to square one.

Where is Omnichannel Working Now?

“Omni” isn’t a new concept. Neiman Marcus, Timberland, and Value City are just a few big names that set the standard in Omnichannel.  These guys are providing a near-perfect omnichannel experience to their customers.

In fact, they’ve been doing well enough for so long that now, 37% of customers expect to be able to contact the same support representative through multiple channels, and 47% hope to be able to change channels during a support session or transaction without repercussions.

Beyond exceeding customer expectations, brands and businesses taking the initiative with omnichannel reap additional rewards. The more channels a customer uses and feels comfortable using, the more they spend, up to 9% on average. This could be on a current order or service or subsequent orders or services. This could have something to do with omnichannel companies seeing a higher than 9% increase in year-over-year revenue, compared to single and multi-channel businesses. Here are some steps that businesses are implementing in order to streamline their omnichannel approach.

Steps to a Successful OmniChannel Approach

Know Your Channels

While the goal is to make each different channel feel like a cohesive experience, you can’t have a successful omnichannel strategy without knowing what channels you have, want, and need to integrate.

  • Chat – Chat is a popular option for customer support due to its flexibility. No one has to wait around on the phone, and you can respond to messages as they come in. It’s even possible for a customer service rep to handle more than one chat at a time. This option can also easily transfer to text (SMS) messages.
  • SMS (Text Messaging) – Using SMS in your omnichannel plan allows brands to chat with customers, send reminders, confirm appointments, and even schedule call times. It’s an excellent channel in and of itself, but it also serves as a critical facilitator in your overall omnichannel strategy.
  • Email – Email is the old standby. It’s most often used for general inquiries and anything that doesn’t need an immediate response.  As part of a multi-channel strategy, emails should be logged and distributed or accessible, to quickly bring an agent up to speed on a given case.
  • Phone Calls – Phone calls are typically the last resort for millennial customers. In fact, 32% of them report that using the phone is an inconvenience. If something goes wrong and they can’t get a response from another channel, they will call, in nearly half of all cases, rather than wait any longer. To make the most of a customer’s time on the phone, particulars about their situation or business account should be available to the phone support team.
  • Social Media, Forums, Etc. – In many omnichannel strategies, social media, forums, and general customer outreach is overlooked. Many companies don’t see these in the same light as the channels above and as such, they are partitioned. This can create a sharp divide in customer experiences and should be avoided.
  • In Person – Though not applicable to purely online businesses, brick-and-mortar business with products (be they retail, wholesale, or lease) will often find in-person consultation much more effective if the rep has access to any and all information the customer has volunteered before the appointment.

Nike, for example, has made the most of this integration strategy. The company’s combination of in-store technology and in-person interaction has created a seamless shopping experience for consumers.  Nike keeps its website on display in the store to help direct customers to the location of different products on the shelves. And in return, they are cross-selling items only available online. Nike also uses handheld POS systems, so customers simply checkout when they are done trying on products – no long lines.  Your sales associate checks you out right when you are done.

Have an Overarching Strategy

Now that you know what channels you’re looking at, it’s time to see how you can get all of these disparate pieces to work together. First, if you don’t already have one, make sure that every person involved in the “customer journey” knows precisely what protocols they are to follow.

Without set guidelines, or guidelines that vary from channel to channel, lines can blur and while the customer service of your organization as a whole might be successful, a particular channel may be relatively ignored or under-served.

For example, Adidas realized, through studying their customer’s behavior, that their messaging from channel to channel was inconsistent. However, when multiple channels just happened to work together (in less than 2% of all cases), the outcomes were markedly better. By refocusing their marketing and support efforts, they were able to create a 75x rise in conversion efficiency.

Invest in Infrastructure

Once your customer service reps have all the training and guidelines, you need to make sure they have the information and ability to access every channel. Chat operators shouldn’t be banned from picking up the phone, just as someone sending text messages should be able to read a customer’s emails to the company. Without access, there will be a channel-related divide.

In many cases, to solve this problem, your business will have to invest in a new system or piece of digital infrastructure. The solution you choose will depend on the channels most critical to your everyday needs.

Create Self-Service Resources

A “knowledge base” or other self-service resource is another channel to support your customers. In many cases, it can help bridge the gap between what a particular channel can and cannot do. If a customer can get the information they need immediately, they will most likely prefer that to spending more of their time with your customer support team.

For example, if you have a video on how to solve a common problem step-by-step, it’s a lot easier to send that person a link to that video through email or SMS than it is to try and walk them through it in text form. The same can be said for when a customer has product questions that can’t be answered over the phone- they could be referred to an in-store rep.

If you look at Foursquare, they have taken self-service to a new level. With their Zendesk-powered solution, they can provide 32 out of 33 customers with an adequate self-service solution. That 33rd customer will then be referred to one of their other help channels. This helps keep customer support agents focused on cases that need their skills and provided immediate gratification to everyone else.

Focus on Creating a Seamless Experience

The true essence of “Omni” channel is to create an experience where a customer, business, or contact can use any form of communication they feel is most appropriate. Then, it should seamlessly integrate with any other channel they have used in the past or may use in the future. Further, your customer support reps should have all the guidelines and tools they need to solve any case on any channel.

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