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We all know what customers want when it comes to service; they want to be served quickly and efficiently. Most of them don’t particularly care how that happens, as long as it gets done.

At the same time, some groups of customers do have preferences for how they want to engage with companies. As a general rule, older customers still prefer to pick up the phone, while younger tech-savvy ones may prefer webchat, email, or social media.

Brands that want to reach as many people as possible, and keep them as satisfied customers, need to embrace this multiplicity of channels. Over the past ten years many have done so to some extent or another.

However, leading organisations have gone even further. Beyond just making multiple channels available, they try to give the customer flexibility over how they can interact with a brand, to make for a seamless and unified experience.

 

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What is a multi-channel contact centre?

Over the past decade the majority of contact centres have gone from offering phone and maybe email, to enabling customers to connect with them over a variety of channels. These usually include webchat, mobile messaging, social media, and, increasingly, OTT (over the top) services like Messenger or WhatsApp.

To reach all the demographics that form their target markets most of our clients today understand that they need to make a number of these channels available to their customers and prospects.

In a multi-channel contact centre, the channels are available but without integration between any of them, meaning customers cannot swap from one to the other and expect the thread of the interaction to be picked up by the next agent. Instead each channel operates in a silo, with its own processes, and its own technologies.

 

How is an omni-channel contact centre different?

In an omni-channel contact centre you start with the same premise of offering a variety of different channels. The difference is that in an omni-channel centre the channels are operated as part of a unified communications platform. There are several different ways to set this up, but the end-result is customers can switch channels and their interaction data follows them.

What this means is that, if a customer follows up by webchat a few days after a telephone conversation, the webchat agent has access to the necessary information to pick up from where the phone agent left off. Each individual interaction is seen as part of an ongoing communication with the customer, rather than each being treated as isolated transactions.

 

 

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Why is it important to make the transition?

There are two questions to ask here. The first is why is it important to have multiple channels of communication available for customers? And the second is why is it important for those channels to not operate in siloes?

As we’ve already said, if your organisation wishes to reach as wide a demographic of customers as possible, you have to be accessible from where those customers like to communicate. A surprisingly high percentage of younger people just do not make voice calls with their phones. Despite the ubiquity of smartphones, the volume of calls made in the UK on smartphones started to decline in 2018, and the trend looks to have arrived in Australia around 2020, even though the cost of calling has never been cheaper.

Making the experience seamless for customers by tying all your channels together in a unified omni-channel cloud contact centre platform is the next step. You can do this with a unified platform like, for example, Amazon Connect. This is important as it dramatically improves the quality of the customer experience. As we know, customer experience is a more important differentiator in many sectors, particularly commoditised ones such as utilities and telco, than price. For customers, great service not only means getting their problem solved – that’s kind of a given – it means getting their problem solved with as little hassle to themselves as possible.

We all know the frustrations of being transferred to a different department in a contact centre and having to explain the whole backstory again to a new agent. In a multichannel contact centre where each channel operates in its own silo, that’s what happens at the start of every new interaction. So for a rich, responsive, and rewarding customer experience, omni-channel is becoming absolutely essential.

In short, customers now have the expectation of being able to switch channels and still have their context transferred to the next customer representative who is handling their case. So it’s up to businesses to meet that expectation.

 

Are there any exceptions?

As always, the same rule doesn’t apply to everyone. Our best advice is to be driven by the demands of both your existing customers and any new customers you want to attract. For example, if you have built an edgy brand that you market only on TikTok and you just want to attract people under 25, there’s little point building an extensive IVR channel as you are likely to have very few voice interactions at all. In this case you would focus on chat, messaging and SMS channels. Ideally those would be integrated for a seamless customer experience, but you wouldn’t necessarily need the full suite of channels.

By the same token, if you are just looking at omni-channel because it’s one of the latest buzzwords without evaluating its impact on the business, then maybe your business case is not strong enough to justify the investment. To do omni-channel properly really does require a significant commitment and re-organisation of your technology and processes. It’s not something to do on a whim. Your business case needs to demonstrate that there is a demand from your existing customers, and also show that you expect a return on your investment in terms of improved customer acquisition and customer satisfaction results.

 

Challenges of implementing an omni-channel contact centre?

There are two keys to properly enabling true omni-channel. The first is an orchestration platform that allows channels to be integrated with your CRM, agent desktop, and other back office systems, as well as customer-facing properties such as your website. The second is the ability to ensure customer and transaction data is accessible to agents and customers via those systems.

Neither of those things are particularly difficult to do but the tricky part is adapting your processes internally and ensuring that everything is properly integrated while remaining secure.

From a technology viewpoint many businesses are already struggling with their legacy technology and it can be too big of a jump to make all at once. Many are still evaluating their move from on-site technology to the cloud, and this is absolutely a step that must be taken first. Cloud is the great enabler of omni-channel operations as it is all about deployment anywhere and being able to flexibly, quickly, and easily integrate different systems using APIs.

This can especially be the case for larger established businesses. While they certainly have more resources, they also have more legacy technology and have more processes and decision makers involved. Interestingly this can give smaller, more agile competitors and start-ups an advantage as they are able to adapt more quickly or even put in place a purpose-built solution from scratch without worrying about legacy technology or processes. These kinds of asymmetries usually work to the advantage of larger businesses, but here smaller niche players can really score big, as we have seen with the rise of the whole Fintech sector, for example.

 

So how do you do it?

Every organisation’s journey is going to be different. However, when we are asked about omni-channel by our clients, we generally give this advice:

  • Do you have a sound business case for it? What positive impact will it make on your business and bottom line? Where are you now and how are you going to measure the impact of whatever changes you make?
  • If your business case is sound then you need buy in from the very top of your organisation, as well as from all the teams whose day-to-day work is going to be impacted.
  • Start with your legacy technology and move as much as you can to the cloud. Where you can’t dump it, build an orchestration layer over the top so that you have as few points of integration as you can get away with.
  • Recreating your customer journeys and process maps is a big job and should start as early as possible, not wait until after the technology is almost built. Ideally, both should inform each other.
  • You will also need to make a serious investment in agent and supervisor training to make it work. Skimping on that part can be a disaster.
  • Give your agents the tools they need to do their job. An agent desktop where they can access customer data, transaction data, a knowledge base, as well as access multiple channels can be absolutely transformational.

 

TSA are Australia’s market leading specialists in CX consultancy and contact centre services. We are passionate about revolutionising the way brands connect with Australians. How? By combining our local expertise with the most sophisticated customer experience technology on earth, and delivering with an expert team of customer service consultants who know exactly how to help brands care for their customers.

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