The Omni-channel Approach: An Upgrade

Multi-channel tactics are to customer care what green screen terminals are to personal computing. Multi-channel is full of siloed approaches, disparate decisions about what you think the customer may want, and provide very limited options for your customer to move between the channels you think they may want. 

For a long time, customer engagement channels -- such as voice, e-commerce, mobile and social -- have been viewed as separate and distinct customer interactions. However successful customer engagement occurs when these channels are seamlessly blended and put into context. Like today’s upgraded mobile smart devices, we can talk, text, email, chat, send pictures, network with friends online, tweet at any moment, become the mayor of the local coffee house or just play, read a book, watch ESPN and relax to our favorite tunes. The point is, it is the customer’s choice, and these channels represent opportunities at specific moments of truth to build loyalty. The key to bridging the gap from multiple individual and distinct channels is shifting from a multi-channel to an omni-channel perspective.

The traditional multi-channel strategy is one of control and offering non-integrated options. The omni-channel perspective is a release of control to the customer, who already has the reins anyway, allowing them to choose their channel of choice. Omni-channel embraces the voice of the customer that says “never, ever, ever do I want to be forced involuntarily from my chosen channel of interaction.”

Getting Started with An Omni-channel Strategy

You have to upgrade the dumb terminal. No one likes the cliché, “if you build it, they will come.” But in many cases, customers struggle to tell you what they want, even if you ask them directly. This also applies to customer care channels. It should be increasingly obvious that a disconnected trial and error strategy is not the best experience for a customer. The customer is already armed with every communication media at any time and at any place. For example, our clients may suggest that their customers would never have much interest in tweeting them for customer service, or to receive permission-based links to a post-contact satisfaction survey delivered via SMS. Other clients suggest their customer demographic is too focused on traditional voice channels of interaction to merit much focus on new and emerging channels of customer service. Yet some of these same customers are noting that over half of their inbound call volume now initiates from a mobile device, and an increasing percentage of those devices are smartphones. A major mobile provider noted that over 81% of their smart device cases begin with an online search for support.

One specific company launched a proprietary customer care handle on Twitter and saw the adoption rate double in only the second full month of operation. Another organization is piloting a post-contact mobile survey solution in which response rates are up four times what they received in the comparable IVR survey it replaced -- all while reaching an entire segment of their customer base that was largely absent from the traditional methodology.

So, clearly an appetite for experimentation is in order. There will be a tremendous rate of innovation in the customer care industry that’s closely linked to the explosion of mobile and social, and the businesses that are well positioned to capitalize on the early wave of this inevitable shift stand to reap significant rewards.

Begin building your omni-channel strategy by taking inventory of the channels you support today. Are your customers satisfied with the service levels currently delivered? It’s hard to justify taking on anything new if existing channels are underserved. Next, consider all the emerging channels of interaction. For example, there have been inconsistent levels of adoption of chat and social technologies, and you need to evaluate if these may be relevant for your business. Don’t be afraid to consider retiring obsolete or accidental channels of customer engagement. Email is frequently a target here, as companies find newer and alternative customer interaction channels typically provide a higher rated customer experience with a much lower level of cross-channel fallout. Finally, we’re living in an increasingly 24-7 society, and a true multi-channel customer engagement strategy must be consistent across all hours of the day and not just optimized for times of peak volume.

Integrating the Self Service Channel

A few short years ago, self-service typically meant one of two things – optimizing your voice IVR and developing a state-of-the-art web environment. Today, the fastest growing channels of self-service typically have either a mobile or social component – or both! So, in addition to managing IVR and the web, businesses should ensure that their self-service strategy works across a range of Android and Apple platforms and can integrate with a range of downloadable mobile applications. Another concern involves the rapid proliferation of social channels – definitely Twitter and Facebook, but also rapidly up-and-coming platforms like Instagram, Pinterest and LinkedIn. While companies have traditionally looked to these social channels as a marketing opportunity, the reality is that a fundamental shift in how people communicate is taking place, and we have only scratched the surface on what is possible. In terms of enterprise businesses, we are seeing a rapid shift in focus away from monitoring and presence-building to how we might engage customers within these emerging channels as a legitimate means of interaction and problem resolution.

A properly constructed self-service approach starts with the customer in mind and positions itself in front of the customer’s desired channels of choice. Today’s preferred strategy typically starts by optimizing the online experience and incorporates a robust IVR for phone interactions. E-commerce tools should be platform agnostic – meaning they work well on a range of rapidly evolving mobile devices, tablet computers or traditional PCs. The better and more consistent the self-service experience is across platforms and interaction channels, the more likely customers are to embrace self-service en masse. It’s no wonder enterprise businesses are willing to invest heavily to deliver a robust self-service experience; many clients report that it’s among their highest rated in customer satisfaction and lowest overall cost channels to deliver and maintain.

The one consistent challenge we see in self-service is companies struggling to “build the bridge” for customers who are attempting to self-serve but cannot finish the transaction they started – oftentimes, there is no clear escalation path for customers to escalate to a human-assisted transaction when the self-service experience proves inadequate for whatever reason.

This is easily solved. First, map the service experience to get a good idea of all probable scenarios where a customer may fail while attempting to self-serve. We then typically recommend the creation of a unified agent queue for text-based customer interaction. It may be through intelligent deployments of social response monitoring, escalation to proactive live chat, email support or other text-based methods of support interaction focused on enhancing customers attempting to self-serve. The idea is to offer people a seamless way to obtain support in their chosen channel, in as close to real time as possible, without having to explain their problem over and over again at every step in the escalation.

Optimizing Live Service

The live service approach continues to evolve; as self-service solutions continue to mature and capture a broader range of problem types, the engagements in the live service channel are trending to be more complex as FAQs are captured on the web. We believe that optimizing the live service experience will remain an important focus area for enterprise businesses in the coming years. Good customer service is good business and creates opportunities to move a cost center to a profit center through up-selling and cross-selling. Agents with enhanced training and tools that efficiently and effectively manage increasingly complex customer inquiries will create moments of truth. In the future, enterprising businesses may trade the luxury of live support with your toughest challenges for the opportunity to earn the right to introduce you to value-added products and services.

Also note, the traditional voice channel isn’t going away any time soon. Savvy operators will acknowledge both the evolutionary shifts in how the voice channel will be leveraged, and the somewhat more radical potential to be tapped by the inevitable shift in focus to all things mobile and social. In this new paradigm, we’ll have the capability to boost service levels while reducing costs and limiting the instances of customers being involuntarily forced out of their chosen channels of interaction.

Some organizations are hesitant to move to an omni-channel approach when they believe that their current, fragmented strategy is good enough. Change is hard. Change can fail. Change can be wildly successful, but eventually we all have to give up our legacy green screen terminals and embrace a more connected customer. Today’s consumers are demanding a seamless experience across multiple channels. Take advantage of this new paradigm and reap the benefits of a omni-channel strategy.

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1 comment about "The Omni-channel Approach: An Upgrade ".
  1. Robi Ganguly from Apptentive , September 26, 2012 at 5:05 p.m.
    "Good customer service is good business and creates opportunities to move a cost center to a profit center through up-selling and cross-selling." Yes! This is an absolutely crucial realization that more and more businesses need to embrace and understand. As the consumer moves to mobile devices faster every year, the most meaningful opportunity is also the hardest: how do you make it incredibly easy to listen to customers and respond to them through the most personal devices they own? At Apptentive, we see this need emerging extraordinarily quickly today with our customer base, all of whom are saying that their business is moving mobile faster than they can keep track of. Omni-channel is the right goal but a good way to prioritize in today's world is to start with mobile and work from there. Thanks for sharing some really great thoughts on the subject!