The Omni-Channel Evolution

As recently as a few years ago, companies that adopted a multi-channel approach in supporting their customers were seen as innovative, as leaders in the industry. Customers loved the fact that if they didn’t want to pick up a phone, they could send an email, initiate a chat, send a text message or even have a conversation via social media. It was a whole new world.

Empowering as it was for customers, it became cumbersome and costly for the companies supporting them. New communication streams and technologies to manage made it harder to staff appropriately and it became inefficient to have agents switching systems and toggling between queues. It was not easy (or sometimes even possible) for an agent to know about other types of customer interactions.

The next evolution in hyper-connectivity for customers forced upon us the kind of innovation required to reinvent the agent experience to match the customer experience.

From Multi-Channel to Omni-Channel

The customer journey now is more dynamic, non-linear and accessible than ever before. Those hyper-connected customers demand integrated, proactive and personalized service. About 51% of customers expect a company’s offerings to be the same across multiple channels and 57% expect promotions to be consistent across online, offline and social touchpoints.[i]

What this means for companies is that it is no longer enough to have different agents handling different communications channels, using different systems that never talk to each other. If a customer sends an SMS message to follow up on a call, they expect that conversation be a continuation, not a separate discussion – and agents are expecting the same from their systems.

In moving to an omni-channel approach, channels are connected via a centralized single routing system that creates a 360-degree view of customer interactions. This allows the customer to enjoy a customized, seamless, superior customer experience no matter how they choose to engage. The centralized routing system allows the company to provide that experience in a more efficient and cost-effective manner that has the added benefit of providing a wealth of customer insights.

From Phones to Appliances . . . and Beyond

Successfully adopting and integrating an omni-channel approach doesn’t mean the hard work is done. Successful companies who have reached the omni-channel plateau are already thinking about the next evolution – that of non-human interaction.

Companies need to be very careful in settling on an omni-channel solution. They need to search out partners who are innovative, creative and imaginative. Their solution needs to be flexible and proactive. The solution they choose must adapt and integrate with new channels and support completely new users.

As hyper-connectivity continues to advance, companies need to be able to support and interact with traditional channels. They also need to interact with various other devices such as watches, fridges, washing machines, drones, children’s toys or even autonomous cars. They need the ability to receive, respond and resolve issues via video, and will soon need to be a part of a customer’s augmented reality. All of this requires an omni-channel solution that can evolve to include all kinds of new contacts and yet remain flexible enough to adapt to agent-assisted and virtual-agent automations.

From Contacts to Events

A fundamental shift we are seeing in the omni-channel environment is the move from supporting customer contacts to a philosophy of interacting and solving customer (or device) engagement events.

At a customer level, this means being able to connect all the contacts, analyze them and understand the bigger picture. A customer may call about an issue with their new phone, then send an email about their billing and then send out a social media post about their frustration – or even better, their excellent customer experience. Instead of looking at those as three contacts to be resolved, progressive companies will need to consider them in the context of the engagement event – buying a new phone.

That means becoming proactive, reaching out to the customer upon purchase to educate them and offer support before they need it. It means being ready with coupons, credits and feature upgrades that will not only create a satisfied customer but nurture a long-term customer who represents recurring revenue (customer value). It means being able to address the learning curve of new technology, rather than just the issue or problem of the moment.

Much of that event-based approach can be automated, of course, which adds yet another layer of complexity to an omni-channel solution.

From Content to Sentiment

Looking beyond new users, new technologies and new events, the big change happening is sentiment-driven omni-channel interactions. It’s not just about understanding the driving emotions behind a contact or an event, but being able to convey emotion as a company and being able to connect by eliciting a positive emotional response.

It sounds complicated. The truth is that it is. Moving from a multi-channel to an omni-channel solution meant technological investment. Moving from content to sentiment means human and virtual system investments. Companies need to create a culture whereby employees can elicit emotions naturally and honestly via verbal, visual or written communication. The same is true of any virtual support solution, as we need to fuel them with the right language patterns to enhance the experience.

An omni-channel solution is fantastic for treating customers the same way across all channels and for keeping track of what is happening on all those channels, but the next challenge is creating an emotional connection that spans all those channels. It’s not as tangible as the flow of data from one channel to another, but an emotional bond that drives attachment also drives results.

 

By Neri Basque Senior Director, Global IT Service Delivery

[i] SAP Research on future of Customer Engagement

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