What Omni-Channel Means for your Contact Center

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What Omni-Channel Means for your Contact Center

By Jon Arnold, Principal, J Arnold & Associates  |  January 14, 2015

As an independent analyst, I wear many hats, and one of them involves speaking on webinars. I recently got to wear that hat on the topic of omni-channel, an ominous term that’s getting a lot of traction in the contact center space.

In everyday terms, the webinar cited the evolution of consumer electronics to illustrate what omni-channel means and how it differs from what came before. Going back to the analog world, most households had a TV, a record player, and a radio. Each was used independently for home entertainment – they were separate, standalone experiences that nobody would ever think about mashing together.

Over time, things became more integrated – think about “home entertainment centers”, and giant wall units housing all these pieces. The pieces were still standalone, patched together with a mess of wires and cables, but it looked pretty cool and delivered a somewhat better experience.

Fast forward to the digital world, and consider how the iPhone (News - Alert) has effectively replaced almost all of this in the palm of your hand. For better or worse – the latter for me – we’ve moved from entertainment being a social experience to one that’s highly personal. Families don’t sit around the TV and watch the same show any more – the TV may be on, but nobody’s really watching. Everyone is far more immersed with their mobile devices, occasionally glancing at the screen, as much to catch enough of the show to know what’s going on as to be “social” with everyone else in the room.

I digress, but there’s another important difference with the iPhone that makes omni-channel relevant. While the experience is personal rather than social, it is also a shared experience in ways that the analog examples could never be. That dour, hoodie-clad teen “watching” Modern Family with your crew may also be doing his/her homework, listening to music, streaming a video, texting with friends, and posting to a few social media sites about what they’re doing right now. Your private world has just become very public and social means something very different in 2014.

What does this have to do with the contact center?

Probably more than you might think. That same iPhone is increasingly becoming the device of choice through which customers engage with your company. Analog tools for providing customer service are no longer sufficient, and most contact centers are still saddled with the home entertainment center model mentioned above. You can only keep bolting on new applications and cobbling standalone pieces into a “solution” for so long.

Most contact centers are too cash-strapped to break from this model, and have managed to stay reasonably current by piecing together a multi-channel environment. This may have been cutting edge in 2012, but things change too quickly now, and the contact center space has moved on to omni-channel.

Well, the vendors have, anyway. They are further along than most contact centers are able to adapt, and that’s the challenge we tried to address in the webinar. The first step is in understanding what omni-channel is and how it’s different from multi-channel. Secondly, you need some proof points to show this is real and delivers new value. In terms of the differences, this is like comparing Unified Messaging to Unified Communications (News - Alert). The former was a big step forward, but it lacked the real time capability of UC to integrate multiple applications in a common environment.

That’s a simplified comparison, and in essence, omni-channel goes much further than multi-channel in reflecting what today’s “customer journey” looks like. By the time a customer engages with your contact these days, they are often more well-informed about your products than the agents, and have already tried other avenues to solve their problem. They may well be stressed by that point, and are expecting quick answers – otherwise they take their business elsewhere.

Thanks to today’s technology, customers are now in control of the business relationship, which puts your agents at a disadvantage that leaves little margin for error. This is where omni-channel can help level the playing field by providing agents with the tools they need to engage effectively on the customer’s terms. Aside from allowing agents to seamlessly shift from one communications mode to another with customers, omni-channel provides dynamic access to CRM data and other forms of intelligence.

Armed with context-based information and even predictive analytics about likely outcomes, agents now have more powerful tools to understand and solve customer problems. Beyond providing a fast fix, a higher-order value of omni-channel is tying all of this to business processes to enable a complete fix and an accurate fix. Getting it done right the first time – and quickly – is the perfect formula for a great customer experience, and that’s the focus of omni-channel.

Proof of concept

To illustrate this, the webinar presented a case study with Wacker Neuson, a construction equipment company. The underlying technology driving their omni-channel solution was from SAP (News - Alert), a vendor you don’t normally associate with the contact center. However, when you think about how central business processes are to a great customer experience, the connection is pretty logical. More importantly, the case study shows how by understanding what the customer’s journey looks like, you can build an omni-channel contact center solution to address it.

Omni-channel technology is complex – and there’s a big opportunity for consultants and channels to help their customers move in this direction – but the results show that the investment is worth it. Agent performance metrics will certainly improve, but the real payoff comes from what a great customer experience does for driving business success.

The presentation cited survey data comparing business performance with omni-channel and without.  Across 305 companies, omni-channel users showed clear advantages in customer retention, positive social media mentions, and most strikingly, lifetime customer value. Management understands these metrics, and when they see how omni-channel can make the contact center a strategic front door to the business, this stops being a discussion about technology and starts being one about enabling business processes that make for a great customer experience.

This is a very different approach than the traditional model for building a contact center, which tends to be technology-centric instead of customer-centric. That’s akin to the analog model cited earlier, and if you’re ready to move on, omni-channel should be in your thinking. To find out more, feel free to contact me for a copy of the presentation. You can also follow this link to the website of CommuniTech Services, a leading contact center systems integrator. They produced much of the content for the webinar, and the link provides an audio replay of the event.


Jon Arnold (News - Alert) is principal of J Arnold & Associates, an independent telecom analyst and marketing consultancy with a focus on IP communications, and writes the Analyst 2.0 blog. Previously, he was the VoIP program leader at Frost & Sullivan.

Edited by Maurice Nagle
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