In the entire history of commerce, customers have never had it so good. Not only do they continue to be the focus of retailers’ attention, but personalized shopping, anywhere transactions, social sharing, fast and powerful comparative shopping, a good sense of what the customer will do next and a seemingly infinite recollection of every detail of every interaction are now combined into what can be described as the golden age of customer service.

But a golden age for customers can also be a major headache for companies. To get a sense of how to provide a golden age for both, CMSWire recently chatted with James Norwood, Chief Marketing Officer for one of the vendors in this space, KANA Software.

Trinicom, Ciboodle, Lagan

KANA, which offers hosted, on-premises or hybrid solutions for customer experience management, is a company on the move.

In April, it purchased Trinicom, which provided software-as-a-service (SaaS) customer service management for the mid-market. It bought Ciboodle in July, acquiring those solutions for agent desktops, contact center case management and social communities for customers.

Also in the summer, KANA released the next generation of its Web Customer Service solutions, with emphasis on Experience Flows, Contextual Knowledge and Social Analytics. The main intent, the company said, was to deliver “accurate answers consistently” and in the right context, so that customers can find what they need online without using expensive, operator-manned contact centers.

In October, it introduced Lagan Express, a software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform designed to handle customers for mid-sized public sector organizations, via phone, email, chat, web self-service, virtual assistant and social media. The technology was acquired when KANA bought Lagan in 2010.

“The whole customer service environment has been reinvigorated as it hasn’t been in a long time,” Norwood told CMSWire.

The Omni-Channel

That re-invigoration is leading to -- and resulting from -- the availability of sophisticated customer experience, technology-mediated solutions for every size and type of business.

For the past two decades, KANA has been providing solutions primarily for the enterprise, and now for the mid-market. At this point in its history, Norwood said, KANA is no longer interested in being a point solution provider. Some companies continue to provide point solutions to the lower end of the market, he said, but KANA “isn’t playing there.”

Instead, in the age when customer service across multiple and growing channels is the key challenge, KANA is primarily interested in providing what Norwood described as “end to end management with a single set of knowledge.”

“We’re bringing together knowledge and sales,” he said, adding that KANA’s solution can “help a consumer make a decision to buy,” but the actual commerce will be supplied by someone else. “Our role,” Norwood noted, “is to make sure you don’t abandon the shopping cart.”

The “biggest thing happening” in customer service, Norwood said, is the “realization by companies that they need an omni-channel solution to the multiple channels,” so that there is a unified and consistent context for the customer. “All of the channels have to work together, all have to pass the same context to the customer” between channels, he said. “That’s the Promised Land.”

Marketing, Customer Service or Sales?

But, as Moses can attest, the Promised Land can be hard to reach. It requires not only a unified approach to how the company is presented across all channels, but also a unified approach within a company.

Norwood pointed out that, in the age of multiple ways for a customer to talk with a company, with so many touchpoints and potentially conflicting messages, technology can only do so much. The key question is, he said, “who in the business is responsible for the end-to-end customer engagement?” Is it marketing, customer service or sales?

KANA recently sponsored a report on how companies can better align the direction of corporate decisions in order to prosper in the current multi-channel environment. The report, conducted by the Customer Contact Association, urged companies to sync up marketing, sales, contact center, top management and the board of directors around a unified strategy for dealing with the multi-channel customer.

The Tipping Point

Companies also need to recognize that mobile and social media are more than just two additional channels, Norwood pointed out. “Social is completely integrated” into many channels, he said, and the “tipping point has been reached for mobile,” shifting the center of gravity for mediated customer-company interaction to devices that can be carried anywhere. Too often, he said, organizations have social media run by a separate team that “doesn’t really talk to customer service.”

Multiple channels create opportunities for customers and companies, but they also expose gaps between departments. Norwood added that “many of our more prescient customers are delivering” initiatives that are specifically designed to require marketing and customer service to work together in this new environment.

To Norwood, it’s “all about the concept of context.” Customers channel-surf, make decisions and purchases from mobile, then on the phone, then a laptop, and ending up in a physical store -- or not. “If you, the business, are not transitioning that context with them,” maintaining a consistency across channels, he said, “you end up with annoyed customers.”