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It's become a mantra in the digital marketing world these days:  companies need to maintain a seamless customer experience across the multiple channels. They have to communicate a consistent identity from message to message, from medium to medium and deliver consistently on that identity. But how is that possible? To find out, CMSWire.com turned to several experts.

The Promised Land

Kana Software offers a range of customer service and experience solutions, including case management, email and knowledge management, social media monitoring, social CRM, text analytics, customer feedback and an agent desktop for the call center.

In speaking with us previously, Kana Chief Marketing Officer James Norwood said “the biggest thing happening” in customer service is the “realization by companies that they need an omnichannel solution to the multiple channels” that provides a 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.”

We recently spoke with Norwood again to get a better sense of what “the same context” means.

What it doesn’t mean, he said, is that companies attempt to present the same experience across the channels, since that’s obviously not possible when communicating through, say, a web site, a live online chat, a person in a store, email and Facebook.

To Norwood, a “consistent” experience across channels is one that “delivers the same level of feeling in each channel.” One way to do that, he said, is “to pick the best channel,” such as the in-store experience, and then “benchmark” that against other channels. In other words, use the best experience as the best-realized standard, and then adapt the other channels down from that standard.

The Key Is Consistency

If there are visuals, they should have consistent look-and-feel. But the key, Norwood said, is that there are “consistent answers, consistently delivered.”

He said the foundation of those answers needs to be “a data consistency, a single version of the truth,” in which all of the channels draw on the same knowledge-base and the same customer profiles. Then the “presentation layer” – the style, tone voice, choice of wording, visuals and so on – are consistently layered on top. If you go into a Barnes & Noble store, for instance, an employee should know as much about your purchase history and current inquiries as, say, an agent on the phone or the system behind a personalized website.

Is this what customers expect? Increasingly, studies show customers expect the phone agent to know what they have just purchased or what they have been trying to buy on the web site.

These days, Norwood said, companies shouldn’t forget that “customers more often than not” know a lot about the company and “what they expect more than anything is a tailoring of their experience, to be treated almost like an extension of your company.” Increasingly, companies are coming around to the idea that customers will be loyal “if you can tailor their experience,” with Apple being a prime example of letting customers feel like they have personal relationships.

Portals Into the Experience

Forrester Research senior analyst Tony Costa has written about “seamless experiences” across multiple channels, which he said requires “continuity of memory and experience throughout the customer’s journey.”

Costa recently told CMSWire.com that a key aspect of the seamless experience, not unlike Norwood’s “data consistency,” is allowing users to continue a process across devices and not have to “begin again at square one” if they resume their efforts to complete a purchase or a product investigation on another device. The device, he said, “should just be a portal into that experience,” because, otherwise, “every time they switch, their progress is disrupted.” Customers don’t see individual devices or channels, he said; “they see a similar brand experience.”

Of course, while different devices – such as a smartphone, tablet and laptop – represent different channels, sometimes different channels can exist on the same device, such as email, live chat and a website on a laptop, but those are other portals into the same experience.

Different Places, Same Info

“If you are on a web page,” Costa said, “and then call the company's 800 number, the call center should know where you were and should know the information on the page you were on.” In another example, he said, “if I am researching a car on the web site and then go to the dealership,” the dealer should know what I was looking at.

That’s the ideal that companies should strive for, Costa said, because “more and more” customers are expecting this kind of persistence across channels/devices. He cited a British Telecom survey from February, which found 68 percent of customers in the US and the UK said “information available in one place should be available in another.” But only 17 percent of respondents said organizations make it easy to switch between channels.

He agreed with Norwood, who said the “messages, communications and visuals” – that is, the presentation layer – should be “unified, but channel-specific.” It’s not always about uniformity, he said, but about “a consistent message that is channel-specific.”

Same Feeling, Different Channel

Another Forrester analyst, Sam Stern, has written about the importance of employee engagement to a positive customer experience across all touchpoints that involve human beings talking to one another. He recently told CMSWire.com that customer expectations are simply that the experience across these touchpoints should be “easy, should meet their needs and should be enjoyable.”

But to represent a brand experience with those characteristics across multiple channels, he said, brands need to understand their key attributes and work to convey them consistently through the differing capabilities of different channels. Stern cited the experience of Easy Jet airline, which found customers’ expectations of the airline were, in order, safety first, “we’re on your side,” friendliness, easy and transparency.

“Once you have these high-level statements,” he said, you can adapt them to the particulars of each channel. Friendliness, for instance, might be conveyed as a “big smile” that is articulated through language, tone, how customers are addressed, visuals when available and other presentation layer factors.

In other words, evoke the style or emotions in each channel that your high-level statement warrants, echoing the assertion from Norwood that a “consistent” experience across channels is one that “delivers the same level of feeling in each channel.”

The consensus of these three experts is that, to build a consistent customer experience across very different channels, focus on persistence of data about the customer across channels, consistent experiences that convey the same feeling and the same high-level brand attributes and the ability to continue a process between channels.

Image courtesy of hybris software