My previous post outlined how consumer behaviors are changing and technology is creating new expectations. While these should be welcome developments, they're posing major challenges to retailers. That post also explained why an omnichannel-enabled contact center is a critical part of the solution. In this article, I detail how omnichannel will help retailers positively impact both revenue and customer satisfaction.
Understanding the Customer Journey
With the growth of e-commerce, contact centers must now support retailers far beyond the fielding of simple everyday inquiries about their products. Today’s customers inundate retail businesses with increasingly complex requests and complaints from a wide variety of sources. With better web self-service, live agents must deal with what isn’t working on a website, not what is. With greater access to online retailers, a customer interaction may be about a better price one click away. With ubiquitous social media to and from any mobile device, a bad online or in-store shopping experience can quickly become a highly visible online complaint. Most contact-center environments haven't yet adapted to allow agents to respond effectively to these challenges in the amount of time expected.
It’s a daunting problem, but … cue the music … the hero of the story may yet be the contact center. To handle this new world of communication, the contact center must be capable of supporting customers as they move, both physically and virtually. It sounds complex, but the answer is the omnichannel contact center.
Omnichannel helps level the playing field in two ways. First, it allows agents to communicate with customers using their preferred channel(s). Not only does this mean adapting on the fly for voice, text or video, but also engaging by using just one mode for the session, changing modes if needed, or even using multiple modes concurrently. Even the most stressful situations become more manageable when agents can interact on the customer’s terms, making the process of solving their problem easier.
Imagine a customer begins a session online, perhaps on your mobile site, but runs into trouble with a purchase. Rather than providing them with a phone number on the site and forcing them to wait on hold in your IVR (which many consumers will no longer abide), you give them a single-click callback option that guarantees a rapid response. A minute later, their mobile phone rings back and your agent, fully-informed with everything the customer was trying to do on the site, is there to help with the purchase.
Higher order close rate? Check. Greater level of customer satisfaction? Check. This is the customer-facing side of omnichannel, where the self-service interaction seamlessly transitions into a live-assisted sale. Furthermore, if another agent is required or a follow-up interaction is used to check on satisfaction or offer an upsell, all of the data and context flows together.
The second aspect of omnichannel is more internally focused. The true power of this approach comes from deep integration across your organization with the contact center. For today’s customer, the contact center is the last resort, not the first. They use this option only after trying to solve their problem online or via social media, at which point there won’t be any easy questions, and agents will be dealing with anxious customers.
For agents to have a fighting chance, they need to know the customer’s history with your brand. This goes beyond basic CRM data. Rather than reacting to specific customer experiences, omnichannel enables agents to understand the customer’s journey and their relationship over time with your company. This insight empowers agents to get beyond problem solving to addressing needs that strengthen the relationship in ways that improve customer satisfaction.
To do that, agents need to draw information from a range of sources that collectively map out the customer journey. These sources could be operational — e.g., shipping, billing, marketing, etc. — global or specific to a retail location. They will certainly involve buying history and a record of customer-reported service issues. And they increasingly include social media activity between your company and the customer.
Furthermore, customer information resides across many channels — emails, texts, web chats, faxes, comment cards, etc. — and most companies lack the technology to integrate these into a common platform. As such, these various forms of information exist in silos, not accessible to agents in a way that helps them to understand the customer journey. When integrated and provided in an organized manner, this combination of data is a key foundation of how omnichannel coupled with good information helps the contact center provide optimal service.
Becoming More Customer-Centric
Omnichannel is more than a technology solution to a set of customer challenges. To succeed with omnichannel, retailers must embrace a customer-centric mindset. This goes beyond just what contact center agents do, of course, but it can start with the contact center. A business can start with some basic principles: identify the customer; differentiate important customers; allow customer information to flow seamlessly across channels and individuals; provide agents with a well-organized picture of the customer; empower the agent to make decisions.
A good omnichannel contact-center system can be the glue to connect these pieces together. However, technology is just an enabler for customer-centric process and management. The key is to think like the customer. They don’t care what device or channel they're using, they don’t care that a previous complaint went to another department — and neither should you. Think omnichannel, think customer-centric, and ultimately increase the lifetime value of your customers.
John Cray is vice president of product management for Enghouse Interactive, a contact center and unified communications software company.
Related story: The Omnichannel Demands of Today’s Consumers