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In never ceases to amaze me, the number of new terms and acronymsvr_inin_types_of_interactions_in_contact_center the contact center market generates. Just as everyone is getting used to the fact that customers interact with companies through multiple communication channels (multichannel for short), someone invents the term omnichannel and we all have to get our heads around what this means. My research into the contact center in the cloud shows that companies now support on average nearly five communication channels, and although the traditional channels are still the most common, as the chart shows, there are signs that new channels such as chat (used by 37%), social media (29%), text messaging (22%) and video (5%) are on the increase.

The term omnichannel connotes “all in one,” and in this context it implies that companies need to integrate all these channels to give customers the same experience regardless of the channel they use. But I can think of three reasons why this is almost impossible today. The first is that each of these channels uses different devices, and try as companies might, they can’t achieve the same experience on a small mobile device, a laptop, in a text message, in 140 characters, face-to-face, or during a video call. Second, many companies still operate legacy communication systems, especially on-premises, proprietary ACDs, and integrating these with new channels is too costly in today’s economic climate. Emerging contact-center-in-the-cloud vendors such as EchopassEnghouse Interactive, Five9Interactive IntelligenceLiveOps and NewVoiceMedia offer a solution as their services typically include integrated multiple channels of communication. Even so, companies are often faced with deciding how to integrate these with their existing systems. Third, my research also shows that interactions are increasing handled by people in the lines of business, which are spread across the organization and typically have their own processes, systems and customers; therefore customers are likely to get different information depending on the line of business they interact with.

Another important factor is that many companies don’t truly know their customers. My research into customer relationship maturity shows that fewer than one in three (31%) companies produce a single report and analysis of their customers that is shared across the organization. This means that the lines of business are acting on different information, another reason why it is almost impossible to provide a single, consistent experience at all touch points. As companies add more channels of communication this challenge becomes greater, especially when they need to integrate more and more unstructured data into their customer analysis – the big data effect. Adding more channels of communication introduces yet another challenge. Typically each channel uses a unique identifier, and business applications have additional keys; these include, for example, a phone number, an email address, a Twitter handle, an account number or an order number. To truly know a customer companies therefore must link all these identifiers so they can, for example, identify that a current caller is the same person who posted a tweet and sent an email.

To deal with these challenges, I recommend that companies take the following steps:

  • Improve the quality and consistency of their customer data so they have one up-to-date master customer record.
  • Apply customer analytics to every possible source of customer data, including transaction, interaction and event data, structured and unstructured data, and historic, real-time and predictive analysis.
  • Use this analysis first at every touch point to know the customer.
  • Use this analysis also to put the current interaction into the context of previous interactions and the overall relationship with the customer.
  • Use this analysis in combination with rules-based logic to make the response personal to the customer and relevant to the issue raised, and therefore likely to result in the desired business outcome.
  • Above all else, companies need to ensure that they provide consistent information across channels and lines of business. Otherwise they face the prospect that customers will channel-hop until they get the information or outcome that suits them best. Such a process is likely to cost companies customers and sales.

I am not sure such an approach will produce an omnichannel customer experience, but it provides a practical, achievable process that is likely to improve the customer experience and outcomes. I would welcome comments on how others view the concept of omnichannel customer experience and how they intend to achieve it, so please come and collaborate with me.

Regards,

Richard J. Snow

VP & Research Director

Our benchmark research into the contact center in the cloud shows that almost all companies now support multiple communication channels to engage with customers. Most of them also involve multiple business units in handling inbound and outbound interactions. More companies now support at-home agents, and contact centers are becoming more distributed. These scenarios are a good fit for cloud-based systems, and the research finds that the top three ways organizations said they can meet these challenges, and thus improve the way interactions are handled, are to improve training and coaching, adopt applications in the cloud and adopt communications in the cloud. It also shows that organizations have high expectations of cloud-based systems, expecting them to require less capital expenditure, facilitate innovation in interaction handling, lessen demand on in-house resources, including IT and better support home-based agents.

The research shows as well that organizations have reservations about adopting cloud-based systems, among them likely responses times, overall performance, security of access and scalability. Because cloud-based contact centers are relatively new, there aren’t many examples of success to help allay these fears.

In this context I was pleased to see an announcement from Echopass that one of its customers has reaped  multiple benefits by adopting a contact center in the cloud. Echopass was one of the first vendors to offer such a service, and it now offers services based on its Symmetry Architecture. As I recently wrote, Echopass has an interesting mix of third-party systems and in-house developments that it has combined to provide multimedia interaction handling in the cloud, and some elements of workforce optimization.

A number of business benefits cited by the customer in this case study concur with the primary benefits the research shows that companies expect by moving to the cloud, and the Echopass customer asserts that after using the services for five years it continues to realize these benefits. Closer examination of the case study indicates the company has achieved considerable cost savings and has seen its net promoter score rise dramatically. A part from pure savings in total cost of ownership in infrastructure and support costs, the company notes these:

  • Average speed of answering calls has decreased, saving money and improving customer satisfaction.
  • Average call-handling times have decreased. (Our research into contact center analytics shows this is the top priority for most contact center managers.)
  • Targeted service levels have been exceeded.
  • Agent productivity has improved, resulting in reduced head count.
  • Call abandonment rates have lessened, improving customer satisfaction.
  • Net promoter scores have improved because calls are being answered more quickly.
  • The new quality monitoring systems and dashboard enable the company to focus agent training better.

One of the less tangible benefits is shown in this quote: “The Echopass solution allows us to focus a lot more on our customers and not worry about the technology or have it get in the way.” Customers are what business is all about, and too often processes and systems get in the way of a true customer focus. This success story shows that a cloud-based system can take away many of the operational issues companies struggle with on a day-to-day basis and allow them to innovative with the customer as the focus. With that comes business success.

Our research shows that over the next few years more organizations will adopt cloud-based systems to meet pressing business and budget issues. They remain firmly on our research agenda. Keep following my blog and I will keep you abreast of new developments and similar success stories as they emerge.

Regards

Richard Snow – VP & Research Director

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