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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

I recently wrote how Enghouse Interactive is building a portfolio of products to support contact center in the cloud. The foundation of all its products is the handling of interactions through a comprehensive set of communication channels. My research into the contact center in the cloud shows that after the adoption of CRM in the cloud, companies are most likely to adopt contact centers in the cloud because they support consumers that want to interact through more channels, and because of the increasing need to support distributed contact centers and the diverse location of employees handling interactions.

The most recent release of Enghouse Interactive products to support the enterprise is now available through a variety of channels: on-premises, through a private cloud, through a public cloud, or customers can mix and match by having some systems on-premises and others off. The public cloud leverages Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud infrastructure as a service, which removes the need for companies to purchase any on-premises infrastructure. Moving to the cloud in this way also reduces up-front costs and time to deploy, and reduces the need for skilled deployment and operations staff. The service can be scaled up or down to meet fluctuating business requirements.

Along with these deployment options, Enghouse Interactive also recently announced a new agent desktop, iAgent. The first release of this product addresses a critical issue for contact center managers. My research vr_db_top_five_customer_service_challengesinto the agent desktop shows that agents are now expected to handle interactions arriving through multiple channels and the silos is the top customer service challenge. They therefore need systems on their desktops that let them view and the handle different types of interactions, which makes the agent desktop cluttered and difficult to use. iAgent addresses this in a quite novel way, which, having seen a demonstration, I think will appeal to agents. The most striking feature is what Enghouse Interactive calls the shelf, which look just like a shelf and displays icons that represent the different channels an agent is able to support: phone, email, text, social media, and so forth. By clicking on an icon an agent can immediately see the interactions available in the queue for that channel. By clicking on an interaction the agent can handle that interaction. To assist with handling the interaction, the agent is also presented with key information about the customer and previous interactions, and companies can build preprepared templates to assist in creating the response. Once the interaction is closed, the agent can move on to an interaction in the same or an alternative queue. The system can also be configured to interrupt agents with inbound calls that need to be handled, allow them to complete the call, then go back to the interaction they were handling.

iAgent is a thin-client web application that can be accessed by anyone handling interactions on a device  and browser of their choice. It is easy to set up and maintain, with all users automatically gaining the benefit of new features. It is digitally signed so companies are assured of the security, origin and integrity of the software.

My practical experience when building contact centers and my research into their use show that in many organizations the agent desktop can only be described as a mess. It contains several business applications, systems to access communication channels, message boards and various performance dashboards. This makes agents’ lives frustrating and inefficient, leading to less than optimal customer experiences. As the number of channels grows, the desktop only gets worse. iAgent addresses this critical part of handling interactions, and Enghouse Interactions has plans to make accessing applications even easier. It is therefore a product I recommend companies evaluate as they look to improve agent performance and the customer experience.

Regards,

Richard J. Snow

VP & Research Director

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