“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.”