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Time for contact centers to double down on an omnichannel future

omnichannel
(Image credit: Image Credit: M247)

It’s now more important than ever, for organizations keep up with societies’ fast-paced approach to living, particularly as populations and industries evolve at an unprecedented pace. And with today’s customer demanding faster and more effective service across all channels, businesses and contact centers have already hoisted the ‘digital first’ flag and reinvented key journeys. Customers are also expecting to be able to initiate contact through the channel that best works for them, meaning omnichannel customer service is no longer a luxury, but a necessity.

While voice has remained the predominant channel for customer support throughout the pandemic - especially when customers are seeking trust and reassurance during conversations that are more sensitive and personal - self-service has now also become a key strategy to reducing inbound demand.

Many organizations have had to deal with both sustained customer demand and reduced headcount, as well as productivity issues from the unexpected pivot to homeworking. This has also added greater urgency - for customers - nudging them into self-managing their needs. Equally, customer demand for self-service has never been greater than it is now, as they look to do things on their own terms and as it suits them.

Achieving single-channel outcomes

When it comes to delivering and optimizing the most efficient omnichannel customer service, quality over quantity is key. An essential question that organizations need to ask themselves is whether each channel is providing customers with a clear path to their desired outcome, or if customers are switching between multiple channels because they aren’t finding what they need. The focus should be on ‘single-channel outcomes’ wherever possible, making the value of an omnichannel customer service simply about the initial choice from a customer’s perspective. Most often, it is the ‘in the moment’ convenience drives that choice, combined with personal preferences for a particular way of engaging. After that, omnichannel ceases to be of interest, unless it becomes a hindrance. Ultimately, the longer the customer service journey takes, or the more touchpoints a customer has to go through, the less satisfied the customer will be.

The change in customer behavior over the last year has seen many businesses expand from just voice or email to include social channels and messaging, with integrated bots to screen enquiries, ask simple questions and escalate to advisors. It is essential, however, to know the detail of every service journey, and through in-depth analysis and testing come to a point of being able to offer customers recommended paths to where they will find the desired support and outcome.

For example, the screening or triage process of a virtual bot may recommend that a customer uses mobile video chat to install or fix a product, and then it will use omnichannel orchestration to get the customer to that specific channel. By influencing customers to utilize channels that will provide a fast and effective outcome not only results in a satisfied customer, but also reduces the pressure on call center workforces.

Digital transformation or digital disruption?

The digital revolution has forced many businesses to adopt the multichannel experience approach, and with technology advancing at lightning speed and creating exciting new opportunities for contact centers, it’s important to consider how technology will truly bring value. Take Artificial Intelligence (AI) for instance – everyone is talking about it, but the reality is that there are many business leaders that are unsure of how to use it as part of their omnichannel strategy, and that fear being left behind. IT managers should use the opportunity to take the lead and guide organizations through pragmatic approaches to AI best practice and deployment. This understanding will be key to encouraging omnichannel strategies and investments that will benefit customers. For contact centers, knowing what communication will most benefit from AI, and what enquiries virtual customer assistants (VCAs) should deal with are important before developing, trailing and deploying any AI strategy.

It’s an exciting time, and we are on the cusp of a new chapter in which the power of AI to predict and influence the paths customers is being explored. Even when this becomes mainstream, the underlying automation will still need to be guided by a framework of decisions about what constitutes the best path to a customer outcome.

Taking the seamless experience to a total experience

Total experience is also a strategy that organizations and contact centers should be incorporating into their plans. At its annual IT Symposium in October last year, Gartner declared Total Experience (TX) one of the top strategic technology trends for organizations to explore in 2021. Delivering an exceptional total experience with powerful and well-designed tools with be a key differentiator for organizations this year. Not only does it provide customers with the best possible experiences across all channels and touchpoints, but also enables, delights and inspires employees to deliver that perfect service.

While most customer-facing employees want to provide outstanding customer experiences, many do not feel enabled to do so, but incorporating total experience in a contact center strategy can enable a 360-degree experience that empowers and motivates agents, reduces effort and improves customer service. The goal of TX is simple – to provide an all-round exceptional experience to anyone who interacts with your brand, including customers, users and employees.

New customer behaviors, expectations and channel preferences, combined with more unpredictable demand and agile working practices mean the time is ripe for innovation and a more unified approach. It encourages companies to stop thinking about multi-experience (MX), user experience (UX), customer experience (CX) and employee experience (EX) as separate disciplines or silos, but instead as key elements of their total experience.

Customers want fast, positive results, and organizations will reap the benefits of always keeping customers at the center of any digital design process. Delivering experience via one strong channel is no longer viable – all channels should reflect the same level of efficiency. Customers no longer want to use multiple channels, but to choose the channel that works for them and have it deliver the same exceptional experience. Having a well-designed, cloud-based contact center solution that allows agents to handle all customer communications channels in one, unified platform makes this easy. It reduces agent effort, increases service quality and ensures precision for the customer while also enabling more personalized interactions and fast response times.

Thomas Rødseth, Chief Technology Officer, Puzzel

Thomas Rodseth is Chief Technology Officer at Puzzel