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How Omnichannel is Delivering on the Promise of Multichannel
In the evolution of the contact center, it took almost a decade for non-voice channels to take their rightful place next to phone calls. But the wait was worthwhile, and the transformation in customer service has been radical. In this era of "multichannel," technology has supplemented email with web chat, SMS, social media, mobile, and video, all within immediate reach on a single device. And technology still isn't done.
Posted Jun 27, 2016
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In the evolution of the contact center, it took almost a decade for non-voice channels to take their rightful place next to phone calls. But the wait was worthwhile, and the transformation in customer service has been radical. In this era of “multichannel,” technology has supplemented email with web chat, SMS, social media, mobile, and video, all within immediate reach on a single device. And technology still isn’t done.
 
Envision in the future, for instance, the ability to initiate customer service processes using wearable technology such as Google Glasses and personal fitness devices. We’re actually not far away from such a scenario, and contact centers must be prepared to handle new channels like this alongside every other kind of interaction. Looking back, the history of multichannel itself dictates as much.
 
Throughout the ‘90s, the task of implementing and offering interaction channels other than voice was daunting. However, for companies that made the effort and extended new choices, customers were willing to reward them. Now? Call it déjà vu all over again. With customer engagement technology driving expectations even higher, many companies are viewed as falling short in providing the kinds of interaction options — and convenience — that fit modern consumers’ daily lives.
 
CHANNEL CHALLENGES
In the early stages of multichannel, the typical approach to adding channels in a contact center was to implement one new non-voice channel at a time. This one-by-one approach made it easy to treat the additional channel as a separate work flow, often staffed by different agents and managed by different supervisors. Further, this mindset typically resulted in using a specialist application or third-party vendor to handle the new interaction channel.
 
This “bolt-on” approach was suboptimal then, and remains so now. First, the approach ignores the contact center rule of large groups. Classic queuing theory predicts that centers with fewer agent groups and the same volume require fewer total agents to handle the same number of interactions.
 
Multiple systems also mean multiple integration points to customer data and CRM systems. Say a third-party vendor providing web chat support is working with a snapshot of the customer database that’s 24 hours old — or has no access to customer records at all. Necessary context will be missing, and customer care will suffer. Or this. When a voice agent writes updates to CRM records that aren’t immediately available to agents working on a separate email routing application, again the customer experience suffers.
 
Finally, many organizations implementing multichannel technologies focus on the delivery of interactions to the agents without closing the loop to focus on the quality of these interactions. Quality is best gauged through cross-channel interaction monitoring, recording, and agent performance management. Without these measures, customer experiences can vary widely from one interaction channel to another.
 
Realizing the promise of omnichannel requires closing this loop to gauge the results of interactions across all channels.
 
HOW THE OMNICHANNEL APPROACH ADDRESSES MULTICHANNEL CHALLENGES
Businesses must understand that customers today often start in one channel and move to another as they progress to a purchase or resolution. With an omnichannel approach, channels are effectively blended such that customers enjoy consistent and contextual experiences across all contact methods.
 
In essence, omnichannel service translates to delivering on the real promise of multichannel. Here’s how this definition of omnichannel can be applied across various elements of a contact centeroperation.
 
UNIVERSAL QUEUE
Should the speed, responsiveness and quality of service vary based on what media channel customers choose? It shouldn’t, but it does. In their survey of 2,000 consumers, a 2013 research study by eDigitalResearchfound that 80 percent of consumers who had contacted a brand through social media heard back from the company within 12 hours. Comparatively, just 37 percent of the survey’s respondents who used email heard back within the same time frame, while 7 percent who used live online chat said they never received a follow-up at all.
 
The study highlights two issues that an omnichannel approach helps resolve. First, if all interaction types are being managed by a single routing application, a business can set parameters to ensure that no single interaction type is delivering better service than another. Second, even when a contact center chooses to dedicate groups of agents to given channels such as social or email, it can shift resources quickly to adjust the imbalance when one channel (or another) isn’t meeting objectives.
 
HANDLE EXISTING AND EMERGING CHANNELS UNIFORMLY
Twenty years ago, media-blending meant voice and email. Today it can mean upwards of 10 different types of interactions — with new interaction channels being introduced constantly.
 
When Interactive Intelligence created its multichannel platform technology in 1994, it did so knowing these new interaction channels would arrive at some point in the future. Along with voice and email, businesses and their contact centers have since used this platform to implement channels for chat, SMS, social media and others inherently, at any time. The whole time, these businesses have managed all channels in a uniform and consistentmanner.
 
In an omnichannel sense, such technology not only routes interactions regardless of media, it allows routing strategies to be built once and applied multiple times, to multiple channels. This capability eliminates having to build separate logic for routing in the voice channel, the social media channel, the email channel, the web chat channel, and so on. Or for that matter, for any new channel that emerges years from now. Once and done.
 
OMNICHANNEL WORKFORCE ADVANTAGES
In addition to customers and contact center directors, the omnichannel approach benefits agents and supervisors.
 
From an agent perspective: Businesses integrate and present information to agents uniformly, regardless of media type. Subsequently, agents manage all interactions and associated customer service activities using a single integrated desktop, which can be populated with information containing the full context of an interaction. Data can stem from integrated CRM applications, from information via voice and web self-service activities, or from other data sources. Once and done applies here as well.
 
From a supervisor perspective: In the same way a single application drives omnichannel’s routing, queuing and reporting activities for all channels, supervisors work from a single application for workforce management and quality monitoring in the omnichannel environment. This way, data and analytical insight for agent performance is likewise uniform across all channels. To capture a customer’s experience in full, regardless of how they contact the organization, supervisors can even apply monitoring techniques from traditional voice channels to newer non-voice ones like chat and SMS.
 
NEXT STEPS
The process of enabling the seamless customer experience that omnichannel promises is iterative. The recommended approach is to begin with the omnichannel vision, and then plan for stages as you respond to changing customer preferences. Perform a thorough analysis of your business goals and map how each channel contributes. Then, once the channels you already have are performing satisfactorily, take the next steps to offer additional channels, as follows.
  • Consider the typical journeys your customers take when they interact with your organization. Do they call, email, request a chat, or take some other avenue? Your first goal is to work toward supporting context-sharing among the channels your customers use most often to accomplish a single task.
  • Define channel-specific business goals. Omnichannel service success requires clarity both about your customers’ needs and your business’ objectives.
    • Is there an opportunity to close more online sales with web chat?
    • Are text-based communications more effective for technical support?
    • Is your goal to automate routine inquiries through effective self-service?
Specifying such goals allows you to adjust tactics to optimize multiple goals and align resources more effectively. Identify new channels that customers want, or that contact center management believes would add value.
  • Empower agents with visibility into the results of prior interactions, and train them to handle priority callers. Optimize the phone. Customer adoption of digital channels is not coupled with a decrease in the importance of the voice channel. Rather, the role of this channel changes — it becomes a tool for handling complex interactions and promoting customer loyalty.
  • Evaluate agent performance across all channels. A workforce optimization solution capable of scheduling, recording and evaluating quality across channels is the best solution.
  • Ensure that the contact center solution you choose has certified integrations. Not only the collaboration applications your company uses, such as SAP and Oracle, but also a set of APIs that allow integration to company or vertical-specific applications. This ensures that your omnichannel applications will have access to the customer data required to create personalized, contextual interactions.
  • Validate that your contact center application vendor has experience and a solid reputation. This includes working with and providing cloud applications. Even if you don’t choose a cloud-based deployment at first, ensure that that option will be available in the future if your organization mandates change.  
 
This article is adapted from the white paper, How Omnichannel is Delivering on the Promise of Multichannel. To download the full paper and for more information on the cloud and premises-based customer experience solutions from Interactive Intelligence, visit www.inin.com.

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