The Omnichannel Approach to Customer Engagement
For a long time, customer engagement channels have been viewed as separate and distinct customer interactions. Now we know that successful customer engagement occurs when these channels are seamlessly blended and put into context.
The traditional multichannel strategy is one of control and offering nonintegrated options. The omnichannel perspective is a release of control to the customer, allowing them to choose their channel of choice.
Getting started with an omnichannel strategy
It should be increasingly obvious that a disconnected trial-and-error strategy isn't the best experience for a customer. Some 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 percent of its smart device cases began with an online search for support. Clearly an appetite for experimentation is in order.
Begin building your omnichannel strategy by taking inventory of the channels you already support. Next, consider all the emerging channels of interaction. Finally, we're living in an increasingly 24/7 society. A true multichannel customer engagement strategy must be consistent across all hours of the day, not just optimized for times of peak volume.
Integrating a self-service channel
The fastest-growing channels of self-service typically have either a mobile or social component — or both! So in addition to managing interactive voice response (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. While companies have traditionally looked to social channels as a marketing opportunity, the reality is that a fundamental shift in how people communicate is taking place, and we've only scratched the surface on what's possible.
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 system for phone interactions. E-commerce tools should be platform agnostic — i.e., 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.
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 can't finish the transaction they started. 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. Then recommend the creation of a unified agent queue for text-based customer interaction.
Optimizing live service
As self-service solutions continue to mature and capture a broader range of problem types, the engagements in the live service channel are tending to be more complex. I believe that optimizing the live service experience will remain an important focus for enterprise businesses in the coming years. Agents with enhanced training and tools that efficiently and effectively manage increasingly complex customer inquiries will create moments of truth.
Today's consumers are demanding a seamless experience across multiple channels. Take advantage of this new paradigm and reap the benefits of an omnichannel strategy.
Andrew Kokes is the vice president, global product management, at Sitel, a provider of outsourced customer care services.
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