Customer communication preferences have changed significantly in recent years, leaving businesses with the challenge of managing an array of new service channels. Usage of web chat, SMS, social media, e-mail, mobile services, and web self-service have risen dramatically. In fact, according to a recent global survey conducted by Dimension Data (News - Alert), the majority of millennial consumers prefer web chat to the phone for service interactions, and generations Y and X are not far behind. This proliferation of new communications modes challenges businesses to do more than provide access to these channels on a stand-alone basis. The essential first step in providing a great cross-channel customer experience is integrating all channels to provide the consistent coherent experience that customers expect.
The shift from to a multichannel contact center can be tricky – especially for those inheriting technologies and business practices designed to support voice only service, but making this transition is essential to achieving positive customer results. Many have hesitated to add channels for fear of doing it ineffectively, leading to the adverse consequence of increased costs and decreased customer satisfaction. But the most recent wave of digital channel adoption means the time to hesitate has passed and the time for skillful planning and execution has come.
Think of up-leveling your cross-channel customer service as a journey. While there are no fast trains to the future of consumer communications, we can find maps to guide us along the path. Our experience helping businesses implement new channels has revealed the following best practices to help make the first steps skillful, leading to a journey of success.
Define Channel-Specific Business Goals
Multichannel service success requires clarity about both your customers’ needs and your business objectives. Is your goal to automate simple inquiries through e-mail and proactive SMS? Is there an opportunity to close more online sales with web chat? Are text-based communications more effective for technical support? Live chat or automated service may be efficient ways for customers to obtain routine information, but in order to resolve complex matters shifting the conversation to the phone may be necessary. Will the interaction context transfer from one channel to another? Are service levels defined by channel? Most importantly, can your existing technology infrastructure support these goals, and transfer context across channels?
The multichannel world is new terrain that needs new tools and maps for successfully navigating the landscape. Metrics and goals created for a voice only world simply won’t do. Chart your destination, giving each channel its due as a distinct player in the journey. Above all, don’t forget to connect the dots and determine how individual channels contribute to your overarching service goals.
Seamlessly Blend Channels
Managing customer contact channels in siloes creates multiple and severe problems for meeting service goals. When a customer calls about the e-mail he or she sent yesterday and the phone agent is unaware of the interaction, the result is customer frustration and increased service costs as the customer must repeat information and the agent must redo work accomplished in another channel. The way to transform this negative scenario into a positive one is to blend Internet-based service requests seamlessly into a universal contact routing engine; this will ideally be managed according to consistent business rules with universal tracking of all contact types through unified reporting tools. This enables reduced service costs, more efficient agent handling, and personalized interactions that lead to long-term positive customer relationships.
The requirement of channel visibility is supported by consumer survey data. In a recent global customer experience survey we sponsored, 65 percent of respondents rated as “very important” to a quality customer experience the condition that “the staff has access to my history and current activities with that company.” Customers not only expect to receive service across their preferred channels, they expect to transfer seamlessly from self to assisted service; they also expect agents to have access to the context of prior interactions, and to know who they are.
The rise of digital channels does not mean the phone becomes obsolete. What’s changing is that the phone is part of the overall customer experience, rather than the entire experience. This requires a new set of tools: reporting across channels, transfer of data from previous interactions, and an agent universal desktop displaying all interaction types. With these tools, agents are equipped to meet customer needs in complex matters when only direct conversation will do.
We are in the age of the empowered customer, as technologies such as mobile services and social media place increased influence in the hands of the average consumer. Consumers possess powerful computing power in their pockets with mobile smartphones. They expect to resolve service issues in their spare moments with instantaneous access to information. The results of these interactions – be the experience positive or negative – can be broadcast over social media channels. This latest wave of new communications channels, combined with the preferences of consumers raised as digital natives, challenge customer service centers to up-level the experience they provide across all channels. Voice is not disappearing, but as it comes to play a role in concert with other other forms of interaction, an integrated approach is essential.
Karina Howell has 15 years of experience in the contact center industry, and is currently Solutions Marketing Manager at Interactive Intelligence. She has broad expertise in the telecommunications space, having served as an industry analyst at Frost & Sullivan (News - Alert), product marketing manager at Genesys Telecommunications, and an independent consultant advising solutions vendors. Her experience includes advising end users on choosing the technology architectures to best fit their business needs, including traditional and virtual models using premises and cloud deployment models.
Edited by Maurice Nagle