Why Omni-Channel Service is the Future of Customer Engagement

Omni Channel Strategy

In a constantly connected world, consumers continue to set the pace for businesses. In response, brands attempt to keep up. For instance, smartphones and messaging apps provide a communication-rich and instantly intuitive way of getting things done. In contrast, all but the latest generation of organisations are constrained by legacy infrastructure and their complexity.

Nonetheless, customers expect choice. In the world of customer service, this means being able to choose whatever seems the best path to getting something done. And just like a train that crosses lines, customers expect seamless transitions from one form of service delivery to another. This is the world of omni-channel engagement and all the challenges it brings. It’s not easy at all, which is why so many customer service leaders are now focusing on how to develop an effective approach that can deliver improved customer experience at a lower cost.

Learning from efforts so far

The rise of omni-channel has been on a slow burn. Many organisations simply began with voice as the default channel with IVR acting as its self-service equivalent. Then came email. The rise of e-commerce demanded a real-time text channel which web chat fulfilled. Social networks spawned public forms of customer service.

More recently, smartphone culture led to mass adoption of messaging and its emerging role as a sales and service channel. Alongside this evolution in live assistance has been the rapid rise of AI-based solutions that can power self-service. Text and voice-based conversational interfaces represent the most recent wave of innovation in this trend towards customer self-sufficiency.

As new channels are onboarded, the associated business case is also typically flawed. New channels are always presented as being better than the current ones with the suggestion that they will deliver more for less.

For instance, messaging is claimed to be better because its concurrency rate is so much higher than web chat, email, or voice. While this logic addresses a brand’s motivation to cut costs by deflecting customers away from more expensive channels, real world outcomes suggest this is much harder to achieve in practice unless the customer experience noticeably improves — something often ignored when the motivation is primarily internally cost driven.

The other weakness in this logic is that customers have their own agendas and will do whatever they see as the fastest and easiest path to their own goals. If an IVR or chatbot feels like an obstacle to be overcome, they will find a way around. If your self-service fails to satisfy functional or emotional needs, customers will re-join the queue for live assistance to close that gap.

The net result of all these design failures is customer frustration and higher operating costs. To make a success of omni-channel, we must recognise a few home truths from lessons learnt

  • New channels are less about opportunities to reduce cost and more about offering customer choice.
  • Channels multiply and seldom die. Therefore, an omni-channel strategy is not a question of retiring channels on a never-ending quest for cheaper alternatives – the so called ‘digital first’ agenda. Instead, success lies in optimising their value by using them correctly.
  • Reducing cost might not even be the primary commercial driver in the business case when compared against a goal of being able to consistently deliver positive customer outcomes and the measurable impact this has on loyalty, propensity to buy, and increased lifetime value.
  • That said, the win-win of improved customer experience at lower cost is both possible and achievable once the right generation of infrastructure is enabled in support of an omni-channel strategy that is based on a deep and up-to-date understanding of what matters to customers as they engage with you.

How to plan an Omni-Channel strategy

Hopefully the point has been made that omni-channel success is based on understanding customer behaviour. This is influenced by both generational preferences and what customers are wanting to get done. The optimal contact mix for a given customer journey is based on this understanding.

The design process is captured in this omni-channel planning framework.

Once operationalised, it becomes the way in which brands track the evolving behaviours of their five generations of customers (or whatever customer personas make most sense), manage the quality of their service journeys and enable a contact mix that supports the spectrum of customer behaviour. Here are some practical tips and design principles to help get value from using this way of planning.

Generational preferences

The goal here is to maintain an up-to-date picture of your customers’ evolving communication preferences. This is used to inform your contact mix. In practice, this can be achieved by tapping into in-house Voice of Customer (VoC) capability combined with public domain research on national communication trends.

Use VoC to ask customers for their interaction preferences and capture them in CRM so they can be referenced at the initial point of contact. It is even better to ask for their channel choice in relation to actual service interactions e.g. paying a bill, making a complaint, seeking advice, receiving updates, since they will vary.

Public domain data can be sourced from government sources such as OFCOM in the UK which publishes their annual review of communication behaviour. They analyse by age and socio-demographic and show trends over time. Sometimes research firms, vendors or agencies will publish their own reports which can be valuable supplements to help build a picture of key behaviours and trends. Find your own local versions.

Whatever you end up using as input, you should aim to summarise it as a set of customer personas which describe generational preferences for engaging with you whether service-specific or more general. Here are a couple of summarised personas for guidance.

Progressives

Expect personalised self-service/proactive with escalation to live assistance as needed. Willing to trade personal data in return. Primary device is smartphone. Preferred channel is messaging. No email.

Conservatives

Prefers to sort issues out with human assistance. Either voice or text is OK. Email still acceptable. Appreciates relevant proactive communication. Personalised service is optional but wants control over how data is used.

Customer Journeys

Journey mapping is now more common. The most advanced contact centre cultures will be using localised versions to guide their quality assurance programmes and VoC. Visually rich maps provide an excellent opportunity to explore functional and emotive needs. As mentioned earlier, this helps identify when live assistance is most likely to be expected.

Advanced users of the omni-channel framework will be able to recognise and respond to the unique demands of separate service journeys. For instance, it is not difficult to imagine the differences between on-boarding, progress checking and pursuing a complaint in terms of the mix of functional and emotive expectations. As with generational preferences, there will be some evolution over time in terms of accepted resolution channels. These will need to be tracked and responded to.

Another benefit of journey mapping is that habitual inside-out views of organisational processes are refreshed through the lens of what matters to the customer. It is common to discover that customers are often subjected to high effort as part of ‘getting what they came for’.

Hopefully these journeys are recognised as such and redesigned to become simple and low effort. However, some will remain on the digital transformation ‘to-do’ list. These need to be recognised as complex and potentially emotive for customers. This is an important consideration in the light of what can be then shortlisted for self-service. As a design principle, only attempt to hand over simple, low effort tasks to customers as self-service. Otherwise, expect a high degree of escalation din response to the difficulties encountered.

Contact Options

Understanding journeys and preferences sets the scene for offering the appropriate contact mix. This spans modalities (video-voice-text) and channels (live assistance-self-service-proactive service).

Modern contact centre infrastructure knits these together with unified queuing and single desktop which orchestrates customer interactions together with any required workflow and data. The net result for both customer and advisor should be an informed, low effort conversation which enables the advisor to concentrate on delivering the customer’s functional and emotive expectations.

The need for this functionality shows up at several key points in journeys. Nailing them is the hallmark of a competent contact strategy.

  • Context and intent are maintained across time, modalities, and channels. This means that a customer only needs to explain once (intent) which together with context (anything relevant from their CRM record), is then used for triaging, routing and personalising the engagement until their need is fulfilled. Typical points of failure are multiple requests for ID&V (identification and verification) and a customer experience of needing to ‘start from zero’ whenever a new advisor becomes involved.
  • The same capability is required in escalation. Traditionally, the direction of travel flows from self-service or proactive messaging into a request for live assistance. In these instances, make sure interaction history arrives on the advisor desktop at the same time the customer request is posted into their inbox as a prioritised queue.
  • In the future, escalation is likely to become a more fluid two-way exchange as virtual assistance grows in popularity and capability. Customers will get used to ongoing teamwork between human and virtual assistants based on ‘best fit’. This interplay will be made available across the whole customer lifecycle (marketing-sales-service). This is yet to be commonplace but is a logical extension of today’s capabilities.
  • The need for consistency also extends to service level agreement (speed of response) as a customer moves across modalities. Why should they expect to wait three times as long for your response based on the channel they have used?
  • Likewise, mystery shopper research shows that it remains common for customers to receive different advice based on their chosen channel. Inconsistent knowledge management will only become more pronounced as more channels come on stream. As a matter of principle, channels multiply and seldom die. That’s because they are customer chosen.

Source: FreshWorks

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