The customer experience begins well before and continues long after their interactions with your contact center. So an omnichannel experience encompasses much more than just customer service.
Customers today are making use of an increasing number of channels for a whole range of purposes, including to browse, to buy and of course to request support. This new omnichannel landscape could be defined as a multichannel approach designed to ensure that the customer receives an integrated experience.
Such definitions are all well and good, but when we speak of a true omnichannel experience, what exactly do we mean? Looking at it purely from the contact center point of view, omnichannel means offering your customers a choice of channels by which they can make contact with your organization. This means you can no longer simply try to funnel customers into the catch-all of the voice channel.
Organizations that fail to provide a range of additional channels – from Web chat and email to SMS, social media and self-service – will quickly find themselves out of step with their customer base. At the same time, these businesses must not forget that there will still be customers that prefer to talk to an agent via the phone, so they must not over-emphasize digital support at the expense of more traditional channels.
To begin delivering an omnichannel experience, organizations thus need to find the right blend of live, assisted and self-service to suit their specific customer base. The next step is to acknowledge that a growing proportion of their clientele are no longer satisfied with service interactions taking place on a single channel and to put in place processes and technologies to maintain consistent service to them as they move across these various channels.
This is easy to say, but it is not so easy to do. The Dimension Data 2016 Global Contact Centre Benchmarking Report ¹ outlines that a key issue is that even those businesses that understand how important it is to support these channel-hoppers are unable to deliver true omnichannel service through their contact centers.
This is not too surprising when one considers that the same report indicates that most contact centers either already or soon will support an average of nine channels, yet only 36% of those surveyed in the report indicated that they could track a customer journey that spans across those multiples channels.
Therefore, even delivering a true omnichannel experience within the contact center environment is proving difficult, as there is often great difficulty in integrating new channels with existing or legacy ones. These hurdles come in a range of different forms, such as the challenge of sharing customer details between channels. Unless such sharing is seamless, a customer who provides personal information over one channel will suffer a disjointed experience if they switch to another one, as relevant information cannot be passed onto the new agent. At the very least, it means the customer has to repeat everything they just said to the previous agent – not the ideal situation for fostering a great customer experience.
These difficulties can be created by a wide range of issues, including outdated infrastructures and inflexible software, although the most likely reason is simply siloed channels that make true integration difficult, preventing the implementation of a true omnichannel experience within the contact center.
Another difficulty in creating such an experience is that it also requires a change in the mindset of your personnel. It is, after all, a new way of addressing customer service and will likely demand a rethinking or entire reimagining of the company’s corporate customer strategy. Success can only be achieved by getting teams from across the organization - IT, marketing, delivery and the like – to work together seamlessly in pursuit of this new strategy. You will likely also need to retrain customer service agents.
Finally, there is the challenge of cost, as achieving a consistent customer experience across all channels can be expensive to maintain. Nonetheless, there seems to be recognition across the board that in order to remain customer-centric, businesses need to not only adopt multiple channels, in order to give customers a choice of how to contact them but also to provide seamless and efficient service to consumers utilizing more than one channel for this purpose.
There is no doubt that most contact centers today are moving towards delivering such a comprehensive omnichannel experience to customers. However, if you think for one minute that achieving this means you have put together a true omnichannel experience, think again.
The contact center is ultimately only one facet of a true omnichannel experience for your customers, albeit an important one, as it is a key customer service conduit. A complete omnichannel experience should, in fact, encompass every single aspect of the customer journey. Although ‘customer experience’ is a phrase commonly bandied about in terms of the contact center, it is neither something that begins when a client makes contact with an agent through the channel of their choice nor is it something that ends when such contact is finished – even if first call resolution is achieved.
A complete omnichannel experience incorporates the consumer’s entire interaction with a company, through multiple channels and experiences. This not only includes the various digital and analog channels of communication, but also their interactions with in-store employees, the organization’s sales team or marketing department, and on to the customer services unit. In an ideal world, you want to ensure customers receive the same user experience from each channel and department.
A true omnichannel experience is, above all, consistent. Customers should be able to easily recognize your brand whether they are shopping on a website or in a store. Your marketing should also have a homogenous feel across the different platforms, and your customer service approach – whether an in-store sales person or a contact center agent – should likewise be consistent.
The goal of a true omnichannel experience is to reassure customers that they are dealing with one company, no matter which channels they choose to shop or communicate through. Enabling clients to pick up items ordered online at retail stores, or facilitating Internet returns in person and vice versa are simple examples of cross-channel actions that should be possible, once you have your backend systems fully integrated and aligned.
Here is an example of how a true omnichannel experience could look, and the various channels and departments it may encompass (and which would need to deliver a seamless and consistent experience).
A friend of your purchases a new multi-purpose power tool and mentions it on social media. You see this post on your smartphone and, since you have been in the market for something similar, you go and have a look at the retailer’s site while on the go.
Once you get home, and with more time on your hands, you use your tablet to investigate further, and when you access the retailer’s website again, you immediately see the same product you were looking at earlier, without the need to navigate to the specific product page. Of course, while you are online, you may also view several other tools you are interested in.
Deciding to view the tools physically, you visit the nearest hardware store, and as you walk in the door, your phone links to the store’s network and instantly informs the salesperson of the various tools you have been looking at on the website. They are therefore well prepared to talk to you, offer advice and quite possibly make the sale. Having made the purchase – and perhaps having bought some additional equipment due to judicious upselling by the sales person - you take the option of having the products delivered to your house, at a time chosen by you. When you return home, you are constantly able to track your order using any of your devices.
When the delivery arrives, the dealer gives you a call to make sure you are happy with the product and the service. A few days later you contact customer services with some questions about the tool. Without having to log-in or answer questions about account numbers, the support person instantly knows what you ordered and is able to answer all your questions.
This is how an end-to-end omnichannel experience should work, and it needs to occur seamlessly.
True omnichannel touches all parts of the organization, from IT and marketing to customer services, and encompasses both physical shops and online stores. Achieving this will require an ongoing process of investment in people, processes, and technology, along with a long-term and visionary view of how you want to treat your customers. And the ideal place to start building the true omnichannel experience is within your contact center.
[About the author] Dylon Mills is the Director of Marketing Content Strategy & Development at Jacada. As such, Dylon’s main responsibilities are to strategize, create and deliver content for Jacada’s product portfolio that align with the global Go-To-Market strategy, corporate positioning, and marketing campaigns. Dylon’s prior work experience includes Product Management at one of the top Fortune 500 Technology companies, Symantec Corporation. Outside of work, Dylon enjoys problem-solving and any project that includes building/tinkering with tools. Dylon holds a BS Consumer Economics from the University of Georgia.