This blog first appeared on Contact Centre News.
According to Douglas Adams, nothing travels faster than bad news. As an avowed technophile, the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy author would probably agree that today something does outstrip it, and that’s the pace of technological change.
The problem for contact centres is that they are enabled by enterprise IT – which changes relatively slowly – and yet must interact with consumer IT devices, which constantly evolve.
Any piece of contact centre infrastructure or CRM software more than three or four years old is probably already obsolete when it comes to providing the functions that are important to customers today.
What customers value most are having a choice of channel and getting a speedy resolution to their issues. This now means transitioning to a 24/7 omnichannel world of multiple digital devices. This is easier said than done, because of those enterprise IT investments that need to play out over a certain number of years to show their worth.
Four main IT challenges for today’s contact centre:
• The ever-changing customer service technology ecosystem
• Cultural shift – sharing of customer touchpoints, business processes, data management and technology
• How to join up customer experiences across old and new channels whilst driving customer service automation
• Pressure on IT to deliver more with same or less resource but to drive innovation
To win over customers in an always-on, omnichannel world means everything has to be joined up: business processes, front and back offices, departments, and particularly customer journeys.
IT systems even a few years old lack scalability and agility, and worst of all, they don’t play that well with other systems and applications.
The problem then arises when you want to add new functions, new channels, and new ways of doing things – and do all these things in a coordinated way. You end up with something like this:
Omnichannel IT demands
To deliver modern omnichannel customer experiences, three elements are essential:
• Sophisticated integration to get all your systems working with each other across multiple channels, departments, and data silos.
• A single point of orchestration for comms and customer journeys, and a single view of the customer
• The ability to manage and add multiple channels, vendors, and APIs as they become available or get updated
The challenges here are not just focused on integration, but also on the pace of change. If you’ve just spent months of development time integrating Messenger into your legacy and cloud apps, what you do when Facebook changes the API, or when your customers suddenly all switch to WhatsApp?
What do you do when you can’t rip out and replace?
The UK’s largest provider of cloud contact centre solutions has, as you might expect, a great product portfolio. The problem is that most of these products were built for a desktop-only world.
While their clients all need to start meeting the omnichannel demands of their customers, none of them can simply afford to bail on the large capital investments they made in contact centre infrastructure, telephone systems or CRM and back-office software.
This solutions provider solved the problem by bolting on a solution that added the functionality their users needed and extended the lifecycle of many of their flagship products by half a decade. Here’s how it worked.
A separate orchestration platform
Of course, all integration does is allow systems to pass information back and forth between one another. It’s essential work – equivalent to ensuring all the members of the orchestra show up to the concert hall with their instruments.
The next step is to get them to play Bach’s Overture in D Major together flawlessly. This is a little more difficult, which is why it requires a highly trained and experienced conductor.
An omnichannel orchestration platform is at one end integrated with your existing onsite or cloud systems, and at the other with any number of pre-integrated channels. As everything goes through the platform, you can set triggers and build workflows that dictate how your IT systems interact with channels.
Any business or customer event in a system can be a trigger. For example, a lifecycle point, a piece of critical comms, a Facebook post by an unhappy customer, a cart abandoned. With a drag-and-drop interface, you simply add trigger events from different systems and tell the orchestration what to do. For example, if an email is received from a customer in Salesforce, send this particular SMS back to the customer.
By chaining events together you create tailored, personalised customer journeys built on business logic, without needing to replace any of your existing systems. You can even create branching paths combining multiple possibilities, and which hand off between live and automated channels.
For example, if a customer sends an SMS to cancel an appointment, you might schedule this for follow up by an agent to find out why. On the other hand, low-value, repetitive interactions – such as filling in a form – could be pushed to automated channels. The result is that each type of interaction at each stage of a process is handled in the most appropriate and cost-effective manner.
Manage customer channels
There are currently no contact centre infrastructure or software platforms that offer all the channels pre-integrated. And of course there are new channels emerging and being adopted by customers every year.
Most channels can be accessed with APIs. What’s time-consuming to set up and keep up-to-date is the need to integrate every one of your systems with each of the channels you’d like to use.
Let’s say you use Salesforce for leads, SAP for CRM, and Genesys as your contact centre platform. Rather than have each of these integrate separately with, say, Messenger, each system integrates with the orchestration layer, which in turn connects them with the channels.
When a channel API changes, or a new channel gets added – Alexa for example – or a new function like chatbots gets added – the only thing that needs to adapt is the orchestration layer.
Business benefits of optimised omnichannel journeys
Using an orchestration layer to deliver customer journeys that seamlessly cross channels and mix automated and live agent assistance can result in some impressive figures. Clients of ours have reported, for instance, 40% improvements in NPS and CSAT scores, 100% faster resolution rates, 60% better first contact rates, 15% lower inbound call volumes, and a massive 25% reduction in operational costs.
A claims management company, for example, was spending 60p/minute chasing up customers for document with live agent outbound calls. Switching to proactive chat-based messaging saved one hour of time per agent per day, while 78% of customers responded within 24 hours.
For a high street bank, we quickly integrated Messenger into their suite of contact centre channels, as its social media team was being swamped by customer service queries. Now customer satisfaction rates have soared while inbound calls have dropped 15%.
We also helped a large utilities company leap up OFWAT’s customer service table by delivering proactive outage alerts via SMS and automated meter readings via two-way messaging.
None of these customers had to replace a single existing IT system, as all the channel integration and the set-up of the new customer journeys was handled by the orchestration platform. This centralised management layer also allows for data collection which feeds back into improving experiences and efficiency, and for the rapid prototyping and scaling of customer journeys.
When the only thing you know for sure is that everything will be constantly changing, adapting your technology infrastructure to cope with this fact is key to remaining flexible and competitive.