With customers using an increasing number of channels to contact businesses to resolve their enquiries, our panel of experts explain why providing quality omnichannel customer service is so important.
Gen Z Doesn’t Think ‘Channel’
When contact centres were merely call centres, nobody thought much about managing channels (because there was only one!).
As new contact possibilities emerged, however, the issue of how best to add and simultaneously manage multiple channels (email, webchat etc.) while consistently offering high-quality service experiences became a major organizational challenge.
But the truth has always been that customers don’t really think in terms of channels. If someone is using a modern smartphone, for example, it doesn’t matter so much to them that they text, use What’sApp, FaceTime, FaceBook Messenger, webchat or email (as long as they use those apps!). What’s more important is that they get the resolution they need as quickly and efficiently as possible.
This is particularly true of Gen Z. You can’t force them down a particular channel, you have to support all popular channels and add new ones as they emerge.
As digital natives, their expectation is that your organization can see and respond to communications however they are sent – which means they can use the device and method of communication that’s most convenient to them.
How organizations manage those contacts and deliver consistent high-quality service is not their concern – it is their expectation it’s going to happen.
Contributed by: Dan Philp at Sensée
Each Channel Offers a Specific Type of Communication Experience
Today’s customers have become increasingly empowered and expect more from their brand interactions.
They expect to start a conversation on their preferred channel at any time, and then be able to continue the conversation where they left off on any other channel without having to restart the conversation. This defines a seamless customer experience.
Understanding your customer journey is paramount to defining the channels you should use in customer service. Each support channel offers a specific type of communication experience and can vary depending on what is most convenient for the user.
While most companies support multichannel customer service, customers can’t easily switch channels mid-conversation and agents lack context across channels.
Omnichannel engagement provides a better experience not only to customers but also to agents. Omnichannel customer service should combine all channels into a single, unified view so agents can efficiently manage interactions across channels, increasing their productivity and providing the context for more personalized experiences.
Contributed by: Rita Malaquias at Talkdesk
The Way People Interact With the World Is Changing
It’s not customer needs and expectations that are changing, it’s the customers themselves. Digitally native generations are changing the overall customer demographic.
The number of customers who naturally use multiple channels for social purposes, business and everyday chores is increasing.
This digitalization and the quest for work/life balance and well-being is changing the way people interact with the world. Customers want to get things done in ways and at times when a traditional phone call is just not practical.
This means omnichannel is a commitment to the future, a strategy for change and not to be implemented as isolated individual tactics, say to tick the box of having a social media presence.
Multi-skilled agents can develop their career and support customers with inbound and outbound omnichannel interactions.
Organizations can differentiate themselves by providing multiple channels which actually align and offer journey continuity. To keep pace and compete, omnichannel is no longer optional.
Contributed by: Jake Gardiner at Odigo
It’s About More Than Just Adding More Channels
For businesses embracing the benefits of omnichannel communications, it’s important to remember that simply adding as many new channels as possible is rarely the right strategy.
While numerous channels can offer more options to customers, they also increase workplace complexity and can lead to a range of workload and infrastructure problems.
A successful omnichannel strategy starts with learning which platforms your customers already use and pivoting to serve your clients where they communicate. Take the time to assess your current customers and find out where they’re most likely to seek support.
For instance, younger clients might prefer to use online chat and social media to reach out to brands.
A successful omnichannel strategy starts with learning which platforms your customers already use and pivoting to serve your clients where they communicate.
B2B customers may appreciate the human element of video and audio communications. To compete in the age of CX for service, sales, and support, deliver an omnichannel experience tailored to your specific users.
Prepare for the Future Needs of the Customer
Today’s customers want experiences to be simple, convenient, and engaging across every platform. When implementing the right omnichannel strategy, it’s important to consider your business model with scalability and growth in mind.
Don’t just prepare for the needs of your customers right now. Ask yourself how you can attract new customers and support future clients with the right selection of service strategies.
You can look at market trends to determine how customer communication preferences are changing and work to find the right balance of support and efficient, internal operations.
Remember, as you implement each new channel, to ensure it aligns with the rest of your customer service strategy and company goals.
Contributed by: Geomant
Digital and Messaging Platforms Are Becoming More Popular
As digital and messaging platforms become more and more popular in people’s everyday lives, consumers worldwide are relying more heavily on digital interactions for customer service. Therefore, organizations must recognize the value of omnichannel experiences.
In fact, only 5% of global organizations support voice as their only channel (according to the 2022 Five9 Customer Service Index Report). Not only does it allow CX leaders to keep up with expectations, but it reduces costs and improves overall efficiency.
According to Verint’s 2022 State of the Digital CX Report, 53% of consumers between the ages of 18 and 44 use social media channels to engage with a brand.
This includes WhatsApp, SMS, and Facebook Messenger. WhatsApp is currently the most popular social messaging channel in the UK, and at Five9 we see a lot of integration to WhatsApp into the overall omnichannel strategy.
Artificial intelligence technology can aid digital and voice channels. With AI natural language understanding, customers have the power to self-serve and receive quick answers to their questions, while always having the option to be connected to a live agent where appropriate.
Contributed by: Mat Ladley at Five9
All the Customer Wants Is a Quick and Accurate Answer
Omnichannel matters because you need to understand where customers are and where their preferences vary.
While many companies talk about omnichannel service, it’s important to remember that all the customer wants is a quick and accurate answer. As a result, the key question to be asking is: what’s the best way to deliver that answer?
Obviously that means being on the right channels – which may include chat, SMS, voice calling, video, or somewhere else – and not the ones senior staff or organizations think the customer may be, or should be, using.
Then, use data and analytics to ensure time, effort, and resources are being spent on the correct channels in a productive and efficient way.
Contributed by: David Rowlands at 8×8
Customers Want Flexibility
Customers want the flexibility to interact with organizations through their channel of choice. Since the pandemic, more customers are switching to self-service.
However, the specific channel a customer chooses won’t always be the same – it will depend on their circumstances, preferences, and needs at that particular time.
This is why organizations must effectively operate as a single channel and deliver seamless, high-value customer experiences across multiple touchpoints – the specific nature of which will depend on the kinds of customers they have and their particular preferences.
Omnichannel customer service joins up these channels, ensuring customers receive faster, more effective support.
As customer queries become increasingly complex, often involving multiple transitions between channels, the ability to provide this integrated service, while minimizing customer effort, will prove critical in delivering greater satisfaction and reducing churn.
Develop a Greater Holistic Understanding of Customers and Their Needs
The benefits of the omnichannel approach goes beyond the customer experience. It also allows businesses to develop a greater understanding of customers and their needs, streamlining the steps in the customer journey for better insights into how to improve processes.
However, before you take the plunge and start rolling out new digital channels, you need to think about the customer journey and what combination of approaches will work best for your business.
That means developing a digital by design approach rather than being pushed into a digital by default one.
To do this effectively, you need to think about segmenting your customers into different groups and then focusing on working out what channels are best suited for this type of customer and what devices they are likely to interact on.
You’ll need to consider: what is going to give each customer type the fastest journey time, with the least amount of effort and the highest degree of reliability and then work back from that.
Businesses can then use these journey maps to personalize interactions, taking action to enhance the support process and exceed customer expectations.
This makes focusing resources easier and more efficient and helps them deliver the seamless experiences customers increasingly demand, while enhancing operational flexibility and agility.
Contributed by: Gary Bennett at Enghouse Interactive
Allow for Greater Personalization
Today’s customers expect to be able to interact with your brand across a range of communication channels. Customers reach out via email, chat, SMS, or call into your contact centre depending on preference. But offering these channel options is only part of the equation.
True omnichannel customer experience entails both cross-channel integration and a high level of personalization.
Poorly integrated omnichannel engagement forces customers to repeat information at several touchpoints before their issue is resolved, which creates a negative and frustrating experience.
Or lengthy response times in chat, for example, might push people to the phone, even if that’s not their preferred channel.
Organizations must work to mitigate technology gaps, ensure an even distribution of agents across channels, and actively utilize information gathered from customers in past interactions.
This ensures customers receive the service and experience they want, which improves satisfaction and loyalty.
Contributed by: Frank Sherlock at CallMiner
Connected Channels Avoids Customers Having to Repeat Themselves
According to HubSpot Research, 33% of customers become “most frustrated” when repeating themselves to multiple support reps.
By connecting all channels to a central CRM, contact centres can enable a single view across all customer conversations. This is particularly effective when combined with interaction analytics that capture customer sentiment alongside their conversation history.
Such a solution overcomes the complexity of multichannel conversations by combining context from automated systems, such as self-service portals and chatbots.
This means that when a human agent picks up an escalated interaction across channels, they can see when the self-service journey broke down and access the customer–bot transcript. Agents simply continue the conversation from where it left off and customers no longer have to repeat themselves.
There are also other tactics to avoid customers repeating themselves – from enhancing contact centre routing to improving agent listening – yet analytics-fuelled omnichannel is perhaps the most effective.
Contributed by: Magnus Geverts at Calabrio
Customers May Communicate Less if Their Preferred Channel Is Not Available
Despite the growing popularity of text, messenger apps, and live chat for contacting a brand, many people continue to rely on making a phone call for customer service.
In other words, although expanding the number of digital communications channels available to customers is a critical need, the most crucial factor in meeting dynamic customer expectations is creating a true omnichannel experience.
Customers expect to converse with a business in the channel of their preference – and they might communicate less with those companies that don’t make their preferred channel an available option.
Uniting channels to provide a single, streamlined journey is key to providing a consistent, familiar experience no matter how customers connect – a huge benefit to both winning new customers and maintaining existing ones.
VoIP and AI technologies can provide the tools you need to create a true omnichannel experience for your customers.
Introducing voice AI-enabled technology (e.g. virtual assistants and real-time data prompting) into your communication channels will allow you to maintain the highest standard of service while you scale your operations to meet high volumes of requests.
AI can also help with business continuity. AI virtual assistants also continue to provide service even in the event of a disaster or other circumstances where live agents cannot answer calls.
Contributed by: John Antanaitis at Vonage
Forcing a Customer to Use a Particular Channel Can Have a Negative Impact
It’s vital to give customers the option to choose how they want to communicate with your business. Giving them the flexibility and ability to remain in control of what works for them is key.
Consider the type of conversation your customer may want to have. For example, if it’s a query they want a quick answer for, they may prefer WhatsApp, SMS or webchat. If it’s something they will need to go away and think about, then email may be the preferred communication channel.
Don’t forget, forcing a customer to a set method will harm their impression of your business; this is said with a warning, don’t spread your organization too thin.
You need to be able to handle communication across all channels with the right staff trained to handle those interactions, otherwise it will do more harm than good. For example, writing an email takes a different skill than writing an SMS reply. Trial options for your business and measure the outcomes on the variety of channels.
Contributed by: Drew Naylor at MaxContact
Customers Expect to Find Answers Whenever, Wherever, and However They’re Looking
Today’s omnichannel customers are driven to access information across a variety of online channels, expecting to find what they want whenever, wherever, and however they’re looking.
A well-monitored and process-driven omnichannel customer service strategy can help drive a seamless experience for customers across all possible touchpoints.
Think about analysing customer demographics and personas to help determine which contact channels to adopt. A great CRM can help facilitate this, with the ability to pull out customer profile data such as age or location.
Try to avoid offering too many channels too quickly, which may result in customer frustration. Consider a monitored and well-phased approach to your omnichannel strategy, to help identify channel preference. To facilitate a continuous process of optimization, track the success and adoption of channel use on a weekly, monthly, or quarterly basis, dependent on inbound contact volume.
Contributed by: Hamish Cliff at Business Systems
Maintain a Consistent Message for Employees and Customers
Real-time and responsive omnichannel communications are an ideal place to build customer trust. By synchronizing messaging and priorities, you can easily update your employees in real time while also keeping your customers in the loop.
Customers notice when messaging doesn’t align. Digital multichannel communications are ideal for this purpose. Proactive omnichannel management is a sure-fire way to improve customer experience dramatically.
Call centre omnichannel strategies done correctly improve CX. This deeper, more customized experience consequently leads to better metrics and improved feedback by maintaining a consistent message and driving positive, low-stress interactions for customers.
Contributed by: Bruce Skjolde at Alvaria
Channels Need to Function Independently and Enable Seamless Handoffs
Omnichannel customer service implies offering and optimizing every channel. But is that true or even feasible? It may be more practical to get existing channel delivery right than offer every option.
Since inbound calls accounted for 54.9% of service interactions in 2021, a good place to start is with your phone service, including interactive voice response (IVR) and agent-guided calls.
Automating IVR testing ensures that this important tool is doing its job in guiding users and deflecting as many calls as possible.
Next, analyse other top channels by usage, such as outbound voice calls, emails, and live chat, and optimize those. You need to ensure each channel functions well independently and enables seamless hand-offs to others.
Finally, contact centres should look to the future and test new channels as they have the capacity and budget to do so.
Avoid These Common Pitfalls of Customer Service
Before deploying new channels, brands need to think about the customer experience and how they will support it.
That means understanding channel goals, how customers will use them, and how they will navigate across channels. Research has found that customers use an average of three channels per service interaction.
The total experience needs to be flawless. Organizations can accomplish this goal by using automated customer experience (CX) testing to discover and emulate customer journeys across channels and identify problems for rapid remediation.
Beyond deployment and testing, organizations should use analytics to identify channel gaps and ways to surface new insights to customers as they navigate channels. Examples include offering knowledge base articles to customers via chatbots or links to initiate agent calls.
Contributed by: Perry Gale at Cyara
Facilitate Agent Channel Shift for Better CX
Understanding the channels customers need and want is critical to improving CX. Combining a unified agent desktop with clever analytics that capture customer frustrations in real time empowers agents to move or ‘shift’ conversations between channels in a couple of clicks.
Consider scenarios where agents and customers go back and forth on WhatsApp, getting no closer to a resolution. Allowing the agent to switch to voice typically leads to a more favourable outcome while reducing handling times.
Alternatively, perhaps a customer engages on chat regarding a sensitive topic that requires authentication. Typically, such a process is simpler via the phone. Switching channels here improves efficiency.
Close the loop with desktop automation to make channel shifts a tool to achieve better customer and business outcomes. Agents can send post-contact notifications – via any channel – to customers in these moments. These can include confirmation emails or SMS surveys.
Harness Omnichannel Insights
AI solutions such as analytics, bots and agent-assist tools are only as good as their data supply. Through channel integration, omnichannel connects various data streams, enabling contact centres to extract more value from their AI investments.
Take conversation analytics as an example. With access to data across channels, it dissects all interactions, offering leaders a view into how agent performance, sentiment and customer behaviour fluctuates.
Harnessing these insights, contact centres can provide agents with more targeted coaching, monitor well-being and compare the team’s performance with automated channels.
Moreover, with analytics, contact centres can track customer sentiment alongside their conversation history for a transparent view of their experience.
With all this data – in addition to the customer’s purchase history, demographic information, and preference insights – businesses can also build hyper-personalization strategies. These may include dynamic pricing, custom advertising and personal product notifications.
Contributed by: Magnus Geverts at Calabrio
Reduce Costs and Remain Compliant
Strategic digital channel management also helps the business from a regulatory standpoint, especially as regulators place limits on traditional collections activities. More stringent proposals to limit the number of calls collectors may place are resonating with legislators.
Omnichannel customer service gives companies the ability to stay in contact with the consumer while ensuring that the ever-changing regulatory landscape is respected and applied.
Self-service and payment methods such as text and portals can reduce collections call centre operational costs to a fraction of traditional methods while remaining decisively compliant.
Predict, Plan and Forecast Call Centre KPIs for the Future
Omnichannel solutions can also be used as a method to predict, plan and forecast call centre KPIs for the future.
As we’ve seen, companies who can proactively use omnichannel methods to prompt and inform customers observe reductions in missed payments, better overall account management, and better redemption of offers and promotions.
In addition, low-touch digital outbound can redirect customers to simply use cross-channel self-service; or for more complicated issues, they enable direct connection to the call centre.
Connecting directly to a live agent can provide specialized and customized support, or simply trigger actions that give companies a better understanding of customer needs. Armed with this information, companies can adjust and customize their call centre KPIs.
Contributed by: Bruce Skjolde at Alvaria
Omnichannel Experiences Are Becoming a Brand Differentiator
To serve the needs of today’s digital-first customers, you not only need a 360-degree view of the customer journey from search to email to social media, but also the ability to meet and engage customers on any touchpoint, anywhere, anytime.
In our recent survey, we found that 52% of consumers go straight to a chat function when they want to engage with a brand’s contact centre. This was followed by 50% using email, 33% connecting on the company website, and 19% preferring social media.
As customer needs grow and evolve, seamlessly orchestrating frictionless personalized, and often asynchronous omnichannel experiences is becoming one of your most potent brand differentiators.
In fact, the traditional notion of “channels” is becoming an anachronism for the digital-first customer.
Powered by AI, the most digitally fluent CX solutions are orchestrating and resolving interactions, regardless of where or when they happen. It’s about becoming customer-centric, as opposed to channel-dependent.
Therefore, brands require technologies that can help unify the customer journey in a multi-dimensional, real-time experience engine.
Then according to our research, the result is that customers will spend 13% more with brands who effectively meet them seamlessly across three or more touchpoints.
Contributed by: Andy Traba at NICE
Channel Options Need to Be Carefully Considered and Optimized
In today’s competitive landscape, having an omnichannel customer services strategy is more important than ever; it provides increased customer satisfaction, improved customer retention, and higher customer lifetime value.
Avoid adding every option to your omnichannel customer service offerings. Instead, for each channel, consider the following:
- Are your current channels working well? If not, first optimize existing channels.
- Do you have adequate resources? For example, delayed responses on live chats can be more detrimental than live chat being unavailable.
- Does it fit your customer? For instance, younger generations might prefer social media.
Contributed by: Caroline Leonard at Spearline
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