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.

Understand, Anticipate and Act on Customer Intent

Improving the customer experience has been identified as a 2017 critical priority, second only to growing revenue, for 37 percent of marketing decision makers, according to a Forrester study. To achieve this goal, consumer intent must be the cornerstone of your marketing strategy.

As digital continues to disrupt business processes and practices, organizations must take a new approach to customer engagement—one that anticipates and acts on consumer intent across channels. In this way, companies can create moments that matter for consumers and drive successful outcomes.

Technologies for assessing customer intent

In 2017, forward-thinking businesses will leverage the following three technologies to impact operations and improve the customer experience: Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML).

Rather than simply analyzing data to understand how customers have behaved in the past—to predict future behavior—companies will leverage machine-to-machine communication through IoT devices and sensors to deliver personalized support, like fixing a product problem before it happens.

Best practice for intent-driven customer engagement

Channel-centric customer engagement is a popular contact center model today. Yet, a focus on optimizing performance within channels is more of a passive, or reactive, approach to customer interaction. This can end up disappointing customers.

Instead, an intent-driven customer engagement model uses data to anticipate a customer’s intent during the purchase journey. The intelligence thus gained allows marketers to present customers with intelligently selected next steps.

Applications in the contact center

Chatbots: According to a 24/7 article, AI-powered chatbots are emerging in more businesses to better handle inquiries efficiently and at scale. Since 93 percent of U.S. consumers use the Internet for research before making a purchase, a chatbot function will become critical to customer satisfaction. Chatbots like Siri, Cortana and Facebook’s Bot Engine for Messenger are already familiar to, and popular with, consumers. In 2017, 24/7 predicts that chatbot technology will extend beyond messaging apps to empower customers with self-service on several channels, including SMS, mobile apps, email and phone.

Communication channels: This year, progressive companies will begin to orchestrate the customer experience by pairing communications channels to ease customer interactions. Logical pairings might include Web and phone, chatbot and live chat, or mobile app and IVR—depending on each business’s unique needs. Leaders will apply AI and ML techniques to company data (customer profiles, histories and relationships) to gauge consumer intent. In turn, this intelligence will allow organizations to deliver experiences that exceed customer expectations.

Personalized marketing: How businesses market their products and services will be significantly aided by advanced technologies that help determine customer preferences in product features. This year, more companies will start to use cognitive science to gain consumer attention. Advertising and marketing campaigns aimed at individuals will funnel results back through ML models to continually improve outcomes.

Intent-driven customer engagement is about understanding your customers—who they are, what they’re doing, the channels they’re using—and leveraging insights gained by employing today’s advanced technologies to deliver the optimal customer experience.