Tuning In to Multiple Channels
By Brendan B. Read,
Senior Contributing Editor
Multichannel and cross-channel contact center communications have long been more in theory than in reality; singlechannel live agent or IVR calls still rule. Yet there are now signs that this is changing. Companies are finally realizing that enabling “zero outs” on automated voice solutions and ready access to phone numbers on-sites generates more revenue by keeping customers than what they save by trapping
them in self-service. The next generation of consumers is using SMS more rather than voice but want that option to call.
We contacted several leading expert firms to get their insights on multi/cross-channel communications and asked them questions on topics such as:
• Multi/cross-channel communication demand and trends
• Key drivers
• Implementation challenges
• Best practices to leverage and enable successful multi/crosschannel interactions
Aspect (News - Alert) (www.aspect.com)
Serge Hyppolyte, Director of Interaction Product Management
We certainly have seen more contact centers use channels like SMS or e-mail to contact their customers proactively. We’re getting more demand for SMS notifications and for e-mail notifications in order to be connected as part of a broader engagement process the contact center wants to do. They are definitely utilizing cross-channel communications due to the fact that they are using multiple channels is indicative that they realize the customers are engaging them more with mobility than just being on the phone. If they can satisfy the customer needs without having to get on a voice call with the agent then that’s less expensive for contact center and preferable. And at that point, they always have the option to change to high touch agent communication.
The adoption of multiple channels is certainly less than anticipated in North America though. You can see these customer interactions leveraging these technologies more so in other areas of the world, but not so much in the U.S. For example SMS is common in places like Asia. And, while adoption is a bit slower here than we anticipated, we realize it can just be an effect of the broader economic climate. We certainly see this growing, however.
The channel I see lagging is chat and that is because it is being replaced by instant messaging (IM). With the combination of collaboration and IM, we are seeing this grow in popularity through customer Web portals.
The key drivers to multichannel, including cross-channel communications, are first and foremost, consumer preference and consumer flexibility. Businesses need to react to the fact that more and more subscribers are now mobile. The second driver why people are looking at multichannel is cost savings. Multichannel is less expensive than voice and if they can engage in a less costly fashion, that makes financial sense for the contact center.
The biggest challenge for contact centers is how to adopt multichannel as part of their core business process from a technology and process perspectives. A lot of contact centers have traditional technologies like ACDs and less software-centric products. They have rules that optimize business processes throughout customer calls on the phone, but don’t have the same rules [and training] for other channels. There will be a lot of questions. They will need to figure out what is the policy for how to handle e-mails including who gets them and does an agent have access to them.
To leverage and enable successful multi/cross-channel interactions do it slowly and identify different channels. Start one that you want to rollout of the business and optimize your processes to be able to handle that channel. Take social media, for instance. Maybe you determine how to respond to the fact that your customers are commenting about your business on Twitter or Facebook (News - Alert). Maybe use a number of agents that have the right skills: the ability to effectively communicate though text. Find those agents and have them participate and train them how to best respond, including how to monitor what is said, and importantly, what their responses should be to the various types of questions.
The businesses that take a methodical approach and identify a team or specific process that will measure effectiveness, and can align that process from a customer perspective, are the organizations that will see the best results. If they believe that they can adopt IM, social media, SMS and e-mail management and drive that change through the contact center without that approach that’s a less successfuland realistic proposition.
Anand Subramaniam, Vice President, Worldwide Marketing
Contact centers are definitely using more channels than in the past and so are consumers and business customers. Customers often switch channels during the same interaction or across multiple steps that might be involved in long-lived interactions.
While businesses have started providing customer service through multiple channels, industry research continues to show that communication silos still exist, putting the burden on customers to recreate context as they go from one channel to another. In fact, 2010 mystery shopping research from eGain showed that over 70 percent of leading U.S. companies provided “poor” or “below average” experience in multichannel customer service. Moreover, in a cross-channel experience evaluation of 16 leading companies in four industry sectors by Forrester Research (News - Alert) in 2009, none of the businesses received a passing grade.
The ubiquity of the Web, rich interactive technologies, generational preferences, consumer mobility and new phenomena such as social networking are driving the need for not only providing customer service through multiple channels but also retaining context and continuity across channels and interactive sessions. Moreover, complex transactions often involve multiple channels of communication. For instance, a loan application or shopping transaction may originate on the Web with self-service research, followed by a concurrent phone and co-browse interaction with an agent, and finally end in a retail branch office. Or a field service request may originate on the Web, continue on the phone and end with field service.
The customer experience across systems and agents in these channels remains fragmented and inconsistent in many organizations since customer communications, knowledge bases, business rules, workflow, business policy and interactive practices continue to remain in silos. These silos proliferate and deepen when businesses take a short-term “point approach” in adding new channels, and this includes new channels such as social. In fact, our 2010 mystery
shopping research found that there were content, policy and process inconsistencies even across agents in the same channel. This could hurt not only customer satisfaction and revenue for the organization but also its brand.
Originally advocated by Gartner (News - Alert), the Customer Interaction Hub (CIH) is a strategy and framework that unifies customer communications, knowledge bases, workflow, rules, analytics and administration in one common foundation for managing customer interactions. The CIH approach eliminates communication silos, strengthens the interactive memory of organizations and improves customer experience, while driving down operational costs and total cost of ownership for customer interaction management systems. Even if contact centers are not ready for a “big bang” unified implementation
of a multichannel CIH, they should use this approach for incremental implementations as well. This will allow them to start with the immediate channels they need and simply plug additional channels onto the CIH platform to future-proof their multichannel customer service strategy, as communication channels come and go.
InfoCision (News - Alert) Management Corporation (www.infocision.com)
Ken Dawson, Chief Marketing Officer
Contact centers that want to be competitive in today’s market must expand their service offerings to include multiple channels for customers or donors to connect. Customers call the shots now and direct marketers better know how they want to be communicated with.
The phone is still the most preferred way consumers choose to communicate: the one to one personal touch of speaking to a live person will remain strong even with the advent of new technology. However, coupling the phone with other channels is necessary to stay competitive. In the past, businesses were limited to traditional mass marketing by equipment and cost constraints but that’s no longer the case. Advances in technology have made it feasible and cost-effective for companies to develop a one-to-one marketing strategy.
Being able to integrate traditional channels with emerging channels through a multichannel marketing strategy is taking
the marketing mantra “reaching the right person, with the right message, at the right time” to the next level. Many consumers are using communication channels interchangeably – e-mail, text, phone, online – which is posing an ongoing challenge for marketers because you want to be able to ensure a consistent brand experience no matter what the channel.
If a company is going to initiate a multichannel campaign they need to leverage data collected. And, there have been great advances in how this information is used, especially in the contact center environment. Prebuilt models or consumer scorings allow changes to product or up-sell offers, for example, to be made on the fly.
As more channels emerge, providing marketers and consumers more ways to communicate, cross-channel marketing is going to become more critical when it comes to a positive consumer
experience. One challenge we’re faced with is the siloing of budgets – marketing has their budget, contact centers have theirs, direct mail theirs, etc. – and there is no incentive to work together to push toward a common goal. Because of this the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. To have a successful multichannel strategy, all parties need to work together toward a more collaborative relationship.
To be successful, companies need to have a more complete picture of who the consumer is, what they’ll respond to and how they prefer to communicate. By improving the quality of the consumer experience, the consumer will form a stronger bond with an organization. [To accomplish this], marketers need to do a customer deep dive and gather the information that will help them get to know who they are targeting. Once the data is collected, they must create profiles. The profiles will help marketers match the right message with the right consumer and determine the most effective way to get that message out, whether it’s e-mail, phone, text or any other channels.
Marketers must be careful not to pigeonhole consumers into one channel. People flow between channels and having the flexibility to customize solutions is key. One size does not fit all anymore.
Interactive Intelligence (News - Alert) (www.inin.com)
Rachel Wentink, Senior Director, Product Management
We have clients that have customers who will escalate from self-service on the Web to live Web chat, or do the same with e-mail response management, where the system auto-responds and if the customer has another question, the follow up e-mail can be routed to a live agent. For non-escalated issues, at the moment it still seems as though people are staying within a single channel. For instance, the customer uses e-mail to interact with an agent, and stays with e-mail throughout the exchange unless a serious problem arises.
The key driver for handling multichannel is to serve customers in their channel of choice. Here’s an example: if I’m traveling outside the U.S., interacting via e-mail or Web chat is preferable to me rather than a phone call. If my travel arrangements need to be changed, I don’t want to attempt an international call into a queue on my cell phone because of the costs, especially the cost of waiting in the queue. But if I’m online, the cost of waiting for the Web chat, or to turn around an e-mail, is much more reasonable.
Also, for younger consumers, serving them with channels beyond the telephone can be a way to engage them further with your organization. SMS use is on the rise, and in some studies, we see consumers in their teens and early 20s preferring texting over calling. Contact centers who only take interactions over the telephone seem hopelessly out of date to this generation. For a single interaction “thread,” we see channels change if the issue is serious. For instance, I start with SMS, realize you’ve lost my order, and now I call to follow up. Normally within a single thread, people stay within a single channel.
Many organizations continue to treat e-mail as a “pull” mechanism instead of a “push.” For some groups that may be successful, but in many we hear about more complex requests, or requests from unpleasant customers, which will sit in the bucket for weeks or even months because no one wants to take those on. A push mechanism like what an automated distributor does for calls (ACD) will ensure that items don’t get neglected.
It’s important to recognize that customers won’t accept poor service just because the channel is written rather than spoken. Contact centers need to ensure they provide good service levels for e-mail, Web chat and for SMS.
We feel an all-in-one [integrated multichannel] approach is a best practice because you can spot the points where customers change channels. They can be escalation points, which can highlight areas of weakness that the organization needs to improve. It also enables you to see patterns where customers choose one channel over another based upon their circumstances and perception of your service. Surveying them to find out why they make the choices they do can also uncover areas of opportunity – perhaps enhanced services, as well as other areas that need work. If calls are handled in a system separate from e-mail and/or Web chat and SMS, it is harder to put the overall picture together.
Brian Spencer (News - Alert), President
We are seeing minor gains in contact centers asking for multi-channel solutions. I do not think many SMBs yet see alternative contact channels as being a formal part of contact centers and are still managing those interactions using separate technology and sometimes even staff. Of those pursuing integrated, multichannel solutions, I see a very small percentage wanting to give agents the ability to transition the contact state from one channel to another seamlessly; they still rely on telling customers to take some new action rather than creating the transition for them.
Businesses need to service their customers in a fashion appealing to their customers. Today, business-to-business interactions are still very comfortable via voice and e-mail channels, both of which are mature technologies and processes. I think business-to-consumer communications is going to be the vanguard of new interaction trends. Many self-help solutions are widely used and successful. I think when a customer decides they need personal help they still prefer the assurance of talking to someone because it is a real-time interaction. Nobody wants to hope that their vendor will reply in a timely manner if the issue carries any degree of urgency.
One of the huge issues is trust. As a consumer, I need to trust that my vendor prioritizes my satisfaction enough to reply in a timely manner with a pleasing resolution. During a call, a customer can negotiate, argue and escalate. This becomes far more difficult and time consuming through a nameless, faceless channel of communication.
Show as much or more dedication to rapid response and customer-friendly resolutions in asynchronous channels [i.e. e-mail] than you do real-time channels. Convince customers through action that you will reward them for using asynchronous channels and not by charging for real-time interactions but by giving great service and positive outcomes. The technology implementation needs to support these drivers.
Vertical Solutions, Inc (VSI) (www.vertsol.com)
Kris Brannock, Vice President, Corporate Development
Contact centers definitely are expanding the number of customer interaction channels for one simple reason: customers are demanding it. They want to be able to interact with the company via their channel of choice, be it telephone, e-mail, live chat, social media or self service.
Cross-channel communication is expanding, due to both the increase in agent familiarity with channels such as self-service and chat, and the seamlessness in which CRM solutions enable you to interact among the channels. This is especially true with an almost urgent need to employ the social media channel where, for example, “listening” for context-specific Tweets regarding your company
and/or products has become a high priority for many executives.
I had not expected the huge surge of interest in employing the social media channel within an organization or the urgency surrounding it.
Contact centers can gain a lot of benefit from multichannel integrations, both in terms of improving customer relations and streamlining internal communications. [They] gain the ability to engage with the customer in any way that works best for the customer, and to use those channels to build communities.
Contact centers must deliver consistent answers to customer issues no matter how they are received – e-mail, phone, chat – but delivering on that is not as easy as it sounds. Each channel must trigger the same set of responses to a specific issue, not only in terms of information provided to the customer, but also for actions taken internally upon the receipt of this information. This is challenging enough for entirely internal or outsourced centers, but is particularly
difficult for hybrid contact centers that use a mix of in-house and external providers to manage customer interactions.
This is where technology and integration come into play. Each channel must access and integrate with internal business applications and databases – including billing, entitlement and knowledge bases – across all providers, both internal and outsourced.
This level of integration traditionally required extensive custom development, but newer technologies use business process management and reusable drag-and-drop integrations within these workflows to ensure streamlined interfaces. This approach also keeps costs low by eliminating the vast majority of the custom development required to establish the right integrations and connectivity between applications.
To be successful [in deploying multichannel communications], contact centers must deploy the right technology that enables them to deliver consistent responses across all channels, and that enables them to maintain tight integration between channels and with internal business applications and databases.
For contact centers entering into the social collaboration arena, executive buy-in is key. Coupled with that, contact center management must be tasked with the ability to hire or move particular individuals into the social support team who are experts in navigating social networking avenues (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.). These contact center experts must be able to act quickly in real-time situations. They must be able to communicate to their customers in a casual written style, exude empathy and show passion for the needs of their clients through these avenues.
We also strongly encourage contact centers to review all business processes prior to deploying technology. The best technology applied to a poor business process won’t improve the outcome; it will just automate it. It’s important to find a contact center technology that makes it easy to create and update workflows and business processes – particularly those that don’t require a lot of external programming – to keep all channels of the contact center current
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