By Brian Donn

One of the biggest challenges facing online retailers today is the ability to deliver a high level of consistent customer service. In a customer-centric world, where consumers are constantly connected, there is an increasing demand for a fast, accessible and reliable level or service across all channels (online, on mobile devices, via social media, in-store). Failure to deliver this has the potential to negatively impact a brand’s reputation and ultimately result in the loss of business.

Following the recent explosion of mobile applications and other social media channels, consumers now have more choice than ever before in the way they engage with a brand or organisation. The challenge this presents for online retailers is to ensure they effectively align all channels – for example web or chat – with other existing customer service channels in the business, such as via the call centre or in-store. As customer service is key to driving the development of long term and profitable customer relationships, and as the industry looks to move towards an omni-channel approach to customer service, disconnected channels are simply no longer acceptable.

Furthermore, social media is fast becoming a major part of delivering and seeking customer service, with recent research revealing that more than two-thirds of Australian organisations using the channel to deliver customer service. It also showed that almost one in three consumers say they often use social media when looking for customer service, with a similar proportion planning to increase their use of social media for customer service within the next 12 months .

Online retailers need to think about how they integrate customer service channels to deliver a consistent customer service experience that directly supports an organisations’ brand and service strategy. The ideal online venture will be one that personalises the customer experience to move away from the typical ‘one-size-fits-all’ model and towards a new “everyone serves” customer experience imperative.

In today’s environment, a business cannot compete on product and price alone, they must deliver the ideal service experience. The current convergence and integration of customer service channels and the increasing sophistication and use of multi-media channels and devices by consumers, means businesses need to adapt their existing service models by providing an end-to-end omni-channel customer service approach to the way they engage with customers.

Personalise your approach
It is time to start asking the right questions, gathering customer data and applying the evidence intelligently. In doing so, organisations will be able to understand their customers better and offer the desired personalised service.

No matter which channel the customer is using to engage with the brand, it is important that it does not impact the quality or type of service they receive. In today’s customer driven world, customers will ‘channel surf’ and expect a connected experience. With social media, it is important that businesses look beyond simply monitoring brand mentions to actually uncovering the topics, meaning, trends and sentiment of customer conversations.

The technology exists today to allow online retailers to take advantage of customer actions, choices and feedback on an individual level—despite the billions of clicks, millions of emails and comments, and thousands of customers—to create a truly personalised experience. Subsequently, online retailers need to ensure they utilise the right technology to link together the various customer service channels and monitor consumer interactions via the phone, e-mail, social media and live chat, enabling a consistent and personalised approach to customer engagement.

Context is critical
Beyond omni-channel engagement, more and more organisations will realise that context is also critical to service, and look for technologies to utilise the ever-increasing amount of information generated in a customer lifecycle. Hence, the ability to understand and respond to context will be a critical factor that sorts the wealth of information into actionable knowledge in each interaction and at each point in the customer’s journey.

Online retailers of the future will look for ways to apply context to the way they deliver customer experiences and more effectively manage customer expectations. This includes using context in the past – recent interactions, product history, campaign output, as well as in the present – contact channel, billing cycle, open cases, customer life stage. Context also engages the future – relevant offers, best next action, and appropriate follow up.

The key to success for any business is to stay ahead of its competitors. For online retailers, this means adopting a holistic approach to customer service channels – whether it be via phone, social media, web, chat or phone – as well as embracing predictive analytics that can make sense of big (mainly unstructured) data to help determine where the customer needs to go next. If implemented correctly, this approach will ensure online retailers can provide today’s savvy and sophisticated consumer a positive experience with the brand’s promise – from all directions and to all directions.

Brian Donn is the senior vice president and general manager APAC of KANA Software.