Customer Expectations 2

Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Quora, LinkedIn….businesses are pushing harder and harder at engaging customers across multiple digital channels and social networks, each experiencing varied levels of success.

It’s that success that I wish to discuss today. When asked what is social media success, most will give you the typical soft metrics including follower count, number of re-tweets, and/or number of comments.

STOP! Before you click away from this post in fear that it’s another of my tirades about the limitations or inaccuracies of soft metrics in measuring business success, this is not that. Well, at least not just that.

A growing number of clients and colleagues are beginning to realize that their pursuit to becoming an ‘omin-channel’ business has failed; not because they have not increased their online audience but because they’ve failed to manage their customers across the plethora of communication channels they’ve created with which to engage customers in.

Beware Omni-Channel Engagement Strategies

“Omni-channel” is another of today’s overused marketing and strategy buzz words; it references the push towards engaging customers – and providing a consistent experience – across multiple channels, including online, mobile, social, in-store, etc.  The problem is that marketing teams are building on this infrastructure to drive the soft-metrics they are so keen to report: Awareness and engagement. The real problem lies in the fact that, alone, awareness and engagement does not make a successful business.

Omni-channel strategy can be a Pandora’s Box; it creates a type of black hole in which customer engagement, concerns, and feedback are swallowed up, never to be seen again. Cynthia Grimm, in her Harvard Business Review column, shares the story of a colleague who attempted to get an issue with her microwave oven resolved through the various customer engagement channels offered by the manufacturer, only to be left running in circles by the conflicting resolution options.

The manufacturer’s online FAQ did not offer an adequate solution. The online service scheduling tool offered a service call within 24 hours at a cost of $90 but the customer support rep, who was reached by a toll-free number on that same form, said that service calls can only be scheduled two weeks out and at a cost of $75. Further, the customer service rep rejected any knowledge of their online policies or offerings. The net result of this engagement was that her friend did not get her microwave serviced; instead, she threw it out and purchased one from another manufacturer.

Grimm sums up the omni-channel problem quite eloquently: “It is one thing to be in a non-traditional channel (such as self-service, chat, mobile, or social media) creating awareness and engagement.  It’s quite another to be in there providing customer care.”

More Channels and More Customers Requires Greater Customer Support

The push to engage more customers online without a strategy and foundation to support the increased prospects and customers engaged is not exclusive to our digital-era.  Even before social media, businesses that focused on increasing leads and sales without building the infrastructure to keep those customers satisfied and loyal – not to mention encouraging advocacy – experienced an unnecessary customer drop off.  Increased leads or sales are not the metric of a successful business, growing profitability is. And growing profitability can only be achieved when the pre-purchase and post-purchase customer experience are synced and working effectively.

Not surprisingly, a RIS News research paper on the omni-channel failures in the retail industry listed the top factors contributing to the lack of success as 1. Too many siloed systems (63.9%), and 2. Difficulty in forecasting and allocating required labor to execute omni-channel tasks (52.8%).

The Flip Side of Social Media: Servicing Customer Expectations

Achieving this balance between customer acquisition and customer development is not an easy task. It requires an infrastructure that can quickly and seamlessly share information across multiple business units and a corporate culture that would allow information to flow freely across hierarchies and enables more front-line decision-making.

The moral of the story is: Be careful what you wish for; a successful multi-channel customer engagement strategy, without the infrastructure and culture to consistently manage the increased customer expectation that it fosters, will only serve to further alienate both customers and prospects, not to mention failing to convert customers in to brand advocates.

Sam Fiorella
Feed Your Community, Not Your Ego