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How to Implement an SMB Omnichannel Strategy on a Budget

“You shouldn’t care about omnichannel.”

That’s Mukesh Mirchandani, Vice President of Global Field Solution Engineering at Freshworks. While he’s a huge proponent for customer communication, he warns small and medium-sized business (SMB) leaders about obsessing over the terminology.

It’s easy to get hung up on buzzwords. Often, leaders will spend months designing customer-facing systems, procuring software, and implementing technology, only to discover their audience didn’t want it in the first place. Instead, Mirchandani recommends leaders obsess over two things: “What your customers want and what your customers expect.”

Once you recalibrate your perspective, you can begin to build a communication strategy (likely an omnichannel strategy) that your audience will love. We recently caught up with Mirchandani to discuss his three-step omnichannel transformation.

Mukesh Mirchandani
Mukesh Mirchandani, VP Global Field Solution Engineering at Freshworks

Step #1: Build a repository of customer data

Omnichannel doesn’t just mean supporting multiple communication channels. That’s multichannel. Omnichannel is about delivering a seamless experience across all platforms.

Think of it this way: A cable company with a multichannel strategy will acknowledge cancellation requests via live chat but may redirect customers to their contact center to process the request. A cable company with an omnichannel strategy will complete the cancellation process right there in the chat.

Creating a consistent experience requires consistent and comprehensive access to customer data regardless of the channel. The idea goes by myriad names: single customer view (SCV), customer 360, unified customer data. 

Data is the bedrock of all CX strategies; so too here. But your data gathering, processing, and analysis must be deliberate and thoughtful if it is to deliver insights. 

You need to understand who your customers are and what they want from you. You need their purchase history and support record. You need their feedback, content consumption, and product usage. Any business can quickly categorize customer conversations by motive—billing, product support, complaints, and so on—but great CX means going further to the deeper second-order causes.

It’s like a parent-child relationship. Tagging a conversation with Product Support gives you a general sense of what’s wrong. Attaching product outage data, account activity data, or knowledge base activity data drills provides a deeper second-order insight.

As with most new ideas, it’s easy to spend money procuring unified customer data platforms. Mirchandani, however, advises SMBs to take a different approach.

“Start with a customer information repository,” he says. “Don’t go to a large platform because they promise extensibility. Pick a solution that meets your needs out of the box. If there’s a solution that meets 80% of your needs, that’s good enough because you can adapt.”

You may even have the requisite technology in place already. Robust help desks and ticketing systems usually support integrations with CRMs and MAPs. Uniting pre-sale information and post-sale support is the easiest way to create a unified customer view. Then it’s just a case of ensuring that all customer-facing teams, including support agents, have access to that platform.

Obviously, there are more expensive products. But building the first iteration on a platform you already have in place means you can shortcut software procurement, implementation, and training.

With your customer data in one place, you can start to think about what channels you should support. Forms or phone? Social media or live chat?

Step #2: Understand your customers’ communication preferences

Omnichannel doesn’t mean supporting every single communication channel. After all, there’s no point in supporting WhatsApp when all of your customers use WeChat. Instead, effective channel strategies align provision with preferences. But learning where your customers want to communicate is easier said than done.

To kickstart your research, Mirchandani recommends three strategies.

Vertical expertise: SMBs are typically run and staffed by people who are passionate about their field. That grants you a significant head start because you’ll likely already know—or, at the least, suspect—where your customers are and how they want to communicate with you. For example, a business executive coach will know their clients are on LinkedIn. A design agency will know their clients are on Behance. And a crochet pattern designer will know their customers are on Ravelry. Use your hard-earned knowledge as a foundation and then layer on additional insights.

Communication usage: Unless you’re starting a brand new company, you will have existing customer communication data. Even manual inspection can give you incredible insights. For example, if no one is contacting your business via Facebook Messenger, it’s probably not worth supporting. Alongside crude insights such as these, manual inspection may reveal more nuanced trends. Perhaps users gravitate toward voice channels in the morning (when they’re commuting) and asynchronous text channels in the evening (when they’re relaxing). These insights will help understand the role of each channel in a customer context.

Customer feedback: Existing data can tell you what has happened, but it can’t tell you what people want to happen. After all, you don’t have any WhatsApp activity data if you don’t support WhatsApp in the first place. To fill the gap, “crowdsource” channel preferences via user feedback. Crawl Google My Business, search through G2 Crowd, and check industry forums. Look for any mention of your customer service or industry-specific expectations. These insights allow you to align your channel strategy with customer expectations without them ever asking you directly.

Bansri Desai
Bansri Desai, CX Solution Strategist at Freshworks

Another consideration is audience consistency. Few businesses have completely homogenous customer bases; most serve a multitude of segments. Aligning channel provision to those segments is crucial, says storied CX strategist Bansri Desai. If you have a cohort of older customers who are comfortable with phone, don’t force them to use live chat just because that’s what other segments want.

“Say you expand your business and now your offering is geared more towards the millennial market,” says Desai. “Now, you can add additional support channels that resonate with that specific customer base.

But Mirchandani and Desai are both cautious when talking about specific channels.

No one was talking about TikTok five years ago. Five years from now, people will be talking about new platforms we haven’t heard of. It’s a recurring theme, but he says business leaders are best served by looking past technology to the customer expectations underneath.

“I prefer not to talk about omnichannel,” says Mirchandani. “I prefer to talk about meeting your customers where they are. Don’t try to bring customers to your website because it’s convenient for you. Figure out where your customers are and meet them where they are.” 

Step #3: Build a multi-month roadmap

In the second step, you should have created a channel strategy. Prioritize that list by interest and engagement, placing the most important channel at the top. That’s now your omnichannel roadmap. Tackle one channel each month, adapting your implementation as you go. If technological transformation is new to you, Mirchandani recommends starting with a simple channel, rather than a popular one. 

“Go with something that’s a low-touch,” he says. “You’re not gonna have an army of customer service agents ready to respond to phone calls or messages. Start with messaging, chat, or bots. These are all very easy to implement. You could implement them within four weeks at a relatively low cost.”

A narrow but graduated approach allows you to deliver innovation and report on progress rapidly. For organizations still collecting evidence of technological and strategic value, early data points are worth their weight in gold.

After each channel implementation, invest in communication and socialization. There’s no point burning money to set up new channels if your customers aren’t going to use them. Wait until customers are “addicted” to your newest channel before moving on to the next.

Approach your first six to nine months as a “zero to one problem.” You’re starting with nothing and building something. After nine months, your omnichannel strategy won’t be perfect, but it will create a performance baseline. From there, you can plan your next phases—whether that’s incorporating new capabilities like AI-powered chat or enhanced self-service, tightening your service level agreements (SLAs), or driving operational efficiencies.

It’s iterative and cyclical, says Desai. Consider a small business with a slow customer inquiry response rate of 24 hours. A zero-to-one omnichannel strategy might reduce that by 25% in its first three months. With a solid baseline, the company could then begin experimenting to see where else they can drive improvements: introducing an automated ticketing desk, improving first contact resolution, empowering frontline agents, and so on.

A business built around your customers

“SMB leaders shouldn’t care about technology,” says Mirchandani. “They shouldn’t care about being hip. They shouldn’t care about buzzwords like omnichannel.”

Obsessing over things for the sake is harmful and dangerous. Investing in omnichannel due to fleeting interest will set organizations on a path toward waste and failure. Instead, as he has encouraged people to do all through his three-step transformation, Mirchandani suggests building from firm first principles.

What your customers want.

What your customers expect.

Those first principles present a firm foundation for growth. If leaders narrow their focus to wants and expectations, they will inevitably produce CX initiatives that their customers love.

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