The greatest challenge facing customer contact operations in 2017 isn’t a technology issue – it’s the corporate mindset

Back-in-the-day, brands were accustomed to being in control of their own communication channels for marketing, sales and service.  The customer would be informed which number to call for which function; brands would expect to address sales queries from within their sales team, customer enquiries or complaints from within the customer service team, and so on. They could skill in silos and control the hours of operation, routes of entry and communication. 
Not so today.
Today it is the consumer who decides the when, where, how and why of the communication.  They pick and choose between a wealth of social media channels, messaging, apps, phone lines, web-chat and email, all at their own convenience and via multiple devices.  And that doesn’t always bode well for the business – especially when a disgruntled customer decides they’re not going to play nicely. We’ve all seen those hapless brands who issue what they intend to be a marketing challenge to their Facebook or Twitter followers – a chirpy question about their favourite use for a product, for example – only to find their campaign hijacked by unhappy customers and their Facebook page or Twitter feed become a stew of mockery and widely shared complaints.
‘Omni-channel’ is just the beginning
It’s one thing to make all the channels available to the customer; in this new world, brands need to go further. They have to stop thinking of each channel as specific for a single purpose, which the organisation can supposedly dictate. The customer with access to all the channels can and will deploy to whichever channel is most convenient for them, or which gets them the attention or the result they seek. Not only that, but they will channel-hop when needed, expecting the detail of their query or complaint to follow them, without the need to review or repeat themselves in the process. The expectation is that any and every channel must be able to address whatever issue they have and pick up where another dropped off.
This means there’s no such thing as a channel of engagement focused around the agenda that the business wants to have; the agenda for any and every channel is chosen by the customer.
Changing the corporate mindset
So the biggest challenge facing brands today is how to take all the channels – marketing, sales and service across all the media – and work in a unified way across them all.  They need not only to be able to serve every need and handle every problem through every channel, but to make the experience a unified and seamless one, even for the most skittish of customers.
This is not just a technological challenge, but an organisational and even psychological one.  In fact in many ways it’s not a technological challenge at all – because the technology has moved faster than our commercial mindset and it can already support this utopian unified and personalised environment.  What’s impacting the organisation working to this new agenda is not the hardware or software – it’s their own legacy silo mentality.
Fulfilling customer expectations in this diverse, multi-modal environment means opening up the organisation in ways which may feel counter-intuitive to the old-school corporation, and breaking down the barriers between traditional functions.  It means moving away from structures based around transaction types, and away from traditional KPI’s around specific kinds of contact. It means releasing their grip on quantitative measures altogether, and refocusing around qualitative assessment.  It means prioritising and fostering a host of new talents such as empathy, creative thinking, emotional intelligence, listening skills, flexibility and adaptability, across the whole customer-centric organisation.
Those organisations able to make the transition will be the best placed to thrive in the world where the customer calls the shots.

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