The Omnichannel Contact Center: Three Changes You Need to Make

If someone were to ask you if your contact center is “multichannel,” what would you say? Most of us would probably say yes, noting that our services include voice calls, email, Web chat and social.

Now, if you were asked the same about “omnichannel,” is the answer yes or no? If you hedge and say something like, “We’re working on it,” you’d be in good company. Only 10 percent of contact center leaders surveyed for the 2015 Call Center IQ Executive Report on the Omnichannel Contact Center identified their center as omnichannel currently, and 25 percent said it topped their list of priorities for 2016.

When multichannel first came onto the scene, few people intended for the multitude of new channels to operate in isolation. In fact, omnichannel—which is the seamless integration of the channels to create an optimized customer experience—was probably the real goal all along. The challenges of providing a fully realized omnichannel experience, however, are not insignificant. Business leaders who want to succeed must be willing to make some fundamental changes before omnichannel can become a reality.

The Changes

In the push toward omnichannel, failures are bound to pop up along the way. To avoid being one of the fallen, take heed of the following list of the three biggest challenges faced by organizations as they strive to offer a more seamless customer experience, plus ideas on how to address them:

  1. Integrate the right channels. Many organizations start down the omnichannel road in an effort to keep up with customer service trends, forgetting about the real reason for the change, which is to support their customers. Thus they fall into the trap of trying to support too many channels without a bigger-picture strategy.

In reality, there’s no need for every business to utilize every channel, just the ones your customers prefer. There are too many channels—and too little time—to provide excellent support on all of them, so choose your channels wisely.

To do this you need a good understanding of your customer demographics. For instance, on which social media sites are your customers most active? If your product or service is business-related and you know most of your customers are on LinkedIn, you’ll want to be sure that your customers can reach you there. If you aren’t certain where they are, simply ask. A quick survey can give you all the information you need to get started.

  1. Overcome the organizational silos. In the beginning, the tactic of adding one channel after another made it easier to integrate new channels into contact center operations. But along with each channel came specialization (Communicators specifically trained to use it), ownership (a manager dedicated to its operation and success) and service goals (metrics specific to its use). Ultimately, those well-established channel divisions make it harder for all the channels to operate harmoniously.

While it’s not likely that one person would or could manage all the channels, organizational structures may require shifting to address a new mindset—one of working together.

  1. Incorporate the necessary technology. Those separate channels also pose a challenge for Communicators trying to provide the best customer experience possible. Barriers between channels make it difficult for Communicators to access knowledge and information that originates in a channel other than the one they’re currently in. If a customer making an online purchase is unable to complete the transaction due to a website malfunction, for example, or is confused about shipping or taxes, he or she might decide to call customer service or begin an online chat session. Without a way for Communicators to “see” the activity on all available channels easily and quickly, customers have to essentially start over, repeating themselves and possibly becoming frustrated.

Today’s technology tools can solve this problem. In the example above, Communicators could easily access information related to the website and pick up the transaction where the customer left off. In this way, knowledge across the organization can be leveraged to create a better customer experience.

The Future of Measuring Contact Center Performance

Contact center performance ratings are currently based on scorecards that attempt to balance the reporting of key metrics across the spectrum of efficiency, effectiveness and customer experience. The customer experience portion—the most critical reflection of contact center performance—is typically gathered by surveying customers post-contact.

New ideas about measuring contact center performance are focused on tracking actual customer behavior—not what customers say they’re going to do, but what they really do—post-contact. The ability of a contact center to implement this tracking and use it to optimize performance will depend upon how well contact center leaders respond to the following evolving contact center trends:

Technology: Thanks to gigantic technological gains since call centers were born 40 years ago, integrated contact center software, especially in the cloud environment, can generate a holistic view of the customer journey. Insights gained are allowing contact center managers to personalize communications for a better customer experience. It won’t be long before a single set of unified software technologies emerge that will further coalesce and analyze data, improve operational efficiencies and heighten customer satisfaction.

Communication channels: Today’s communication channels—including voice, chat, email and social media—will continue to expand, challenging contact centers to keep up with user demand. Video chat, anyone? SMS, or texting, has vast potential, as a communication tool, as evidenced by millennial usage of the technology. In fact, a Gallup poll found that text messaging is the dominant form of communication for Americans under the age of 50. Fully 68 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds said they texted “a lot” on the day prior to being interviewed.

Self-service: To optimize contact center performance, decision makers will also need to expand self-service options across channels. Yet in tracking the customer journey in the days ahead, companies may find that customers are reaching out to each other in collaborative forums instead of engaging with their contact centers. If this is not an ideal scenario for your organization, you may want to put processes in place to enable your facility to deliver value and information not attainable elsewhere.

The ongoing digital transformation will enable contact center managers to learn how customer interactions impact future customer behavior, including repeat purchasing and retention. This information will enable forward-thinking leaders to adjust processes to enhance the customer experience.

Contact Centers Are Moving to Omnichannel

Your contact center probably already offers customers multiple channels for communication. Congratulations! This means that you’ve responded to consumer demand to connect with your brand through the channels they prefer.

Now that 68 percent of U.S. adults use smartphones and interact across multiple platforms and modes of communication, contact centers are answering the groundswell. They are meeting customer expectations to connect with their favorite companies through any mode of communication they prefer—from email to chat to mobile apps and websites.

Mobile—which itself comprises multiple channel platforms, like text, email and voice—has emerged as the primary vehicle for communicating with a brand and its contact center. Thanks to this all-in-one digital channel, customers have come to view engagement as a single continuous conversation, or “omnichannel.”

Social media has also contributed to customer expectations for contact center service. Today, a large percentage of our population has been raised on digital and is habituated to sharing and receiving information in near real time. In this fast-paced mobile world, customers expect quick resolution of their issues. In fact, 71 percent of customers say that valuing their time is the most important aspect of customer service.

As customers started lodging company complaints on social platforms, businesses learned to respond quickly—or suffer the repercussions of bad publicity. Both consumers and brands—brands that respond quickly on social platforms—have benefitted from leveraging the channel. Consumers receive a timely response and brands gain visibility. Companies that display good will on social platforms also grow brand interest, engagement and loyalty.

To drive rich omnichannel customer experiences in your contact center, consider the following tips:

Do digital better: Refine your brand’s digital presence by testing your conversion path and optimizing landing pages on your website—both online and on mobile. Make sure you’ve established a social presence and are engaging audiences across all major platforms, like Facebook and Twitter.

Optimize search: Implement a marketing search strategy that encourages more consumers to enter your brand’s name into search engines, like Google, and to visit your website and/or store.

Improve site retargeting: Use website visits and your CRM database to improve site retargeting, or re-engaging, of customers. Analyze data to gain insights about how to best personalize customer experiences with your brand.

Optimize mobile: Use mobile to strengthen your ability to connect with customers anywhere and at any time.

The time is now for all communication channels to be part of a holistic contact center customer experience.

Keep Pace With E-Commerce Trends in the New Year

Your online business must be responsive—not only to visitors but to trends which, if ignored, may trip you up eventually. With the quick pace of modern societal and technological advances, organizations need to keep a finger on the pulse of their industries and develop the agility to react to pressures at the drop of a dime.

The outlook for 2017 includes several e-commerce trends that are primed to turn into major industry drivers. Find them listed here, along with steps you can take to stay ahead of the curve:

Dynamic real-time shopping: The online shopping experience is becoming personalized to each customer. Improvements in collecting, organizing and analyzing data mean that customers will no longer be asked to respond to product recommendations that seem to come out of left field. Instead, recommendations will be based on their unique preferences, geographic location, demographic group, past purchases, market trends and brand interactions—automatically. E-commerce businesses should tap into the technology of leading e-commerce platforms to enable this capability.

Cyber November: Online retailers have started to offer customers discounts in advance of the Black Friday and Cyber Monday rushes—to offset unruly crowds in stores and to get a jump on holiday spending. In 2015, major retailers Target and Walmart announced in-store deals leading up to Black Friday, and mega online retailer Amazon took the cue, offering deals throughout the month of November. To gain a piece of the pie, focus on mobile spending, which is slated to account for 60 percent of online sales by year-end; offer stellar shopping experiences on smartphones and tablets.

Chatbots: These are fully automated “chat” agents that can act as a first point of contact for brands. Chatbots increase the number of platforms on which brands can offer transactions through guided, interactive browsing. In 2015, tech giants released the enabling application programming interfaces (APIs) that made it cost-effective for bot developers to create their own, using their own servers. Experts predict that the artificial intelligence that fuels chatbots will improve with time, making conversations more natural, with better response rates. Explore this technology now to reduce customer effort and lower support costs.

Checkout: Expect traditional wallets to be replaced by “mobile” payments, and set your site up to accept these new payment methods. Same-day delivery is also becoming a competitive differentiator, as is operating in smaller spaces that can serve as showrooms, fitting rooms, and pick-up/drop-off points.

In this era where power has shifted away from companies and toward digitally connected, technology-empowered customers, retailers need to fully embrace digital commerce to thrive. With a few clicks of a mouse, customers can easily switch companies to find a better online experience. In this environment, being customer-obsessed must be your competitive strategy.

Skyrocketing Mobile Usage: Impact on the Contact Center

Is your contact center ready for the ongoing mobile onslaught predicted for 2017? E-commerce will never be the same as consumers continue to make more and more purchases from their mobile devices. What’s the impact on the contact center? It will be an extension of the impact being felt by retailers, which includes challenges in mobile payments and checkout systems that may turn off customers completely—or have them reaching out to contact centers for help.

Smartphones edged out computers, 45.1 percent to 45 percent, as the most popular way to shop online during the first quarter of 2016, according to a study by Demandware. By the end of next year, Demandware forecasts that the percentage of mobile e-commerce visits will rise to 60 percent.

With this wealth of mobile traffic, retailers have gained an incredible opportunity: to reach customers any time and any place. Yet, unless they have optimized their mobile site or applications, they risk antagonizing consumers—some of whom may have been loyal patrons through other venues, like stores and computer websites. In fact, Demandware found that mobile checkout completion is 11 percent lower than the rate from all other devices combined.

The sheer number of smartphones (more than the world’s population) alone means that consumers can connect with contact centers through multiple channels (e.g., online chat, social, email) at will. This has dramatically increased the volume of customer service interactions. It has also increased the expectation of immediacy in customer service.

For example, companies are already integrating their mobile apps with a customer service connection, e.g., “Just click the button to talk to a customer service representative.”

The contact center must now respond to these trends, as well as a strong preference among mobile users for self-service. This means that contact centers will be called upon to seamlessly integrate self-service and live service. The ones that do so will positively differentiate their services from those of their competitors.

Another strong brand differentiator will be the technology deployed to enable processes and infrastructure that can support omnichannel customer service. When it’s easy and enjoyable for customers to do business with your contact center, you’ll reap rewards in customer loyalty and retention.

Fortunately, mobile apps will help you improve that likelihood as they become part of the customer journey. That is, because customers have signed in through an app, contact centers can collect data on their activities and preferences, enabling these centers to be more personal and responsive. This can reduce call times and call volume, leading to greater customer satisfaction.

Look at mobile as part of the continuum of modern customer service advances that are blowing through contact centers. Keep up; keep customers happy, and keeping growing your business.

Issue Resolution: The Primary Prerequisite for Customer Satisfaction

When customers call into contact centers, they are usually experiencing one of two problems: 1) a billing issue, or 2) product or service assistance. And quick resolution is their aim. Unfortunately, this is not happening regularly. Along with this complaint, customers are growing impatient with companies’ interactive voice response (IVR) systems. Together, these issues have caused the Contact Center Satisfaction Index (CCSI) to drop to 68—the lowest it’s been since 2007.

Released last month by CFI Group, the latest CCSI score, based on a 0- to 100-point scale, slid four points this year. CFI reports that just 52 percent of issues are resolved on first contact (down 6 percent from 2015) and one-third of consumers fail to resolve their issues through self-service options. Especially frustrated by these hurdles are today’s young adults—those individuals born between 1980 and 2000 known as millennials.

Raised in an on-demand digital world, millennials—the nation’s largest demographic—expect readily available information they can easily tap into themselves.

To meet the demands of this generation, and consumers in general, contact centers must better align their processes to exceed customer expectations. Here are some key points to guide these improvements:

Get on board the omnichannel train: Consumers want to interact with brands using their preferred channels. The top five of which are telephone, email, live chat, online portal/FAQ and search engine, according to a 2015 report from Microsoft. Despite telephone’s popularity, Microsoft found that 57 percent of people in the U.S. typically begin brand interactions online; 35 percent begin with the telephone.

First call resolution: Customer satisfaction with contact centers goes hand in hand with the first call resolution (FCR) metric. In addition, even when FCR is achieved, satisfaction is decreased if the caller has to speak with more than one Communicator. On the flip side, the length of time it takes to achieve FCR is not a factor unless the call lasts more than 30 minutes.

Yet, most U.S. customers won’t wait on hold for service no matter how quickly their issues can be resolved. Only 43 percent of Microsoft’s respondents reported a tolerance for even a one- to five-minute wait.

Personal customer care: Even the best technology, wonderful as it is at helping contact center leaders to forecast call volume and deploy skills-based routing, cannot replace the human touch. When customers are frustrated or angry, no IVR or self-help portal is going to be able to de-escalate emotions the way a responsive, empathetic Communicator can.

Whereas a 2012 Amdocs survey found that 75 percent of consumers would prefer to use online support if it were available, a new Verint study shows that human involvement is a critical component in solving queries, especially when complex or sensitive. In fact, four out of five of the 24,000 respondents to Verint’s interview prefer that customer service continue to include human interactions.

Your contact center is critical to creating a customer experience that can differentiate your company in the marketplace. Deploy technologies and strategies now that will show your customers how much you value their business.

 

Strategies for Implementing Live Chat

It’s no mystery that you need live chat on your website or app to stay competitive in the e-commerce world. A chat box dropping down onto the user screen is becoming a commonplace occurrence for Internet information-seekers and shoppers, enabling them to quickly and easily connect with a Communicator in real time. Many companies have employed the technology to better serve customers and improve the experience with their brands.

The added bonus for businesses with a chat box offering is the increased ability it gives them to capture visitor information that can then be used to engage potential and existing customers. Most businesses work hard to bring visitors to their sites but, once they’ve arrived, have no means to gain knowledge about them if they don’t stay. This is often the case; in fact, on average, approximately 45 percent to 50 percent of website visitors leave before moving on to a second webpage—with the bounce rate on mobile devices even higher.

Instead, if your visitor clicks on the chat box, you have an opening to start collecting data: “Welcome to live chat. Who am I speaking with today? Can I get a callback number/email in case we get disconnected?”

Rely on your live chat to gather information organically and even filter out visitors that aren’t a match for your products or services. Plus, if you don’t already offer 24/7 service, your cloud-based live chat solution can enable a cost-effective after-hours presence for basic inquiries. Regular daytime staff can follow up on leads and complex questions.

Keep in mind a finding from Forrester Research: Forty-four percent of online consumers say that having questions answered by a live person during a purchase is one of the most important features a website can offer.

Let your customers know you appreciate them by offering them real-time access to Communicators, helping them to quickly and easily resolve issues—and stay on your site through purchase.

Three Ways to Cultivate Multitalented Agents

Multiple channels are now commonplace in contact centers, changing the way we do business. The goal of a call center is no longer to handle one transaction on one channel, it’s to make sure that customers have a positive experience on every channel, even if that means transitioning from one mode of communication to another midstream.

This new reality is making the job of a Communicator more complex than ever before. As contact center leaders, it’s our job to support them, giving them every tool they need to make their jobs easier. The ability to juggle multiple channels won’t come naturally to everyone. However, putting more time and resources into agent preparedness will pay off in spades in the long run.

Three things you can focus on to help your Communicators become more “universal” agents—ones who handle multiple channels successfully—are training, technology and product knowledge.

Training: You know your Communicators best. Some are naturally suited to phone work, others are strong writers. Don’t take this as a sign that agents should do different things; separating agents by channel will only serve to splinter your customer service efforts even more. Instead, step up your training efforts to bring everyone up to a more equal ability level. If need be, consider routing calls to specific agents depending on their strengths. Training programs may need to be revamped to address the additional channels in use, and feedback on performance levels should be provided on a timely and frequent basis.

When it comes to hiring new Communicators, create an updated job description that reflects the reality of the position. Look for experience indicators that are relevant to the workplace. For example, Communicators who use social media in their personal lives are more likely to feel comfortable using it on the job. Also, the ability to multitask becomes even more important in a multichannel environment. Switching from one channel to another—even if it’s only two—requires quick thinking and a bit of juggling.

Technology: Much of the technology you probably have in-house already can be used to support the multichannel environment. An IVR system can route specific calls to certain Communicators, depending on their skill levels, as well as minimize the occurrence of low-priority calls with the callback feature. Be sure that plenty of self-service options are available on the website, and incorporate hyperlinks to self-help pages in social media and Web chat services.

Minimize the amount of time your Communicators spend logging into and out of different platforms by providing them with technology tools that make transitions between channels easy. Technology is also available that can provide Communicators with recommendations as to next steps when working with a customer. These recommendations can be revised regularly depending on your analysis of the types of inquiries being fielded and resolutions that worked—no matter the channel.

Knowledge of the product: In-depth knowledge of the brands and products represented will go far in giving Communicators the information they need to handle inquiries more quickly. It will also make it easier for them to navigate between channels during a customer interaction. One way to increase product knowledge is to set up a knowledge-base, a central place where agents can share information about the company and the product, including commonly asked questions and previous issue resolution steps. Rapid access to knowledge will make the channel-switching process more comfortable, and more fruitful.

Creating more universal agents may seem like a daunting prospect, but keep in mind that Communicators who work with multiple channels regularly are more likely to be engaged in their jobs, as opposed to those who don’t. I think you’ll find that a long-term multichannel strategy as it applies to your staff will not only be good for business, but good for your Communicators as well.

Millennials and WebRTC in the Contact Center

Contact centers are making significant investments in human capital and real-time communications technology to interact with millennials and other customers more effectively via virtual queues, SMS and video. In fact, WebRTC (Web Real-Time Communications) is an open source project supported by Google that is furthering the use of unified communications (UC) in businesses.

With WebRTC, video, voice and chat can occur in real time using browser-to-browser applications. For instance, users can initiate a chat interaction and then connect instantly—at no charge—to a live Communicator just by clicking a link (without any software or plug-in). Benefits include constant voice and data encryption that ensures secure communications, excellent voice and video quality based on codec technology, device independence and reliability.

Organizations have been taking advantage of the open source community to develop and/or deploy integrated technology solutions that help employees to collaborate and communicate more effectively—often using cloud-based services. They are gaining functionality through small teams of developers at lower cost and time expenditures than they could have during the days of projects led by outsourcers and systems integrators.

What companies are learning, after years of investing in technology, is that the strategy only results in small advances in overall customer service unless the investments are combined with human capital investments (think treating Communicators and employees as key team members).

To meet the needs of the large millennial population in the United States, companies are finding that leveraging real-time communications is improving interactions. Millennials—raised on digital technologies and quick and easy communications with family and friends—expect companies to provide similarly seamless experiences. They don’t want to be hung up in IVR queues or connected to a Communicator who can’t address their issues on first contact.

Toward this end, organizations are developing omni-channel customer service practices so that millennials can engage with them over their preferred channels. Businesses must be careful in this regard to bring on new channels one at a time and with full understanding of the requirements of each as well as how millennials use them.

Self-service is another contact center initiative fueled by millennials and the evolution of smartphones, Internet speeds and phone applications. Self-service offerings are helping to offset customer frustration with long hold times; yet, companies must provide easy elevation of these interactions to phone call resolution in urgent situations so customers don’t become irritated.

Millennials are also driving companies to respond to social channels since this is where they are and where they have significant power to express their views and affect brand reputations. Many brands monitor social platforms so they can respond immediately to customers’ comments—both positive and negative.

In addition, companies are monitoring big data and analytics to pinpoint when and where customers are learning and buying online. Intimate knowledge of consumer behaviors is allowing these organizations to personalize messaging aimed at key targets such as millennials and other demographics.

Easy browser-to-browser interactions and flows of information are enabling companies to establish deeper relationships with customers, developing brand trust and loyalty that should well-serve both their customers and their business revenues.

Steve Brubaker began his career at InfoCision in 1985. In his current role as Chief of Staff and as a member of the Executive Team, he is responsible for HR, internal and external communications, and manages the company’s legal and compliance departments. Brubaker is a member of a number of professional organizations, including the DMA, SOCAP, and PACE. He also donates his time to serve on several university boards, including the Executive Advisory Board for The Taylor Institute for Direct Marketing at The University of Akron and The University of Akron Foundation Board. He is a frequent speaker for national events and has also been honored with a number of awards and recognitions for his contributions to the call center industry.

Where You Should Engage With Certain Demographics for Best Results

To create brand engagement, companies must learn the ins and outs of how consumers communicate across the multiple channels available today. Understand that each brand—and even each brand offering—has a unique base of potential and existing buyers. In other words, don’t spend time learning where millennials engage with brands if your products or services aren’t aimed at that demographic.

With that being said, let’s look into research from SproutSocial and Pew Research to see where certain groups are clustered on today’s major social media platforms—and ripe for the picking:

  • Facebook: By far, Facebook (FB) is the most popular social media site, used by 71 percent of online adults. Here, you’ll find that women (77 percent) are better represented then men (66 percent)—but, still, both sexes are more present on FB than on any other social platform. Age-wise, there are more millennials (87 percent) than any other generation on this site. Usage actually declines with age; nevertheless, a majority of the over 65 crowd (56 percent) uses FB. If your business is international, be aware of FB usage differences by country. For example, while the United States represents 14 percent of the FB audience, Mexico represents just 4 percent.
  • LinkedIn: Usage of this platform (28 percent of online adults) continues to grow. Known widely as a social platform for business, it’s no surprise that demographics for the site include a higher average income (44 percent of adults make over $75,000) and education level (50 percent graduated college). A vast difference exists between urban (32 percent) and rural (14 percent) users.
  • Pinterest: You’ll find a high percentage of female (42 percent) vs. male (13 percent) users on this social platform. Plus, this is the one major site used by more rural (30 percent) than urban (25 percent) adults. The network (as with every other major social platform) does skew younger—with millennials at 34 percent, compared to seniors at 17 percent. The site is more popular, as well, with higher income (over $75,000) earners, 34 percent, than lower income (less than $30,000) earners, 22 percent.
  • Instagram: Twenty-six percent of online adults engage in photo sharing on this social media site. Millennials dominate usage (53 percent) compared to other age groups—from 25 percent of 30- to 49-year-olds to just 6 percent of seniors. Here you’ll also see a significant difference between urban (28 percent) and rural (19 percent) users. Plus, more women (29 percent) than men (22 percent) are fans. It’s also the one major platform that does not have college graduates (24 percent) as the top education demographic; that honor goes to users with some college experience at 31 percent.
  • Twitter: Used by 23 percent of online adults, Twitter is a fast-paced and high-volume social media platform preferred by the 18- to 29-year-old crowd (37 percent). Usage skews down significantly with age, as just 10 percent of 65 and older adults partake of its offerings. Twitter is also used significantly more in urban (25 percent) than rural (17 percent) areas. The platform is differentiated by education level as well. Thirty percent of Twitter’s audience has graduated college vs. 16 percent who have high school degrees or less. The Twitter audience also skews higher with adults earning over $75,000 (27 percent) vs. less than $30,000 (20 percent).

Although it doesn’t have the large user base of the platforms listed above, you may also want to consider online search engine site Google+ for building your brand’s presence. YouTube is another great option if you have video content to promote. Snapchat, too, has gained prominence as a social media site—where content lives for 24 hours, tops.

Work to align your marketing efforts with the consumers you hope to target—but keep in mind that you don’t necessarily need to have a presence on every social platform. Instead, choose the right channels for your brand, and use them to deliver meaningful content. In this way, you’re more than likely to develop customers loyal to your company’s products and services.

Steve Brubaker began his career at InfoCision in 1985. In his current role as Chief of Staff and as a member of the Executive Team, he is responsible for HR, internal and external communications, and manages the company’s legal and compliance departments. Brubaker is a member of a number of professional organizations, including the DMA, SOCAP, and PACE. He also donates his time to serve on several university boards, including the Executive Advisory Board for The Taylor Institute for Direct Marketing at The University of Akron and The University of Akron Foundation Board. He is a frequent speaker for national events and has also been honored with a number of awards and recognitions for his contributions to the call center industry.