It’s pretty much impossible to avoid the hype around digital channels, chatbots and Artificial Intelligence (AI) if you are even remotely connected to the contact centre or CX industry today. Industry analysts Gartner, Dimension Data and even my own organisation, Intrado, have all predicted that digital interactions will overtake voice in the contact centre by 2020. Or sooner. According IBM, 85 percent of all customer service interactions will be handled without the need for a human agent by 2020.
But what is less talked about is the scale of the challenge this trend is presenting to the majority of B2C organisations today.
There is no doubt that the migration to digital channels has begun. Web chat adoption is becoming widespread in the contact centre, partly because of its popularity with consumers. According to Harris Research 53 percent of customers would prefer to use online chat before calling a company for support. And while they might only be adopted by a small minority of organisations currently, the march of the chatbots is gathering momentum and every contact centre should be factoring this in to their future plans.
At the same time ongoing Contact Babel research shows that more than 60 percent of inbound contacts are still resolved via some of live assistance. In the UK alone, this means large B2C organisations can be managing between 30-50 Million live interactions every year.
Omnichannel Contact Centre Obstacles
Yes of course most customers want channel choice and 24/7 customer service, but around 75 percent of customers also still believe that humans provide more effective customer service. The huge cost of providing channel choice while making live assistance easily available has to be a key factor in every omnichannel contact centre strategy.
In reality, few contact centres have designed and delivered an omnichannel customer service proposition that they would describe as satisfactory, based on key findings from Contact Center World. And that is because getting omnichannel right is hard.
Part of the reason for this lies with legacy technology, but at least as culpable is the cultural shift it requires and the delicate balance that must be created between automated and human interactions. So, my advice is to get the planning part right and be as realistic and specific as possible when setting your omnichannel contact centre goals. It is better to get just a few channels right than a lot of channels go badly wrong!
With this in mind, I have put together seven tips for omnichannel success. I hope you find them useful. I would love to hear your feedback.
Seven Steps to Omnichannel Contact Centre Success
1. Buying a new omnichannel infrastructure is not a contact strategy
It’s worth stating the obvious point that investing in the right technology should not be your starting point. Rather, you should revisit this after working through the steps described below. The key thing is to consider what technology capability you need to meet customer expectations as cost-effectively as possible, while making optimal use of available resources. It’s also worth spending some time thinking about what omnichannel customer services means for your organisation. The best definition I have found so far is: An engagement experience that works in any given customer situation. But it’s worth spending some time creating a definition that makes most sense for your organisation – and getting buy-in across internal stakeholder groups.
2. Lowest cost delivery or exceptional customer outcomes?
It is good to arrive at an internal consensus on this critical question at an early stage in developing your omnichannel strategy. If the value of customer service is deemed to be lowest cost delivery, then self-service optimisation and access to lowest cost labour are probably going to be your guiding principles. However, if customer service outcomes are seen as measurable drivers for customer loyalty, advocacy and lifetime value, you will want to make different investment decisions and organise yourself accordingly.
3. Invest time in customer journey mapping
Of course customers want channel choice, but they also want their interactions with you to be consistent, low effort and successful, regardless of the channel they have selected. And above all, they need to feel valued by you. It’s best to start by focusing on core customer needs and build from there. By understanding key customer groups, developing 3D personas and then mapping the most frequent and critical customer journeys, you can prioritise customer needs. This will help you develop the channels that will make the most difference, in the shortest time, and with optimal use of resource. Intrado has worked with CX expert Amy Scott to produce two excellent guides which can help you with personas and customer journey mapping. You can find them here.
4. Do you offer a wide mix of channels or just do a few well?
As a general rule of thumb, channels multiply and seldom die. So, an important decision to make is whether you attempt to offer a wide mix of channels as some brands have done or just focus on a few and educate customers how to engage with you over a limited set of options. This will depend on your customer profile and your current capability. Yes video and Apple Chat might possibly win over a handful of achingly trendy customers. But there may be competing priorities. It’s best to avoid knee jerk reactions when it comes to adding new channels.
5. Address internal barriers first
Getting to grips with designing an effective contact strategy requires a critical review of how you are currently organised. Here are some typical internal barriers that we regularly encounter:
- Separate internal channel owners
- The cultural split between digital and voice
- Teams split across sites, infrastructures and delivery partners
- Non-aligned Service Level Agreements, metrics and team motivations
- Competing transformation briefs between voice and digital, live assistance and self-service
If any of these ring true for you, it is vital that you development cross-departmental teams to address them.
6. Get it right first time
Achieving your omnichannel goals depends upon taking your customers with you. This principle applies particularly to automated channels. If you want them to succeed, they must work for your customer. If you develop your contact strategy based on your priorities, (low-cost) rather than theirs (improved experience) customers will instinctively try to find a way through whatever barrier or route they feel you have imposed on them. Make no mistake. If your self-service channels are hard to use, frustrating to find or somehow just inadequate, your customers will return to what they see as the shortest path to their goal - your live channels.
7. Balancing automated and human engagement
Your customer journey mapping will be key to getting this right. An optimal omnichannel customer service is all about understanding how to match customer needs with the most effective response. This means encouraging your customers to fall in love with your automated options (see 6. Get it right first time!) and aiming to only use live assistance when the need is emotional or complex and cannot be easily resolved via an automated channel. Maintain that focus and you will eventually shrink live assistance to around 25% of all inbound enquiries while building a reputation for outstanding customer service.
If you follow these seven guiding principles, I promise you that your investment in technology is much more likely to pay dividends in terms of improving the customer experience while managing costs. In the longer term, your Omnichannel contact centre strategy may deliver the brand differentiation, long-term loyalty and revenue-driving ability that every CX professional dreams of.