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Delivering the Omnichannel Experience, for Real
As millions of people do every year, I recently lost a credit card.
I went to my bank's website to search for a phone number to call. As I was navigating through the website a chat screen popped up... "My name is Jason. How can I help you?"
I spent seven minutes with Jason, providing my name, email address, and scrambling through old credit card statements for the account number (because I had lost the card) before we finally got down to the issue, which was to cancel the card and reverse any fraudulent charges.
To my surprise, Jason wrote: "Sir, you are going to have to call our call center and select the option for the fraud department."
I asked Jason, being an agent in the call center, if he could simply call me, so I would not have to start all over again with a different agent. He said he couldn't call me, because he was using the bank's chat application and could not take or make phone calls. So, I reluctantly called the 1-800 number and navigated the bank's IVR. Once again, I provided my account information, answered verification questions, and spent another 5 minutes waiting so I could simply speak to someone who was probably sitting within 10 feet of Jason.
What a waste of time and money to give me what, ultimately, was a poor customer experience.
Poor MultiChannel Experiences Multiplied a Billion Times
Unfortunately, my experience, in one form or another, is played out millions, maybe even billions, of times a year across the globe. It is a sad state when different agents have to ask the same questions and customers have to repeat themselves. Such inefficiency not only destroys customer satisfaction, but also drives up the costs of contact centers. This world in which we live needs fixing.
The majority of contact centers are in their omnichannel infancies, as 87% of executives say they are struggling to provide efficient and effective service across channels. And, every time a contact center adds another channel to the mix, whether email, chat, SMS, or social, inevitably its customer satisfaction declines, while average handle time (AHT) and costs increase. Meantime, contact center leaders are scratching their heads, asking themselves, "Why?"
Why Is Creating a Seamless Omnichannel Customer Experience So Difficult?
That omnichannel is so difficult stems from most contact centers' reliance on disparate customer relationship management (CRM) and communications platforms. Communications platform providers such as Genesys, Cisco, Avaya, Interactive Intelligence and others are fantastic at optimizing the telephony infrastructure, ACD/PBX, IVR, outbound dialers, workforce management, and so on. The CRM platform, be that from Oracle, Salesforce.com, or another provider, sits on the other side of the contact center and is critical to creating one view of the customer, knowledge, incident and workflow management, and integrating digital interactions.
These disparate platforms implicitly drive not only channel technology silos, but also operational silos, with the vast majority of contact centers organized into pooled channel teams (the chat team, email team, phone team, etc.). These technology and operational silos are really the main challenge to enabling an omnichannel experience for customers.
To create a true omnichannel experience, contact centers need to integrate these two platforms on the front and back ends. Once such integration is in place, context can transfer along with a customer from one channel to the next.
Continue to Page 2 for more on solving the omnichannel challenge
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Solving the Omnichannel Front End Through a Unified Desktop
Had my bank been able to transfer the context of my Web chat to the phone channel, it likely could have prevented my bad experience. To do so necessitates real-time updating of customer interaction data and providing real-time agent access to that data.
A unified agent desktop solves this problem, allowing all customer interactions and context to be at the fingertips of every agent in one screen. This necessitates deep integration of the CRM and communications front ends. The current trend is to integrate the communications applications and data (telephony, IVR, outbound dialer, etc.) directly into the CRM, through a softphone implementation and expensive computer telephony integration (CTI) interactions and screen pops. A recent innovative development to accelerate and drive down the costs of CTI are CTI automation tools, which allow the automation of thousands of lines of CTI code through the dragging and dropping of data elements and workflows from one system to another system.
If the unified agent desktop is implemented correctly, the customer and agent are always on the same page in their interaction, regardless of the customer path to any agent. The benefits are enormous, with over a minute in average AHT reduction possible, since the agent doesn't have to ask the customer to repeat the answer to contextual questions and no longer needs to toggle from screen to screen to cobble together the context he or she needs to understand and ultimately resolve the issue. And, a one-plus minute reduction in AHT, multiplied over millions of interactions for a sizeable contact center, adds up in tangible dollar savings through increased agent utilization. In addition, it results in improved customer satisfaction, given the customer finally feels like he is being treated as a human and not a bunch of fields and checkboxes in a system.
Solving the Omnichannel Back End Through a Universal Queue
While enabling new digital interactions with a unified agent desktop dramatically improves the omnichannel customer experience, it creates a new challenge in managing the contact centers' efficiency and service-level agreements (SLAs).
The CRM platform is often managing all of the emerging digital interactions such as email, chat, social, and SMS, while the communications platform is managing all the traditional telephony interactions. Now, most established contact centers have spent millions optimizing and integrating their workforce management, quality management, and reporting infrastructures into their communications platforms to manage labor and operational costs. The introduction of new digital interactions flowing through the CRM creates a major dilemma within contact centers.
Should they use the workforce management and reporting solutions of both the CRM and the communications platforms to manage the contact center costs and SLAs?
Should the contact center start from scratch and scrap the often millions of dollars spent optimizing the current workforce management and reporting capabilities?
In our experience, contact center leaders who answer "Yes" to either question create unnecessary additional costs, pain, and complexity.
The best answer is a hybrid approach, which entails keeping the digital channels (email, chat, and social) that are native to the CRM and routing them through the traditional communications infrastructure, in particular the ACD, to create a universal composite queue.
By enabling the universal queue, the communications platform serves as the single source of truth with visibility and control of all interactions channels, regardless of their origin. The contact center can leverage existing workforce management, quality, and reporting infrastructure toward continuous optimization of cost and quality. And, then, the trick is to deliver both the voice and digital interactions into the CRM, so individual interactions can be properly managed through the CRM, where the knowledge base and customer data is stored and managed.
By properly implementing a universal queue through the hybrid approach, contact centers are able to create the omnichannel customer experiences they need, while eliminating the need for expensive and lengthy integration or management of multiple platforms and the associated costs with integrating the workforce management, quality, and reporting application sets.
Omnichannel Is Not a Pipe Dream There is currently a lot of omnichannel hype, but little in the way of pragmatic approaches to enabling an omnichannel contact center. But, by understanding the barriers to omnichannel and a little strategic vision, we've seen contact centers go from thinking omnichannel is a pipe dream to enabling a true omnichannel contact center in a matter of months.
In the end, omnichannel necessitates the integration of technology and operational silos. And, if done correctly through the proper implementation of a unified agent desktop and a universal queue, contact centers can fast forward their omnichannel journeys and make their customers, agents, and operation and customer service leaders all happy, while also saving money and creating better experiences for everyone involved.
Gerrit V Lydecker Jr. is founder and CEO of OpenMethods.