Customers today demand contact via the communication channel of their choice, and businesses are struggling to keep up with the demand while providing a seamless and pleasant experience. If this is your challenge, and you are developing your customer experience (CX) strategy, first establish a universal, unique customer identifier (UUID), to tie all touchpoints together, to streamline interaction routing and update or access information from Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platforms. The winning technology platform options deployed within the organization will magnify the benefit to your customer.
The Multi-Channel Present
Customers sometimes give up on one form of contact, for eg., the phone, after entering all kinds of data and defining the problem. They might then switch to a web chat or (Egads!) Twitter- and mostly vent before even verifying their identity. This adds no value to them or to us.
Many large companies are stuck in a multi-channel offering across disparate technologies that do not communicate with each other, causing customer frustration when having to re-authenticate and communicate their issue multiple times. The problem is exacerbated for the customer service representative who receives an interaction from a customer via one channel, say a voice call, and does not have visibility to what the customer was attempting to do on the web-site, or perhaps an issue that was discussed via a web-chat days prior to.
This terrible customer experience can even turn into an opportunity, when companies implement an omni-channel contact strategy!
The Omni-Channel Future
Omni-channel is a customer-centric strategy that companies are striving to formulate, as we see in banking and retail consumer industries. Rather than working in parallel, communication channels and their supporting resources are designed and orchestrated to sync information in real time.
Omni-channel is this integration and orchestration of channels. The experience of engaging across all the channels is more pleasant and efficient for the customer, than using single channels in isolation. Your investment in this process will reap real time data-sharing benefits internally, enhancing KPI’s and conversion rates. To banks and most others, this can mean preventing costly fraud and errors!
Omni-channel supersedes multichannel and includes channels such as physical locations, ecommerce, mobile applications, and social media. Early adopters contend that a customer values the ability to seamlessly engage with a company through multiple avenues at the same time and they expect the context of their entire interaction to be made available to whomever they talk to across your organization.
Traditional contact center operations were considered at best, operational overhead, and at worst, a “necessary evil” for companies. Thankfully, the last two decades have shifted that mindset. Customers are no longer loyal to companies with sub-par customer service. Enabling omni-channel communications can greatly increase your CSAT (Customer Satisfaction) scores and Service Level metrics, if designed with both your customer and agent experience as your priority.
Large corporations often look to alternative channels in order to reduce the overhead of expensive voice trunks and infrastructure as the primary reason for formulating a multi-channel, and eventually omni-channel strategy. If that is the main driving factor for change, perhaps you need to dig a little deeper.
Statistics highlight the importance of customer retention, and the direct correlation between customer experience and their loyalty to a brand. In fact, customer retention is faster and, on average, costs up to seven times less than customer acquisition, and loyal customers are worth up to ten times as much as the value of their first purchase. Furthermore, the likelihood of converting an existing customer into a repeat customer is 60-70% while the likelihood of converting a new lead into a customer is 5-20%.
Prior to embarking on a technical strategy to implementing omni-channel communications, establish the reason “Why” your customers should use media in addition to the voice channel to interact with your contact center. Avoid a common misconception that a solid omni-channel strategy requires that you enable every channel. First, conduct research analysis to determine which channels your customers prefer. If your intent as a company is to provide a seamless journey across the various touchpoints of your organization to make interactions pleasurable for your customers, you must start with that reason and keep it as the cornerstone of every design decision. This will build a sense of loyalty with them, knowing that you have their best interests in mind.
Establish a common UUID to track the customer’s journey. Often, the back-end systems of record are disparate systems with separate authentication tokens. The solution is to find or create the common identifier, regardless of the touchpoints to insure you can tie it all together. Transacting and communicating with your organization will be a smooth experience if your customer is not caught up in the navigation of your systems. A more personalized experience can then be enabled to greet your customers and assist in intelligently navigating them based upon their interaction history across all channels.
It is important to link account behaviours, including browsing and purchase history to the personalized experience offered at every touchpoint, maintaining perceived consistency of information on the way to becoming a leader among omni-channel adopters.
The second key factor is the customer service representatives’ experience with the new tools and interfaces introduced to support the new channels. Intuitive tools make it easy and efficient to identify the customer, have immediate access to view the “journey” across various channels that the customer took to reach them, and instant access to knowledge management data stores with contextual information about that customer and their current and historical interactions. Sales, marketing and product teams are great collaborators to reel into your project, as they can contribute insight and content. Data sharing is a good incentive for all teams to invest in the planning process!
A key component of the strategy is determining which communication paths best suit your agents,and how many simultaneous interactions can be handled by them. Early approaches attempted to merely add non-voice (chat, social media, and email) interactions on top of voice interactions. Customer Service reps had difficulty managing this approach, and it became apparent that voice and written communications skills are often distinct. Once the specific media channels are decided upon, determine whether it makes sense for your contact center to dedicate reps to either voice or non-voice, and then how many simultaneous non-voice interactions can be handled efficiently and do not increase the risk of compliance concerns regarding sensitive customer data. Happy agents make happy customers and are paramount to creating a positive culture.
Advantages of omni-channel customer service show up in many ways:
- Perceived value for the customer, seen as better (and fewer) customer surveys with higher CSAT scores
- Internally, better data sharing between departments and, subsequently, better business intelligence! This begins to happen during the design phase of the multi-channel experience. What’s not to like?
- Stay tuned for the next article on how to evaluate leading omni-channel vendor solutions