By Darren Wathen, Industry Manager, Banking and Finance, Optus Business
It's vital to provide consistent service and information. This is a key theme that emerges from our latest Optus Future of Business Report 2013 for organisations seeking to offer a truly integrated, multi-channel experience for their customers - across physical stores, social media, mobile, online and contact centres.
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This year's report highlights that consumers want access to consistent information about their accounts, habits and preferences, no matter how they interact with a business. Some 65% of the nearly 2,200 consumers we surveyed expected to access the same services and features through any channel an organisation provided. A similar proportion expected to get the same level of service, irrespective of channel.
As Scott Mason has already blogged, integration appears to be holding organisations' back from providing seamless multi-channel services. Just 12% of the 550 organisations we surveyed had fully integrated their channels to deliver a consistent customer experience while 71% had only partially integrated their channels.
This may explain why newer digital channels such as mobile and social media are not being embraced by consumers as service channels as quickly as organisations believe - or expected.
While 62% of organisations surveyed are actively using social media and 46% are using mobile to reach customers, the research suggests they haven't fully developed and integrated these newer channels to deliver real value to consumers.
In my experience, I've found companies launching a new digital channel such as online or mobile often look to deliver a largely transactional experience first, rather than emulating the more complex array of interactions customers would experience in a bricks-and-mortar store.
This may explain why only 31% of consumers were very satisfied with their mobile experience and just 27% were very satisfied with their social media experience. That compares to nearly two thirds being happy with their bricks-and-mortar experience.
This reflects the different levels of maturity in terms of people, processes and - most importantly - content that these channels provide. For example, the banking industry has been successful in attracting customers to digital channels, while also giving them greater service flexibility. Bank customers can apply for home loans and open new accounts via mobile apps because the banks have done the necessary channel integration work.
However, despite the great success banks have enjoyed with their mobile apps, their customers may still need to call a contact centre or visit a branch to track the progress of their application. This highlights a key hindrance to offering a truly seamless experience across all channels: access to historical customer information and intelligence.
In many cases, organisations' back-end systems are not sufficiently integrated with their mobile apps to make this information readily available. This makes it impossible to deliver information through the full range of channels that customers can now access.
This is also true for complaints. If a complaint can't be captured and shared across channels, a customer may receive conflicting advice as the organisation seeks to fix their problem. This creates a poor customer experience.
So what could a truly integrated, multi-channel world potentially look like?
In this new world, consistent information would be visible across the organisation. It would be transparent to customers through any channel, at the right time and on demand. Even better, as organisations captured and analysed information, they could find ways to provide greater value to their customers - also in real-time, where practical.
For instance, if I applied for a mortgage, I wouldn't have to ask for a discount on the mortgage rate. My provider - armed with the wealth of data it has collected across all its channels - could step in to offer a better deal even before I know one exists.
Ultimately, the goal is to better serve and add value for customers. In the multi-channel world, that starts with a clear focus on consistency and transparency.
All views expressed are the author's own.