The Leading Contact Centre Magazine

How Do I… Achieve Consistency Across Different Channels?


Our panel reveals how you can offer the same standard of service to all of your customers – no matter which channel they choose.

Base response-time targets on facts and customer preferences

Most UK contact centres handle around 20% email and 80% calls, meaning that an average centre handles around 200,000 emails per year, yet their target for voice is 20 seconds response time v. email 18 hours.

Despite hardly showing up in the contact statistics, social media gets the most focus while customers preferring the email channel get ignored.

The quickest fix for good multichannel operations is basing targets on facts and customer preferences, as opposed to gut feelings and what is “hot” to focus on right now.

Regardless of channel, there will be a breaking point for when speed of response starts affecting customer satisfaction negatively (e.g. for voice around 1.5 minutes).

Mike Davies

Ask your customers about their preferred choice of channel

Consider asking your customers which channels they prefer.

It’s bound to be a mix but at least try and get an idea. For example, you could include a question about it in your voice of the customer solution over a month or so.

Ovum did a survey on this and the results clash completely with what service level targets we see companies have per channel in the UK.

With thanks to Mike Davies at Bright UK

Ensure staff are skilled to deliver the multichannel experience

A successful multichannel experience is only possible with the right people in place. This begins with recruiting based on the skillset required for multichannel and ensuring that existing staff are retrained to deliver across different channels.

Agent pay and benefits should be standardised across all channels

Any quality monitoring or coaching programme needs to be structured around the multichannel experience.

It is important that agent pay and benefits are standardised across all channels and employees are aware of the more varied workload and ownership afforded by multichannel.

A thorough and accessible knowledge base for multi-skilled employees is also important.

David Evans

Don’t try and replicate the old phone KPI targets

Service levels across all channels will need reviewing to ensure they are appropriate, based on the customer’s expectations.

Don’t try and replicate the old phone KPI targets and measures and apply this to other channels.

From a technology roadmap perspective, things to consider are:

  • Have you got a standardised view of performance across all channels?
  • Can you create multi-skill schedules that will optimise resource across all contact types?
  • Are you able to track the customer experience across all channels?
  • Do you require any process guidance or real-time alerts that will improve the customer experience?

With thanks to David Evans at Business Systems (UK) Ltd

Seamlessly move between channels during one conversation

The new ‘holy grail’ of customer engagement is omni-channel.

This is more effective than a multichannel system because, rather than just being able to contact an organisation through different channels, staggering the conversation, waiting in queues and having to repeat yourself, you are able to seamlessly move between channels during one conversation with the company.

John Batty

If a customer starts engaging with the contact centre via SMS, and is transferred to the telephone via a call-back or secure web link, they can still continue their conversation with the agent without having to go back to square one.

Self-service across a variety of channels

Multichannel or omni-channel facilitates a much more sophisticated self-service strategy, meaning that more queries that would normally be escalated to a human are resolved via automated SMS, social media or IVR.

With thanks to John Batty, Senior Contact Centre Consultant at Aspect Software

Incorporate all channels without the need to query third-party platforms

To achieve consistency, you will need a platform that incorporates all channels without the need to query third-party platforms.

The ability to write back all activity into a given contact management platform will also help increase efficiencies and first time resolutions. For example, does the caller have an unanswered email outstanding? Has the caller had a webchat with a customer service advisor already? If so, is that advisor logged on and available?

This type of information not only prevents customers from repeating information (resulting in significantly reduced call handle time) but also allows the agent to accurately understand and even predict the nature of the call or the problem.

With thanks to Ama Johal at ctalk

Analytics can help to personalise customer interactions

Customer interactions and experiences can’t be copied and pasted from one channel or touchpoint to the next – they need to be personalised and kept consistent across web, phone, mobile and email.

Using analytics makes the data do the work, allowing a company to provide targeted, more tailored and personal customer service.

Deal with the problem in the channel it arrived in

No customer wants to find out they have to do more work to get an issue solved. If a customer starts a conversation in one channel, say via email, and then calls the company to follow up and continue the conversation, that customer does not expect to have to explain their story again.

Richard McCrossan

But neither does a customer who tweets your customer service account with an issue, want to be told that in order to get it resolved, they need to send an email outlining the problem all over again.

The channels have to work together and the business has to work together with the customer. The customer query needs to be directed instantly to the correct agent with the correct knowledge, who will be able to deal with the issue in the fastest time possible.

With thanks to Richard McCrossan at Genesys

Think before you add a new channel

It’s vital to have a strategy in place when selecting your channels for customer interactions.

Make sure that your multichannel strategy is optimised for your customers. Regardless of where a conversation occurs, e.g. through email, chat, community, forum or another channel, your contact centre employees must respond in a timely and appropriate manner to deliver the best possible customer experience that’s both consistent and seamless.

Each contact centre employee is responsible for delivering engaging customer experiences. Before adding new channels to deliver customer service, think about how your contact centre can support customers to ensure consistency.

Forecast and schedule for multiple channels

Contact centres must be able to accurately forecast and schedule resources, for all the channels via which customers may interact.

Ensure that the WFM solution you use is able to forecast the staffing requirements for each type of contact and schedule correctly thereafter.

For example, most WFM tools enable staffing requirement to be calculated for inbound phone calls using the familiar ‘Erlang C’ formula. This is fine for calls but completely inappropriate for channels such as email.

Webchats are superficially similar to inbound calls; however, a proficient agent will be able to deal with more than one chat concurrently – and that efficiency gain is part of the appeal of including webchats in the mix. You should take all such relevant factors into account when forecasting and planning.

Create a centralised knowledge repository that’s easily accessible

The best contact centres use a one-stop knowledge base to support multiple channels. This delivers accurate, consistent answers and information for rapid resolutions and frees up your agents to deal with other queries, thereby using resources efficiently without duplicating effort or creating unnecessary costs.

Consistency gives customers a sense of satisfaction as they can get the information they want quickly, eliminating uncertainty or misinterpretation.

Chris Dealy

Having a central knowledge repository at your contact centre means that information is maintained, reviewed and updated in one location, resulting in less complexity and minimising the possibility of inaccuracies.

From this knowledge, agents should be able to answer questions and provide feedback easily, and new information can be added according to requirements. Answers can also be adapted according to the customer without compromising the main source information.

A single, centralised knowledge base is key to providing successful multi-channel service while driving efficiency in your contact centre.

With thanks to Chris Dealy at injixo

Give your agents an instant holistic view of your customer

Regardless of which channel is used or what the purpose of the engagement is, contact centres have to ensure that the customer service experience is consistent across each channel.

Ideally, the use of an integrated platform can help achieve this consistency. By deploying an integrated approach, bringing all channels – email, telephone, webchat and social media – under the same umbrella, you can provide a range of functionality to your agents.

Dave Paulding

With all transactions and interactions going through the same platform, they are all recorded on the customer’s record and agents are able to extract contextual data from them.

If a customer uses different channels to address the same complaint or query, the agent who deals with each interaction therefore has an instant holistic view of the customer’s account and history.

This ensures that the agent can effectively provide assistance and a comprehensive service experience with the relevant and appropriate information, regardless of the communication method used.

With thanks to Dave Paulding at Interactive Intelligence

Create a set of rules to tie together the look and feel of your channels

Avoid any possible confusion and be consistent in your language and interactions across all channels. Create a set of rules that help to tie together the look and feel of all your channels.

Your webchat may be very different to your phone chat but the standard language, messaging and branding should remain the same. This helps build your brand, and expectations for future interactions with your customer.

Giving your customer the choice

Installing a cloud contact centre software solution makes it quick and easy to add multichannel functionality, so you can turn features on and off to suit the needs of your customers in order to offer them the best service.

Mike Donohue

Giving your customers choice helps you gain an edge on your competitors by providing services and communications that are tailored to their needs.

It’s important that your company offers a seamless experience as customers move from channel to channel to complete activities.

Customers expect to be able to call, then live chat, then email, maybe tweet you, without having to explain their issue from scratch each time.

With thanks to Mike Donohue at Magnetic North

Don’t make the mistake of overloading agents with data

While lots of organisations talk about creating a single view of the customer, too many businesses make the mistake of overloading agents – often providing a wealth of data but not always in the right context.

If you inundate agents with screens of data presented in a non-intuitive way, then it’s hardly surprising that the useful information needed to help the customer is frequently overlooked.

Provide information that supports agents in helping customers

Organisations need to focus on only providing information that supports agents in helping customers progress to either the next stage of their interaction or resolution.

Having access to customer CRM data is fine, but you also need to have complete visibility of recent interactions – regardless of the channel.

Having a true single view of the customer means not only tracking all these interactions, but also being able to group and present them together to the agent intelligently.

To do this well requires an effective intelligent desktop – one that lets you combine all your multiple channels with timely Big Data and real-time interaction inputs.

Extend customer engagement beyond traditional boundaries

Paul White

To really achieve consistency, organisations need to think about how they can extend their customer engagement beyond traditional contact centre boundaries – not just reaching out to mobile users via apps, webchat and call-back, but also increasing collaboration by supporting other customer-facing departments with their own customised smart desktops.

Consistent customer engagement needs to address all potential customer touchpoints – whether that’s sales, marketing, support, finance/billing or even mobile field workers and delivery resources.

With thanks to Paul White at mplsystems

Simplify customer interactions

An integrated contact management solution can really come into its own in helping agents to handle queries consistently and manage peak demand across all channels.

Rather than prolonging interactions by asking customers the same questions again and again, integrated technology recognises changing customer contact channels, provides timely information and creates crucial one-to-one touchpoints with agents, wherever they might be located.

Using a unified queue that automatically prioritises calls and integrates new channels such as webchat and social media within the contact centre puts agents in a stronger position to achieve positive outcomes, culminating in happier customers.

Enter new data only once

Ideally, the interaction can be classified in such a way that agents can easily follow a pre-defined process. In other words, the agent is prompted to ask all the relevant questions without the customer having to repeat information already on the system.

New data should only be entered once. The software should then automatically populate all the associated databases and internal systems. As a consequence, interactions will be handled more efficiently and resolved first time – an experience that will delight customers and increase agent productivity!

Develop a flexible pool of multi-skilled agents

Richard Farrell

To use technology to its best effect, develop a flexible pool of multi-skilled agents and schedule their work using an effective workforce management tool that uses historic data to predict peaks in traffic.

Consistency depends on teams getting it right each time. Without a comprehensive performance framework combined with suitable task-appropriate training and development, it is easy for poor habits to remain.

With thanks to Richard Farrell at Netcall

Don’t leave it to your IT team to glue together disparate systems

The responsibility for achieving channel integration lies with both suppliers and organisations and a ‘one size fits all’ approach will not deliver all of the benefits available. Therefore it’s important that organisations work with technology suppliers who can provide a more consultative approach.

Where organisations have a combination of on-premise and cloud-based applications, it’s vital that the two complement each other in terms of multichannel strategy. It’s important that IT is not left to try and ‘glue together’ disparate systems and end up delivering a compromise caused by technology limitations.

Allow agents to manage their own performance

It is also very important not to forget the agent when developing your multichannel strategy.

By allowing agents to manage their own performance and see where the demand is coming from in terms of channel preference, they will be better positioned to deliver upon the customer service goals that they’ve been set.

With thanks to Alan Trickett at Noble Systems

Contact routing technology should be tightly integrated with your CRM

It is no longer acceptable to offer a phone or email process that requires the customer to repeatedly enter the same information, navigate many layers of menus or resolve a case in days rather than minutes.

Your customers want an effective interaction that predicts their needs and resolves their issues via their preferred communication channels. To achieve this your contact routing technology needs to be tightly integrated with your CRM as this is the richest source of customer data.

Sort incoming requests based on past history

Implementing a strategy that can quickly sort incoming requests based on preferences, past history and the complexity of interactions will go far in setting up each customer interaction for success.

Tie all interactions together to provide a sense of continuity

Jonathan Gale

Obtaining a single view of the customer across all channels is key.

Organisations need the ability to tie all channel interactions to an agent so that, regardless of who handles the individual case, the agent is fully aware of what has happened before.

By doing so they give customers a sense of continuity and increase the speed of case resolution.

With thanks to Jonathan Gale at NewVoiceMedia

Have a contingency plan

Achieving consistency across all channels requires consistency in the planning and operational processes along with a shared understanding of targets and service delivery.

Planning needs to include all customer traffic, handle times, different service levels and resource requirements/allocations.

Understanding the volatility of workload and flexibility requirements is critical to success. Being in control of what is controllable is a start, by having the right number of people in the right place to handle all known activity.

The next step is to create effective tactical and contingency plans to manage the known exceptions.

This way you can have pre-agreed triggers for action to help support each channel as and when forecasted volume changes. This should stop you borrowing staff from back office to take incoming calls, when the calls coming in are chasing back-office back logs!

Phil Anderson

Targets should be aligned towards a shared organisational goal

Targets should not be set in isolation but aligned towards a shared overall organisational goal.

Achieving one target to the detriment to another can happen to easily, especially if one channel has a perceived as priority.

Agreeing what these priorities are in advance can again help determine triggers for action and develop effective tactical and contingency plans.

With thanks to Phil Anderson at Professional Planning Forum

Understand your customers’ histories to simplify operations

The better you can track and understand your customers’ histories, the more you’ll be able to simplify your operating environment.

You’ll have the information to unify processes, applications and business rules and apply them across all channels. This will improve the customer experience, reduce costs and increase consistency.

Make sure everyone is briefed properly

Having a multichannel environment can involve several departments – IT, marketing, corporate – not just the contact centre. Consistency can only be achieved if everyone involved is briefed properly and methods and processes are integrated.

This may sound obvious but it doesn’t always happen. The organisational structure, responsibilities and required skills needed should be considered as one big picture when planning strategy.

Not all good voice agents are good at writing

In the contact centre skill sets and resources need to be carefully considered in order to provide a consistent service for multichannel; for example, if social media is to be used as an outbound marketing channel, customer services advisors need to be ready to handle the resulting inbound demand.

When planning, ensure that you consider the strengths of your team – not all good voice agents are great at writing and so on.

Mistakes occur when agents are battling numerous screens

Ken Reid

A piece of technology vital to consistency is the desktop – mistakes occur when, to help a customer, agents are battling with numerous screens and applications to get to the right data.

There are desktop systems available which reduce the number of screens and processes required, enabling advisors to do their job better, faster and with compliance and accuracy.

Template responses to common questions, speech-to-text software, grammar and spell checkers can also be used to improve consistency.

With thanks to Ken Reid at Rostrvm Solutions

‘Embedding’ is helping to smooth the interface between channels

One area that’s helping to smooth the interface between digital channels and the contact centre is ‘embedding’, or the process of incorporating opportunities to connect to live service options at critical points of the digital customer journey.

Ken Hitchen

These can include direct links to the contact centre or requests for callback. Embedded links are just one of the factors driving greater use of call-back services, and this in turn is contributing to a wider shift towards outbound calling.

With outbound the agent is in control of the interaction right from the start. They have access to all of a customer’s details, and they often know exactly how far along the customer journey they have progressed.

In addition, the interaction is typically pre-authenticated and already contextualised. Agents are ready to go, and interactions will benefit from minimal levels of customer effort.

With thanks to Ken Hitchen at Sabio

Your response times should match expectations

A customer sending an email expects a response measured in hours, not seconds.

A customer phoning a call centre expects the opposite. The key to consistency is to match response time with expectation.

All agents should have access to the same knowledge and systems

The phone agent must be just as well prepared to provide a solution as the email agent.

Any failure to meet expectations will send the customer straight to the voice channel.

To be effective, all agents should have access to:

  • Business-critical systems – appointment diary, product database, customer database, customer contact history, etc. It’s frustrating for both agent and customer to speak on the phone about an email that the agent can’t read!
  • The same specialist knowledge workers, wherever those workers are located – home, coffee shop, or different continent.

For maximum efficiency, all systems should be tightly integrated so that no time is lost navigating between applications.

Agents should be automatically drafted where they are needed most

Jamie Stewart

You should consider implementing automatic agent movement, so you can move agents between queues and media types according to demand.

Agents should be automatically drafted to work where they are needed most, e.g. from answering emails (low urgency) to handling an incoming support call (high urgency). They can be put back where they came from when they are no longer needed.

With thanks to Jamie Stewart at Sytel Limited

What do you think is the key to achieving consistency across different channels in the contact centre?

Published On: 10th Sep 2014 - Last modified: 10th Nov 2017
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