• July 1, 2014
  • By Leonard Klie, Editor, CRM magazine and SmartCustomerService.com

The 4 Key Customer Service Omnichannel Considerations

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percent conduct regular training to teach agents how to handle multiple channels, 77 percent store customer contact data across multiple channels, 77 percent route inquiries to agents with specific skills related to the customers' needs, and 69 percent identify topics repeatedly addressed by customers across channels to find where channels need to be improved.

1. The Multivendor Monster

For the 80 percent that fall outside of the omnichannel elite, the biggest problem is software integration. In an ideal world, all the technologies needed for omnichannel customer service would be plug-and-play, but the reality is far different.

"The technologies aren't seamless yet," laments Syed Hasan, president and CEO of CRM software provider ResponseTek. "Most of the channels have been deployed in silos. Organizations are typically set up around specific channels, and they all do not necessarily have the same goals," he adds.

To compound the connectivity challenge, most multichannel contact centers are running multivendor systems that have been deployed in such a way that the individual pieces are not integrated.

That's why some industry professionals suggest investing in contact center suites from a single vendor. "You're much better off doing it from a single vendor than trying to piece together multiple solutions from multiple vendors," states Daniel Ziv, vice president of voice of the customer analytics solutions at Verint Systems. "It's very costly and time-consuming to bring them together."

Staples also endorses the single-vendor approach. "If you buy stand-alone systems, it is possible to have them all talk to one another, but it's difficult to do," he says. "With an all-in-one system, they are all shared resources, pulling information from a single database and sharing it with all the connected channels."

That's not to say that omnichannel capabilities cannot be had with solutions culled from more than one vendor. It does, however, require "some significant customization," Staples says. "There's no way around it."

Hasan suggests investing in middleware as a way to get disparate systems working together. "Companies are starting to look at what their legacy systems can and cannot do, what they can input and output, and are getting creative with middleware to integrate them," he says.

But because it can get complicated, that kind of work is best left to systems integrators with expertise and offerings in this area, Hasan suggests. It is also important to work with systems integrators who have very specific knowledge of the vendors whose products are already in place.

2. Mobile Joins the Mix

Emerging contact center technologies are making it possible for companies to tie mobile channels, such as smartphones and tablets, to their existing voice and online customer support channels. Key to this is making it easier for customers to access live agents, even if they're on a channel other than the phone.

This has been enabled largely through Web Real-Time Communications (WebRTC), an open-source means to embed real-time voice, text, and video communications capabilities into Web browsers. WebRTC uses JavaScript and HTML5 coding and individual application programming interfaces to embed communications technologies within Web browsers such as Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox.

"With WebRTC, individuals can start on a Web site and move to the phone without dropping the line," Fluss explains.

WebRTC is probably the closest thing to an omnichannel industry standard available today, but there are problems with service consistency. "I just don't see cross-channel consistency in service levels being feasible for many years," says Paul Stockford, chief analyst at Saddletree Research. "One of the big challenges for omnichannel customer service is consistency in responsiveness," he adds, noting that response times vary by channel and type of interaction.

"You're omnichannel when the customer doesn't notice a difference [between channels]," says Branden Jenkins, general manager of retail solutions at NetSuite. To that end, Andy Lloyd, general manager of commerce products at NetSuite, suggests companies redefine their omnichannel approaches entirely. "Design around the customer, not the channel," he says. "Build around customers 

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