Has this ever happened to you? You’re psyched to have earned a free night’s hotel stay from one of the major travel sites. So, you go to their Web site and book your night, being careful to take into account any rules that might apply.

But when you receive the email receipt, it shows as a regular reservation (with the regular charge) as opposed to being your coveted freebie. That’s when the fun really begins.

You call the 800 number and speak to a customer service agent, who says the self-service capability did not know about the free night, so she will need to book that for you manually. Why? you ask. No clue, she says, but lots of customers have been calling about this glitch.

It’s not surprising that consumers would cry foul. Few things are more irritating than getting different answers from different channels in our dealings as customers with companies. On the other hand, even more irksome is to get different answers from two different service reps. And we know that rarely happens … wink wink!

If you dig down into the morass of disparate systems present at most large organizations, it is not hard to understand how this scourge of inconsistency got started. Despite the incredible advances in technology, most large companies still operate on a hodge-podge of different platforms. With connections among systems cobbled together at best, customer information generally cannot be viewed from one channel to another –not in anything close to real time, that is.

According to a recent Bloomberg Businessweek Research Service survey and report, those who head up customer service are very much aware of their failing to deliver a consistent cross-channel or even intra-channel customer experience.

In fact, just half of respondents (53%) reported their organization provided consistent service most of the time in person or via phone and only one-third said they provide consistent service via digital channels such as Web self-service, mobile app or social media. Click here (will require registration) to read the full report.

Lack of consistency in channel service

Q: Provide consistent levels of service and response independent of the channel most of the time, based on important channels.

Consistency of Service within a channel

Consistency of service within a channel

Everyone, it seems, needs some work to deliver high levels of service within and across channels, in order to provide a consistent experience no matter which channel the customer is using, and across channels, to boot.

Some Suggestions to Boost Cross-Channel Customer Service Consistency

With so much dysfunction occurring in the way customers are treated – inconsistent answers, incorrect information, spotty service – it can be difficult to know where and how to start unraveling the problem. Here are some practical steps to take:

  • Create a cross-channel customer information integration strategy and platform. This should be a multi-disciplinary undertaking and include stakeholders from all of the different groups that touch customers, including social media. Without a strategy and the right customer service platform, there is little chance that the details of a service interaction occurring in one channel – say, a Web chat — will be shared with other channels, such as the contact center.  Obtaining a complete (often called 360-degree) view of the customer should be paramount, and that will require integration and a lot of discipline and hard work.
  •  Empower service reps with information and knowledge.  No matter how experienced a service rep is, he still will not have all the answers in his head when customers call.  Customer service organization needs to make information, solutions, and knowledge readily accessible and consumable by service reps as well as customers.  This is critical in being able to give customers consistent answer no matter who they interact with or what channels they use.
  •  Invest in training. Most companies skimp on training investments for their customer-facing employees, especially when customer service is a cost center. But that’s a major mistake. Armed with cross-channel data visibility, agents still need training to ensure they can access the same answers as other agents.  Training will level the playing field and reduce the chances that Joe with 2 years’ experience as an agent gives a better answer than Ned, just out of school.

What are you doing to ensure a consistent customer service experience?  Please share your thought and practices.