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Whats multimodal

How many times have you heard that sentence while trying to pay a bill, change a service plan, update the address on one of your accounts, or get through to a customer service agent? The answer for most of us? Too many. Gartner predicts that by 2020 a customer will manage 85% of the relationship with an enterprise without interacting with a human, so how do you think your customers feel when they are misunderstood by your company's automated voice recognition system? And why is it that your customers are being misunderstood?

Attend a customer experience industry event these days and you’ll most likely hear the terms “multi-modal” or “multimodal” or “multimodality” used to describe a method of communicating with customers. Even earlier today in our own offices I heard “multimodal” used to describe an approach to a customer challenge. As I listened to the challenge and the solution, there was plenty of discussion with words like omnichannel, multichannel and multimodal. What is the difference? Have no fear! Here is your guide to all things multimodal.

Multimodal – several modes, together in one experience

Let’s use an example. I was recently pulled over for a traffic violation and produced an expired insurance verification card. The officer asked if I had a copy on my phone and I was able to download my insurance company's app, login and use the mobile app to produce a valid insurance verification card. I walked away with just a warning, and now I always have my auto insurance provider’s mobile app available on my phone. Multimodal? Not so much. Next, say that the police encounter was after a small car accident. I use the mobile app to produce my insurance verification card but then notice the “Start a Claim” button within the app. I choose the option and within seconds, I’m uploading a photo from the accident and completing the claim while simultaneously speaking to a claim agent that’s using my location to secure a rental car in the vicinity. Multimodal? Yes, this is a true multimodal experience, using two (or more) channels simultaneously in a single interaction.

But multimodal experiences aren’t as commonplace as you’d think and it would be much more common to be shifted from channel to channel. Perhaps a reason why a McKinsey survey said that 20% more customers would prefer to use digital channels than do today. To help close this gap, organizations that deliver a multimodal experience quickly benefit from improved channel adoption (with existing channels) leading to a more magical customer experience.

What makes a GREAT multimodal experience?

  • Visual and voice experiences working together in harmony – Speech is a popular channel for self-service, but to avoid cognitive overload, use speech, and visual experiences together to follow through with a multimodal experience. Disparate systems from a variety of vendors (IVR, phone, mobile apps, chatbots) often make it virtually impossible to move beyond a single-channel experience. Just because you have many channels connected together doesn't mean that it's multimodal. Multimodal means that several channels are working together to support a single interaction. 
  • Experiences that close the customer preference vs. customer usage gap – Despite investments in a website and/or mobile app, a significant portion of your customers – 70% according to our research – are still utilizing the phone channel for assistance. With a multimodal experience, a customer can enter the interaction through the phone (or their preferred channel) and then expand the interaction to other channels rather than being constrained within their initial channel mode. Around 60% of customers will first attempt self-service and generally, only half are able to self-service successfully. It is time to move away from “did you know more information is available online” in your IVR hold music and lead customers to an experience that promotes their preferences. Evaluate the customer’s journey, walk in their shoes and combine modes to fit the interaction to increase their adoption of self-service. 
  • One-and-Done to Reduce Customer effort – Just like humans learn differently (think auditory and visual learning), customers also have preferences and expectations for self-service. Similar to learning calculus through an audiobook, customer effort is increased if an organization forces a resource into a specific way of doing things. Harvard Business Review said it best: “First, delighting customers doesn’t build loyalty; reducing their effort—the work they must do to get their problem solved—does.” Just like my car insurance example, multimodal experiences help customers get through a difficult process by escorting the customer through a single experience by leveraging concurrent channels.

Are the disparate systems and channels you have today not serving your customers as seamlessly as you'd like? If so, don’t feel alone.

Discover why "multimodal" might be your favorite new word!

Oh, and you should also watch our webinar "Self-Service 2.0: Turbocharge your Stalling Digital Strategy" where we dig into this discrepancy between channel adoption and channel preference and discuss best practices to help you close the gap and increase adoption rates of your digital assets.

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