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GUEST COMMENT: Three steps to implementing an omnichannel customer service strategy

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by Andrew Kokes

For a long time, customer engagement channels, such as voice, ecommerce, mobile and social, have been viewed as separate and distinct customer interactions. However, successful customer engagement occurs when these channels are seamlessly blended and put into context. Like today’s upgraded mobile smart devices, we can talk, text, email, chat, send pictures, network with friends online, tweet at any moment. It is the customer’s choice; these channels represent opportunities at specific moments of truth to build loyalty. The key to bridging the gap from multiple individual and distinct channels is shifting from a multichannel to an omnichannel perspective.

The traditional multichannel strategy is one of control and offering non-integrated options. The omnichannel perspective is a release of control to the customer, who already has the reins anyway, allowing them to choose their channel of choice. Omnichannel embraces the voice of the customer that says “never, ever, ever do I want to be forced involuntarily from my chosen channel of interaction.”

Getting started with an omnichannel strategy

You have to upgrade the dumb terminal. No one likes the cliché, “if you build it, they will come.” But in many cases, customers struggle to tell you what they want, even if you ask them directly. It should be increasingly obvious that a disconnected trial and error strategy is not the best experience for a customer. The customer is already armed with every communication media at any time and at any place. Some clients suggest their customer demographic is too focused on traditional voice channels of interaction to merit much focus on new and emerging channels of customer service. Yet some of these same customers are noting that over half of their inbound call volume now initiates from a mobile device, and an increasing percentage of those devices are smartphones. A major mobile provider noted that over 81 percent of their smart device cases begin with an online search for support. Clearly an appetite for experimentation is in order.

Begin building your omnichannel strategy by taking inventory of the channels you support today. Are your customers satisfied with the service levels currently delivered? It’s hard to justify taking on anything new if existing channels are underserved. Next, consider all the emerging channels of interaction. For example, there have been inconsistent levels of adoption of chat and social technologies, and you need to evaluate if these may be relevant for your business. Don’t be afraid to consider retiring obsolete or accidental channels of customer engagement. Email is frequently a target here, as companies find newer and alternative customer interaction channels typically provide a higher rated customer experience with a much lower level of cross-channel fallout. Finally, we’re living in an increasingly 24-7 society, and a true multichannel customer engagement strategy must be consistent across all hours of the day and not just optimised for times of peak volume.

Integrating the self-service channel

A few short years ago, self-service typically meant one of two things – optimising your voice IVR (interactive voice response) and developing a state-of-the-art web environment. Today, the fastest growing channels of self-service typically have either a mobile or social component – or both! So, in addition to managing IVR and the web, businesses should ensure that their self-service strategy works across a range of Android and Apple platforms and can integrate with a range of downloadable mobile applications. Another concern involves the rapid proliferation of social channels – definitely Twitter and Facebook, but also rapidly up-and-coming platforms like Instagram, Pinterest and LinkedIn. While companies have traditionally looked to these social channels as a marketing opportunity, the reality is that a fundamental shift in how people communicate is taking place, and we have only scratched the surface on what is possible.

A properly constructed self-service approach starts with the customer in mind and positions itself in front of the customer’s desired channels of choice. Today’s preferred strategy typically starts by optimising the online experience and incorporates a robust IVR for phone interactions. Ecommerce tools should be platform agnostic – meaning they work well on a range of rapidly evolving mobile devices, tablet computers or traditional PCs. The better and more consistent the self-service experience is across platforms and interaction channels, the more likely customers are to embrace self-service en masse. It’s no wonder enterprise businesses are willing to invest heavily to deliver a robust self-service experience; many clients report that it’s among their highest rated in customer satisfaction and lowest overall cost channels to deliver and maintain.

The one consistent challenge we see in self-service is companies struggling to “build the bridge” for customers who are attempting to self-serve but cannot finish the transaction they started – oftentimes, there is no clear escalation path for customers to escalate to a human-assisted transaction when the self-service experience proves inadequate for whatever reason.

This is easily solved. First, map the service experience to get a good idea of all probable scenarios where a customer may fail while attempting to self-serve. We then typically recommend the creation of a unified agent queue for text-based customer interaction. It may be through intelligent deployments of social response monitoring, escalation to proactive live chat, email support or other text-based methods of support interaction focused on enhancing customers attempting to self-serve. The idea is to offer people a seamless way to obtain support in their chosen channel without having to explain their problem over and over again at every step in the escalation.

Optimising live service

As self-service solutions continue to mature and capture a broader range of problem types, the engagements in the live service channel are trending to be more complex as FAQs are captured on the web. We believe that optimising the live service experience will remain an important focus area for enterprise businesses in the coming years. Agents with enhanced training and tools that efficiently and effectively manage increasingly complex customer inquiries will create moments of truth. In the future, enterprising businesses may trade the luxury of live support with your toughest challenges for the opportunity to earn the right to introduce you to value-added products and services.

Some organisations are hesitant to move to an omnichannel approach when they believe that their current, fragmented strategy is good enough. Change is hard. Change can fail. Change can be wildly successful, but eventually we all have to give up our legacy green screen terminals and embrace a more connected customer. Today’s consumers are demanding a seamless experience across multiple channels. Take advantage of this new paradigm and reap the benefits of a omnichannel strategy.

Andrew Kokes is vice president, global product management, at Sitel

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