Consumers use several sources of information before making purchase decisions -- they may seek independent opinions, speak to customer service agents, or examine goods physically. And they are constantly accessing information via multiple touchpoints -- including mobile devices, social networks and company websites -- throughout the research process.

Companies have come to recognize the importance of providing excellent cross-channel services to improve the customer experience. In fact, according to a Forrester report,  80 percent of customer experience decision makers said that improving cross-channel interactions was one of their key priorities in 2010. However, consumers consistently rate satisfaction levels for cross-channel experiences as poor, so it is apparent that businesses often struggle to deliver on this goal.

Why is this obvious goal so difficult to achieve? For starters, it is hard enough to ensure that a website delivers an excellent user experience. When you factor in the vast number of web-enabled mobile devices, companies face a huge challenge in creating a consistent and personalized experience for every user. Social media only adds to the complexity; as consumers increasingly using social networking sites to exchange views, seek recommendations and offer opinions, companies account for all these intersecting channels, devices, and social networks in their experience, in order to gain consumer trust and build goodwill.

But all is far from lost. In this article, I will present eight key strategies for delivering excellent multi-touchpoint experiences that will engage consumers, build customer loyalty and ultimately drive greater revenue and profitability. And there's more good news: Once your organization succeeds in integrating its cross-platform communication efforts, it can then tailor its approach to suit individual users, ensuring that each customer feels valued and that the best cross- and up-selling opportunities are pursued.

1. Make sure your website is intuitive on all mobile devices
According to Forrester Research's U.S. Mobile Adoption Forecast, it has been estimated that by 2014, 80 percent of all mobile devices will be 3G enabled -- up from 40 percent in 2009. With the number and type of mobile devices growing, it's urgent that companies' outreach efforts be optimized for all devices.

Optimization is not simply a matter of resizing the screen; it requires a solid perception of the tasks that your consumers want to perform across the many channels and devices on which they interact with you. For example, smartphone users are frequently looking for answers to specific questions -- they may want to find a particular news item or to locate the nearest retail outlet. Your goal is to guide them to the answers quickly and intuitively. By contrast, when people visit your website on a laptop, they expect a more immersive experience that allows them to browse as well as search. The key is to be able to recognize customers and prospects as individuals and tailor your content to them, regardless of the channel, device, or system they choose.

2. Address the customer's context -- not just the channel or device they're using
When delivering information across different channels and devices, determine and use the information they are seeking to create a personalized experience that addresses their context. By context I mean the interaction between the user, the device, the environment, and the content itself -- this could include the season of the year, time of day, physical location, type of mobile device and, of course, the user's interests and profile. Understanding how these factors interact enables a company to deliver relevant content and to target offers with precision.

3. Start a conversation! Invite opinions, ratings, and reviews
One of the most powerful ways of engaging people is by opening up your website to their reviews, ratings, and comments -- enabling them to engage in discussion with you and with each other.

This not only demonstrates your commitment to improving the customer experience, but also creates a forum for passionate brand advocates to persuade others to purchase your products and services. In addition, you can respond to issues through blogs and comments, heading off problems by addressing them early.

Ratings, comments, discussion boards, and forums can provide invaluable feedback and new insights into what's on the minds of your users. You can float ideas and invite users to test products -- in effect running a 24/7 market research campaign and giving you greater assurance that new products and services will find a ready market at launch.

4. Unleash the power of self-help!
Offering intuitive web self-help can greatly reduce the burden of supporting your customers through contact centers, decreasing costs, and increasing customer satisfaction. It must not only be intuitive, but also appropriate to each channel and device. The key is understanding the potential problems that users encounter and providing the right help at the right moment.

There are many users who relish the opportunity to help others, so providing a forum that allows them to do so unleashes their potential, builds a powerful database of solutions, and takes the pressure off your own contact center agents.

If you think of the web purely as a way of eliminating calls to your contact center, however, you run the risk of frustrating your customers. So don't hide your contact center number away -- let people approach you in the way that they feel comfortable. You can offer alternatives to the phone -- such as live web chat. Most important is to ensure a smooth hand-over between channels so that customers don't have to repeat information -- this reduces their frustration and the time your agents need to serve them.

5. Always recognize your customer
Many companies take a silo approach to channels -- each channel is managed by a separate department. As a result, loyal customers may be greeted as strangers if they approach through a new channel.

An integrated solution provides a total picture of a customer's interests, preferences, and buying history across all channels. It ensures that you treat people as valued customers and it helps you to identify the most effective cross- and up-selling opportunities.

6. Use social media if it's relevant to your customers
In 2009, Forrester Research found that membership of social networking sites rose by 46 percent. There is no doubt that social networks can bring you closer to your customers, and offer candid insights into their views and desires. Using analytics feedback, social networks can automatically inform your web presence while your content is drawn into the conversation on social networks. Traffic can be driven to your website, user comments can inform your contact center agents, and ratings and reviews can be reflected on your website. You can increase the size and loyalty of your audience and maximize your return on engagement.

But two notes of caution. First, only engage in social networks if they are relevant to your audience -- there is no point in developing a Facebook presence if your potential customers will never visit it. Second, be honest and open. You should assume that any scheme designed to generate an artificial groundswell will be exposed.

7. Embrace opportunities to create innovative marketing campaigns
Mix different channels together to create innovative marketing campaigns that ignite the excitement of your target audience. Draw on a blend of online, mobile, and real experiences to differentiate your company, strengthen its brand persona, and drive new revenues.

Today's proliferation of channels, devices, and social networks massively increases the number of ways to approach customers. Creative marketers can seize the opportunity to differentiate products and services through campaigns that intrigue, excite, delight and ultimately sell.

8. Show that you are really listening
There is no point in creating these communication channels and making them as engaging and personalized as possible if you are not actually listening to what your customers are saying. The best way to get that return on engagement is by taking the insights and feedback you've gotten from your audiences and putting it into action, making some real changes to your business. Then, take it a step further, and tell them about it! Empowering your customers can go a long way in creating brand loyalty and advocacy.