Omnichannel: The What, Why, and How

Ask The Experts

Omnichannel: The What, Why, and How

By TMCnet Special Guest
Karina Howell, solutions marketing manager at Interactive Intelligence
  |  November 10, 2014

In the past year the contact center industry has embraced a new term, omnichannel, with some crowning this term as the successor to the now familiar term multichannel. What has changed to provoke this new term? Well, first, consumer habits have shifted. What began with handling e-mail and web chat, has now expanded to SMS, social media, mobile, and video. As consumer communications habits change, so does the way they expect to engage with businesses to resolve their problems.

But why create a new term when some argue the term multichannel suits the industry’s needs just fine? More importantly how will we recognize the holy grail of providing omnichannel experiences when we see it?

Simply put, omnichannel is multichannel done right. It involves viewing the multichannel experience through the eyes of your customer, so that it is seamless, integrated, and consistent. It means anticipating that customers may start in one channel and move to another as they progress to a resolution. It means deploying technologies to make the transition between channels as convenient and enjoyable as possible.

Doing this is increasingly at the heart of running an effective contact center. The term reminds us to incorporate new channels in an integrated manner. Managing multiple customer contact channels in siloes simply will not do, and the number of channels is continually expanding.

Best in class contact centers recognize customers’ identity regardless of how they contact the business. Their identity and history across other channels must be visible to agents; likewise, high priority customers can be recognized across both voice and digital channels.

As consumers’ experiences across digital, voice, and in person retail contexts become increasingly intertwined, they expect to enjoy the same brand experience and to be recognized regardless of interaction method. It’s not just about adding channels for the sake of providing options. Each of these channels must meet customer expectations for personalized, effective interactions that solve customer problems.

For example, 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.  The way to transform this negative scenario into a positive one is to seamlessly blend Internet-based service requests into a universal contact routing engine. In this type of solution agents have visibility into prior customer contacts across channels, supervisors have unified real-time and historical reporting tools, and all customer contacts are managed according to consistent business rules. The result is effective, personalized interactions that lead to long-term positive customer relationships.

In achieving seamless channel blending, integration of information from back-end databases and CRM systems is essential. With this data incorporated into routing decisions and displayed to the agent, customers receive the appropriate level of service and don’t need to repeat information. This saves valuable time and reduces frustration.

The connection between agent visibility into channels and customer experience is well supported by consumer survey data. In a recent global customer experience survey sponsored by Interactive Intelligence (News - Alert), 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.” Ensuring that this visibility spans across all channels is equally essential. 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.

The journey from multichannel to omnichannel has become increasingly imperative as technologies such as mobile services and social media place increased influence in the hands of the average consumer. Implementing multiple channels in a siloed fashion is not sufficient. Data must flow between channels such that the cross-channel experience is done right. Consumers possess powerful computing clout 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 immediately broadcast over social media channels. 

It’s all about providing options, while ensuring the consistently high quality experience customers expect. Preferences are shifting toward digital channels and self-service, providing unprecedented opportunities to reinforce the brand experience while containing costs. At the same time, demand for high quality voice service remains strong. The phone does not disappear, instead it is one step towards a customer journey that leads to a strong brand and business.

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, product marketing manager at Genesys (News - Alert) 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
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