Delivering effective and efficient customer service through integrating channels and introducing self-service/automation is a real opportunity for many organizations.
There are many examples of where this has had a significant impact on improving the customer experience, increasing efficiency and reducing cost and made a positive contribution to both service provider and customer.
Martin Jukes of Mpathy Plus explores five areas of omnichannel design, highlighting key considerations to make when perfecting your strategy.
Omnichannel Design Considerations
When looking at omnichannel design, there are a number of considerations that I have grouped into the following five key areas:
Let’s explore each of these areas, highlighting the considerations that we need to make to create a channel strategy that helps us to shift customers to self-service and automation, while also improving the advisor experience.
The channels provided must meet the needs of customers and be accessible and easy to use. This is especially true if you want to put self-service at the heart of your strategy.
There is a need to identify who your customers are and understand their experience and levels of expertise in using self-service technology.
When going about this task, you must consider a number of questions about customers, including:
- Is there a resistance to technology?
- Do you have any vulnerable customers that need to talk to somebody to understand their issue?
- Is the technology interface accessible to customers?
- Can all parts of a customer enquiry be met with automation?
Technology is more reliable than ever, but there are always points of failure that are out of the service provider’s control.
The number of different components between the end-user device (PC, smartphone etc.) and the host systems mean that there is always the potential for failure.
Failure of any of these components needs to be considered, as do a number of other factors:
- What happens when the technology or accessibility fails? How do continue to serve customers?
- Is the interface user friendly?
- Who will provide the technical support for the interface?
- What is the expected requirement for technical support?
- What happens when the inevitable user error occurs?
The content of an enquiry often dictates the degree to which a service can be automated.
Ordering widgets online is easy, but what if there are different delivery addresses or the widgets are required at different times in different locations.
To establish a sale, a conversation may be required to ensure that the right order is placed.
Also, when there is an element of complexity in an order, it is more difficult to automate.
For example, if a provided service is only partially required, then this may be too complex for automation. After all, there are only so many options that are predictable; some will be unique.
If a provided service is only partially required, then this may be too complex for automation. After all, there are only so many options that are predictable; some will be unique.
It is also possible that there may be exceptional requirements in terms of timescales and urgency.
For example, what happens when an emergency service is required or there are restricted access times?
This complexity will often require a human intervention to be able to discuss and explore the requirement in order to reach a solution that is the best option for the customer.
This is not a new thing related to automation or self- service. There have always been cases that have required escalation. It may well be that this is now to an agent rather than a supervisor.
While automation and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies are great, there are some areas where they struggle:
- Problem solving
- Showing empathy
- Dealing with complexity
All of the above need to be factored into designing a service to enable a suitable outcome that is right for all.
As simple enquiries are automated, it is likely that the contacts that require a human intervention are likely to be more technical or complex by their nature.
With this being the case, the people who deal with these enquiries need to be more highly skilled in a number of areas, but specifically the product offering, the user interface and having the ability to take ownership of an issue.
So, when it comes to supporting the contact centre team, when we add automation, there are a number of other considerations that we have to make. These include:
- What are the required skills to deal with enquiries that cannot be automated?
- Are these skills available?
- Can they be met with training and if so how?
- What are the correct remuneration levels for these skills?
As we introduce more and more automation, agents will be more highly regarded as product or service experts and will be empowered to make decisions that meet the needs of the organization and their customers.
It is therefore likely that these front-line staff will demand increased rewards in terms of salaries and benefits. This is an important factor to keep in mind when putting your shift-swap strategy together.
Organizations implement automation for three main reasons:
- Improve the customer experience
- Maintain pace with the market
- Reduce costs
If we focus on cost reduction, then there are some obvious savings in resources required to deliver service to customers and the efficiency gained through having efficient processes (assuming that they were inefficient previously).
But there are a number of misconceptions that need to be addressed, one of these being that one size fits all. The scale of an organization may impact the opportunity to reduce resource.
If additional channels are added, then they need to be resourced. I experienced a situation recently when trying to check on a delivery time where live chat was not available because all of the team were taking telephone calls. There was a long queue with a message recommending that callers use live chat.
The theory is that an advisor can handle multiple chats at any one time, with three being a good benchmark. But what happens when there are not three chats, what if there is only one?
Live chat is a good example of a misconception of efficiency. The theory is that an advisor can handle multiple chats at any one time, with three being a good benchmark. But what happens when there are not three chats, what if there is only one?
While the delays in conversation are accepted by many for a chat conversation, it would not be appropriate when dealing with a call. Imagine that fragmented experience. So, there is a need for sufficient demand to make it efficient.
It is essential that during the design stage that the following questions are continually examined and used to ensure that the design is fit for purpose:
- What do we expect to see as a cost reduction?
- How will we measure the customer experience and customer satisfaction?
- What channels must we deliver service over?
- What will future channels be?
- What is the quality of data captured through automation like and is it sufficient for continuous improvement?
For more examples of live chat misconceptions, read our article: 10 Things They Won’t Tell You About Live Chat
What Happens When You Get Omnichannel Wrong?
While there are numerous consequences for failing to adhere to the considerations listed above, there are three very common mistakes that contact centres make when implementing their omnichannel strategy.
These three mistakes were highlighted in a recent episode of The Contact Centre Podcast, with special guest Dr Nicola Millard, Principle Innovation Partner at BT.
1. Channel Duplication Becomes a Big Issue
Channel duplication is an issue where a customer panics when they do not receive an immediate answer on one channel, so asks the same query across multiple different channels.
Not only does this cause more contacts for you to handle, but it’s not a great customer experience – particularly if the customer receives different answers across channels.
As Nicola says: “The more channels that you offer to customers, the more they will use… which can lead to channel duplication, and that brings about other issues like double handling and inconsistent replies – depending on who is managing the channel.”
The more channels that you offer to customers, the more they will use… which can lead to channel duplication, and that brings about other issues like double handling…
With this in mind, we can’t devise a omnichannel strategy with the only intention being to move customers to the cheapest channel – there are many more things to consider.
Instead, we need to try and understand the customer behaviour behind how they are using that channel, while realizing the issues of channel duplication and the costs associated with that as well, before setting appropriate expectations to the customer.
2. Advisors Are Not Prepared for the Change to Their Role
After implementing your omnichannel strategy, where you’ll likely want to shift transactional contacts towards self-service, you may find that advisors are increasingly having to put customers on hold, consult a database or some of their colleagues to answer customer queries.
“While that’s not necessarily a bad thing, agents are having to work really hard, having to engage their brains because it is the complex stuff,” Nicola adds.
“The challenge is that firstly you have to upskill your agents to deal with that complexity, but you need also to provide them with the knowledge resources and the network of experts to try and solve these very complex and emotional queries.”
So, if we are creating a strategy that moves simple transactional contacts away from advisors and towards customer service, as many organizations are, we need to consider the impact on the contact centre team and react.
As well as refocusing on coaching and knowledge resources, we may also need to lower our occupancy target when staffing the contact centre – so advisors receive longer breaks between contacts to refocus their minds.
3. Failing to Map the Customer Journey and Maintain Context
When thinking about omnichannel, we should be mapping the customer journey and running tests to ensure that the overall experience is as easy as possible for customers.
Customers don’t think channels, they have a goal – so they go to the channel that they think is going to get them to their goal as easily as possible.
Nicola says: “Customers don’t think channels, they have a goal – so they go to the channel that they think is going to get them to their goal as easily as possible, because we want an easy life and easy is absolutely a primary driver for customers.”
With this easy message in mind, we should have two clear goals for our omnichannel strategy:
- To track the customer’s interaction history across channels
- To keep the context of the interaction when customers switch channels
By achieving these goals, we can make both the advisor and customer experience easier, through adopting an omnichannel approach.
As an example of this, if we include click-to-call or click-to-chat options in our mobile app self-service systems, we can pick up helpful information – including the customer’s identity, their geographical location and their historical activity – off the bat. That’s a good addition to your omnichannel strategy!
The use of automation and implementation of self-service is an attractive way to move forwards.
However, to ensure that the benefits are realized and that the outcomes are positive, sufficient care and consideration is required during the design stage to ensure that any solution is suitable for the service provider and most importantly the customer.
If we take all of the discussed issues into consideration for each of these five key channel shift areas, we can greatly improve the customer experience and contact centre efficiency. This is all while avoiding mistakes like channel duplication and the others discussed in this article.
Thanks to Martin Jukes, the Managing Director at Mpathy Plus, for sharing this article with us.
For more on better managing your contact centre channels, read our articles: