The Omnichannel Contact Center: A Guide for 2020 (with Actionable Tips)
Even during this time marked by rapid change and uncertainty, the foundation of a successful contact center remains constant: exceptional customer experience.
Organizations that deliver consistently positive customer experiences thrive through any crisis. In fact, events like the COVID-19 pandemic present unique, valuable opportunities for organizations to provide loyalty-building customer interactions that create long-term growth.
Effectively seizing the opportunity takes an omnichannel cloud contact center.
What Is an Omnichannel Contact Center?
Omnichannel contact centers are contact centers that provide superior customer service experiences that keep people coming back.
Omnichannel contact centers allow customers to get help when they want it, through the communication channels of their choice—whether with a live agent or real-time self service options. Truly effective, integrated omnichannel is a customer service strategy that can provide organizations the momentum to move ahead of their competition now, and stay ahead well into the future.
To deliver this successfully, agents need contact center solutions that allow them to move between channels and touchpoints easily so they can seamlessly help customers regardless of the channel. When done right, omnichannel contact centers elevate the customer service experience and customer engagement from the traditional call center to truly exceptional experiences throughout the customer journey.
What Is the Difference Between a Multichannel Contact Center and an Omnichannel Contact Center?
Organizations are increasingly adding multichannel options to their contact centers, including web chat, SMS and social media. But more channels does not equal an omnichannel experience. And the truth is, most contact centers aren’t there yet.
The difference between a multichannel contact center and an omnichannel approach is in the integration. As they add channels, contact centers often assign agents exclusively to one channel—phone call or digital channels such as email, text and social media messaging—and ask them to quickly resolve issues in a vacuum.
The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t deliver seamless customer experiences because agents don’t have complete historical views of customer interactions. Contact centers only become truly omnichannel when all customer interactions are integrated across channels, with all relevant historical information and personal background available to agents in every customer engagement.
The use of omnichannel contact centers has increased from 8% in 2016 to 31% in 2019, according to Nemertes Research’s 2019-20 Intelligent Customer Engagement research study of 518 organizations. Though the growth is impressive, Robin Gareiss of Nemertes Research says far too few organizations actually use omnichannel—despite the increase in the number of channels used. Gareiss says the data unquestionably demonstrates that companies that use omnichannel are more successful.
What Makes a Good Omnichannel Customer Experience?
A good omnichannel customer experience is seamless. When executed correctly, it builds long-term customer loyalty as issues are resolved quickly and completely. Here are four pillars of effective omnichannel customer service:
Seamlessly Connected Channels
With omnichannel, when customers call by phone, send an email, text a message or communicate through any other inbound digital channel, the agents can see the entire service journey and respond and address the issue accordingly.
Omnichannel capability links customer data and personal information from all sources of interactions. When other applications like customer relationship management (CRM) tools are integrated with customer service systems, an intelligent call router can use customer details to send a customer to the best agent or department right away.
Well Integrated Applications
As new communication channels are added to the contact center, they have to be fully integrated immediately. Integrating many, but not all, channels does not create true omnichannel experiences. Integration must happen at the time a channel is launched— not after—for optimal omnichannel customer service interactions.
The most valuable contact center solutions are designed to fit into your ecosystem with pre-built integrations and also offer integrations using APIs.
Constant Information Gathering Along the Customer Journey
Omnichannel service interactions are effortless—resulting in better customer experience, higher customer ratings and stronger brand reputation—because they follow the customer from channel to channel, collecting data along the way. As people shift from social media to chat to a live agent, their complete histories and account details go with them. They don’t have to start over at each point.
Seven Omnichannel Contact Center Best Practices for Better Customer Experiences
While the benefits of omnichannel are clear, contact centers leaders must apply best practices for implementing and optimizing an omnichannel contact center.
Here are seven best practices used by the most enduring brands to deliver winning customer experiences that built the loyalty necessary to thrive through crisis and uncertainty.
1. Start with a Cloud Contact Center Solution
You don’t have to rebuild your entire infrastructure to offer a top-tier omnichannel customer experience. Moving your contact center to the cloud makes it easy to manage data from applications across all channels and coordinate them with agents, customer relationship management teams and other departments, like billing and sales.
Integrated desktop applications help customer service agents handle requests over phone, email, text or chat. And when needed, cloud contact centers quickly scale to handle volume changes.
2. Integrate Tools
Organizations that have mastered the seamless omnichannel experience rely on omnichannel tools that track consumer interactions and integrate data across channels. For example, Disney, which has built an international business on exceptional customer experience, coordinates its website, mobile applications and other systems—from online purchases to event and restaurant reservations to onsite transactions.
Outdoor equipment retailer REI has also streamlined its service by sharing data among the website, mobile applications and in-store kiosks. Customers get consistent and reliable status on the availability of products onsite and online, so they know whether something is in stock and if the size and color needed is available.
This kind of integration delivers omnichannel contact software tools with a unified architecture that combines all necessary systems, data and processes.
3. Map Online Customer Journey
The course customers chart through a website or mobile app reveals what they’re considering buying, how they maintain their accounts and what information they want about products or purchases. With these details, agents can take service to the next level for exceptional customer satisfaction.
For example, if agents know what web page someone was browsing just before a call, they can quickly pull up relevant product information. Or if the caller closed out of a purchase or web form, the agent can complete the transaction without starting over—reducing customer frustration and potentially recovering a sale. With screen share and video chat, agents help people learn to use self-service, navigate the website or customize mobile preferences for a complete omnichannel experience.
4. Include AI as Part of the Mix (Not a Singular Solution)
The Nemertes Research study segmented a success group that includes organizations with the top metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) in revenue increases, cost decreases and/or ratings increases when using artificial intelligence (AI) for their customer engagement initiatives. Within the success group, 50% use omnichannel.
The study also found real-world success in customer ratings improvements. When organizations use AI without omnichannel, they see a 37% improvement in customer ratings. But when they use AI with omnichannel, customer ratings improve by 104%. It’s clear customers (and agents) enjoy huge benefits once omnichannel integrates communications channels.
5. Pay Special Attention to Social Media
In an omnichannel contact center, the stakes are particularly high when it comes to social media. That’s because social channels amplify the impact of good—
or bad—service. If customers are on Facebook asking for support and don’t get a response, they broadcast their frustrations. On the other hand, if they love your service, the likes, follows and positive comments bolster your credibility.
6. Maintain Consistency Across Channels
Regardless of the number of channels you offer, consumers expect consistent levels of service across channels. However, many organizations struggle to provide the same speed of service over digital communications as they have for traditional call centers.
Many contact centers are still learning how to staff for chat, text and social media interactions. For example, while most strive to answer 80% of calls in 20 seconds, a recent survey found that 62% of companies never respond to emails.
Service levels will necessarily differ to some degree across channels because some requests are too complex or sensitive for a web app or chatbot to handle and require live agents for resolution. But you can still provide consistency by defining user interface and feature standards across channels. It’s also important to set customer expectations with respect to what they can accomplish via web or mobile apps.
7. Track and Evaluate Evolving Consumer Preferences
Consumer preferences and technology change rapidly. An effective omnichannel strategy evolves too. As channels are added, others may become unnecessary and can be removed from the mix, saving agent time and increasing efficiencies—even ultimately improving customer service.
As you add new channels, consider how they can work together and affect how your customers use all channels. For example, chatbots are effective for handling quick questions, and people generally like them until they hit the limits of their knowledge and send customers to the phone queues.
Chatbots integrated with agent desktops allow consumers to stay in the chat channel when they need help. The logged conversation transfers to an agent desktop as soon as the customer requests a live agent. The representative picks up where the bot stalled without a missed step. That’s omnichannel at it most seamless.
The Future of Omnichannel Contact Centers
While implementing omnichannel platform capabilities takes a thoughtful approach, the data prove it’s worth the effort. Organizations that act quickly to get it right and maintain the strategy well will capture clear and quick benefits.
To learn more from Nemertes Research on why omnichannel is so critical to the evolution of today’s contact centers, watch the on-demand webinar, Omnichannel Accelerates Contact Center Success Metrics.
CxEngage, Serenova’s cloud-based omnichannel contact center solution, gives customers a consistent experience across voice, chat, email, text and social media. It’s designed to fit into your ecosystem by offering pre-built integrations to the most preferred CRM providers, engagement solutions and workforce optimization software (WFO) solutions. You can also build your own custom integrations using our APIs.
Contact us for a demo to see CxEngage in action.
Omnichannel Contact Center FAQs
What are omnichannel KPIs?
As organizations transition to omnichannel contact centers, so should their KPIs. Omnichannel KPIs should focus less on volume and more on the customer experience. For example, pay attention to issue resolution across channels rather than metrics related to contact volume alone.
How do you create an omnichannel strategy?
When you consider your approach to omnichannel, integration is critical. Contact centers only become truly omnichannel when all customer interactions are integrated across channels, with all relevant historical information and personal background available to agents.
How do you use AI in a contact center?
Artificial intelligence (AI) can improve customer experience in contact centers. But research has shown that contact centers that use AI without omnichannel see fewer benefits. The greatest benefit comes when AI is combined in the contact center with fully integrated customer communication channels.