Listening to customers and employees is becoming increasingly complex.  Marketing, Customer Service, Human Resources and IT departments are scrambling to work together to implement omni-channel listening and communication strategies that connect employees to each other and to customers.

Omni-Channel Confusion

A few weeks ago I attended a business event.  During the course of a single day I interacted with co-workers, clients and prospects through at least 7 digital channels.  A client attending the event tracked me down on the mobile app for the event to setup a time to meet.  An old co-worker who was speaking at the event, noticed on Facebook that I would be there too, connected with me on Facebook Messenger to invite me to dinner, and then direct tweeted me with the location of the restaurant.  Colleagues texted me for updates on projects going on back at the office, and sent instant messages when they could see that I was online.  I had a screen-sharing conference call with a client on Skype, participated in an extranet YamJam session, and shared internal updates on our enterprise social tool (Yammer).  I also uploaded a number of relevant documents from the event to our intranet.  And there were the usual emails, phone calls – oh and in person meetings too!

My mobile phone barely made it to lunch each day before I had to plug it into a backup battery.  Keeping up with the incoming alerts from multiple different apps made me feel like my battery was running low too.

That’s just a microcosm of the exploding number of channels that businesses have to manage.  The image below provides an idea of the growth in communication channels, but it doesn’t do the problem facing marketers and executives full justice.  Channels like Social, IoT (the Internet of Things) and Mobile actually represent an almost limitless number emerging social channels, internet connected devices and mobile apps.

Omni-channel marketing and listening strategy

Is it Time for Omni-Channel?

That is the question of the hour.  Is there really a need to jump into communicating internally and externally across a broad range of digital channels?  Let’s ask customers what they think.

In studies by Zendesk and North American Technographics (above), and numerous other research organizations, customers have been steadily raising the volume of demand for a cross-channel engagement strategy.  Not only do they want the companies that they do business with to engage with them across channels, they want data to be shared across those channels so that they don’t have to repeat themselves.

Voice of Customer - Omni-Channel Marketing Strategy

Employees, particularly millennials, are demanding much the same from the internal communication side.  They’re using social and other communication channels as an integrated part of their daily communication and they’re more likely to stay with employers who offer these same types options for sharing knowledge and developing relationships.

Even without employee demand, however, there is compelling evidence that better social communication tools are critical to employee productivity.  The amount of data employees have to sift through to get their jobs done is exploding.  A study published in Harvard Business Review suggests that employees spend as much as 20% of their time searching for the information that they need to get their job done (often those searches do not produce the sought after information and the employee must re-create it).  If those numbers are accurate, then in an organization of 1,000 people with an average salary of $50,000, the organization is spending $10 million each year looking for stuff!  Better social sharing of knowledge shows tremendous promise for reducing those costs.

Omni-Channels Create Big Data

Most leaders have begun to recognize the importance of engaging across multiple channels.  And most are beginning to realize the next challenge that this will present: even more data.  This is both an opportunity and a threat.  In Accenture’s 2014 study, “Big Success with Big Data,” 89% of business leaders affirmed that they believe big data will revolutionize operations in the same way that the Internet has.

But most organizations are struggling to develop omni-channel strategies, are failing to produce the expected return on big data, and are alienating employees and customers in the process.  The heart of the problem was communicated by an employee participating in a recent focus group when she said, “A few years ago we were told that the organization was investing in new technology that would enable us to work smarter.  But the new technology is only forcing us to work harder.”

BigData Problems

Integrate, Migrate and Eliminate

The area most frequently cited as critical to the success of customer or employee facing technology is integration.  Not only does a lack of integration stymie the performance of employees, it sends a message that the organization is unwilling to prioritize making technology work for them.

An omni-channel engagement strategy means listening in more places, but remembering in fewer places.  The ultimate goal is to build a 360-degree picture of customers, employees and corporate knowledge (listening in more places), but with only one enterprise system required for each user (remembering in fewer places).  This does not mean a single enterprise system, but it does mean one (or at most two) systems of record for each role in the organization.  Customer-facing personnel (particularly in customer service and marketing groups) typically have to use 5-8 enterprise systems to get their jobs done.  How do organizations reduce the number of systems?

  • Integrate: Share data across systems so that more of the data that employees need to get their jobs done can be found in the system of record for their team.  For example, transactional information has been shown to be the most important information for predicting what a customer will do next – but most ERP systems are still not sharing this information with CRM systems.
  • Migrate: Many employees are required to use part of one system to do a part of their job, and a part of another system to do another part of their job.  Migrating these functions into a single system (rather than simply sharing data) is required in order to reduce the number of systems for each employee.  For example, customer service personnel often process orders and even quotes in an ERP solution, but track customer interactions on a CRM solution.  Migrating quote and order processing into CRM reduces (or even eliminates) to need for these individuals to use ERP.
  • Eliminate: Still other systems can be eliminated altogether.  Many organizations have developed internal systems to solve unique challenges – such as loyalty points tracking, distributor sales forecasting, or educational session tracking.  This requires toggling between applications, and double-entry of data (for example: tracking one set of forecasts in a home-grown system, and a different set in a CRM system can be confusing and frustrating).  Modern intranet and CRM solutions are usually easy to expand so legacy applications can be migrated onto a single platform with a minimal time and budget.

Deploying an integrate / migrate / eliminate strategy not only results in boosts to employee productivity and job satisfaction, but also lowers overall IT support and maintenance costs over the long-run.  The difficulty, however, is often found in having to discontinue usage of “sacred cow” systems (solutions that may have been deployed at a high cost that leadership is loath to write-off, or solution owners are slow to admit may no longer be helpful).

Download the “Listen: Omni-Channel Big Data” Infographic

Want a handy 1-page infographic overview of this article?  Click the image below to download the infographic, including source references for all images.

What’s Your Strategy?

What do you think?  How is your organization listening to customers and employees?  How is it making it easier to mind the knowledge that is captured during that process?

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