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Omnichannel customer service is no small feat

Seamless, efficient customer service is the elusive goal of omnichannel. Salesforce expects to deliver it using IoT to give contact centers 'spooky intelligent' systems.

As companies try to engage customers in whichever channel they communicate -- whether that's in a live chat screen, in SMS text or in a customer community forum -- they need to enlist new technologies to meet customers wherever they are.

Sometimes referred to as the elusive goal of creating an omnichannel customer experience, companies strive to remove friction, and provide highly personalized and seamless interactions.

Omnichannel customer service has been elusive, if not downright unattainable, though. First, a seamless customer experience is difficult to create, given the proliferation of communication channels and the volume of data they generate. Customers may initiate a conversation on social media or in email, then call on the phone. Integrating data from these interactions can be complex. Second, data silos are rife and can undermine a single picture -- often referred to as a 360-degree view -- of customers that is accurate, up to date and complete.

Larry Robinson, senior vice president of product management for the Salesforce Service CloudLarry Robinson

Companies hope to address these challenges using mobile technologies, online communities and the Internet of Things (IoT) to improve customer service.

Recently, SearchSalesforce spoke with Larry Robinson, senior vice president of product management for the Service Cloud at Salesforce. He offered insights into omnichannel customer service trends and how they're shaping enhancements to Salesforce's service technologies.

SearchSalesforce: What are the big trends in omnichannel customer service?

Larry Robinson: Companies are getting pressure to do more and more in mobile customer service. We've been able to integrate into websites, mobile apps; we've had an SDK [software development kit] and mobile API, and people do use our APIs.

Customers don't want to spend three months doing development; they want it done in a day. So, we have packaged up video chat, text chat and case management; our services are being built into high-level building blocks, called SDKs, so they can do development faster and create a modern, beautiful experience for their customers and have service alongside them on their website or mobile device.

That's a big trend. Agents don't want to leave the context of what they're doing in the application, so we're trying to help them be efficient in what they're doing and have the application right there, alongside them.

This year, we released communities ... for customer service. They are a great way to sense customer sentiment. But historically, customer communities have been silos from other company activities, like the company website. Companies often had self-service over here on the site, and then way over there on the Web, they had communities -- and never the two would meet. The attitude was, 'If you want to talk to [an agent], you go for self-service and get some customer service. If you want to complain and moan, and hope someone looks after you in the community, then go over there to communities.'

We said, 'This is nonsense: Customers should be able to have a service interaction or a community interaction in the same place.' Customers can talk to each other or talk to you. Customers don't have to worry about when that conversation will be private. It's about lending all the self-service capabilities. I want that in one place. It's breaking down those silos.

The Salesforce IoT Cloud enables companies to gather data on products and customers from devices, and bring them into Salesforce platform to be combined with other CRM data. There has been a lot of talk about how the IoT cloud can contribute to new product revenue streams. Can you explain that idea?

Robinson: Think about HP printers: They sell printers and hope those people will buy their ink. But often, customers buy after-market ink. Now, they've lost that revenue stream. What's better is to eliminate the inconvenience of customers having to go to the store to buy ink. So now, HP is saying, 'I am going to deliver the ink to you based on your usage. I will measure how many pages in real time your printer has printed and when things get low, we'll ship the new cartridges to you. And we'll take out the distribution costs of putting cartridges in Staples, so we can provide it to you at a discount and deliver ink as a service.'

That's how companies are thinking about using IoT information to create new revenue streams. Consumers can then think, 'It's so convenient for me if the ink arrives when I need it. Then, I won't think about third-party ink.' Every company is thinking about how to optimize my supply chain, make it competitive in the marketplace and capture the revenue stream in going use of the product.

How is the Analytics Cloud, or Wave, enhancing your understanding of the data from the Service Cloud?

Robinson: We're building an application on top of the Service Cloud to optimize customer service. The beauty of Wave is that we can preconstruct schemas, so customers can combine data they never have before: call center data, customer wait-time data. All that stuff that's been on your telephony system, you can now import that into the Service Cloud and see the results.

You can look at things like what kinds of service requests you have, what is the average handle time for agents, what are the customer abandon rates -- you can bring that all together and get a holistic view of your operations.

When will this application be available for customers?

When the phone rings and a customer calls, I want the system to predict why he's calling ... it's not science fiction. We're investing more in the coming year to make systems smarter.
Larry Robinsonsenior vice president of product management for Salesforce Service Cloud

Robinson: It will be released in February for pilot. The hope is for it to be generally available in March [or] April.

What's on customers' wish lists?

Robinson: Customers are saying, 'I want the system to be smarter. I want you to do more in analyzing the data and making it intelligent -- I want it to be spooky intelligent. When the phone rings and a customer calls, I want the system to predict why he's calling. When I answer the phone, the system should prepare all the information to answer that question.' Believe it or not, it's not science fiction. We're investing more in the coming year to make systems smarter.

Then, they're asking for the service-everywhere idea. Customers need to have service everywhere. When a customer books a flight on United.com, I don't want them to leave the booking screen and go to service, so I don't inconvenience them. Embedding service in the website, putting it on a mobile app. They want to meet these connected customers where they are.

Check out part one of our interview with Larry Robinson on the Salesforce Service Cloud.

Next Steps

Understanding goals critical for successful omnichannel customer service

Your omnichannel strategy needs to bust data silos

Integrating multiple channels on the road to better customer service

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