As consumers flock to digital and mobile channels for their speed and ease of use, companies are striving to improve customer experience with omni-channel strategies. Matt Hooper, SVP with cloud communications specialist IMImobile, looks at why in-house and outsourced contact centres should adopt ‘Best-of-Breed’ digital and mobile messaging platforms to deliver on the demands of both their customers and boardrooms.
Sometime during 2017 the number of customer interactions over digital channels will surpass the number of interactions by telephone.
Already, according to the latest Global Contact Centre Benchmarking report from Dimension Data, more than 42% of interactions are conducted over assisted and self-service digital channels. These include SMS, webchat, social media, chat bots, mobile apps, and OTT messaging services like WhatsApp, Skype and Facebook Messenger.
In a recent survey for Digital Marketing Trends, Econsultancy asked companies to state the single most exciting forthcoming business opportunity. The results?
Customer experience (or CX) came in first, beating content marketing and mobile marketing.
This past year, Gartner has deemed customer experience the new battlefield for marketers. The analyst firm has predicted that by 2017, 50% of consumer product investments will be redirected to customer experience innovations and 89% of marketers expect customer experience to be their primary differentiator.
This has led Mercedes Benz USA President & CEO, Steve Cannon to say that "Customer experience is the new marketing."
Creating truly unique experiences that build lasting customer relationships is the future.
The rise of digital and mobile channels
Consumers increasingly respond to unique and innovative experiences, particularly over digital and mobile channels. They also favour convenience and speed over almost anything else – and these are of course two things at which the new channels really excel.
SMS, OTT (Over-the-Top) Messaging services like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, in-app messaging and push notifications, social media, and even email and IVR, all offer significant cost and efficiency advantages over the traditional voice channel, for both consumer and company. They are also becoming increasingly popular with consumers who spend 90% of their time on their smartphones using email, SMS and messaging apps.
There will be more than 2 billion users of OTT Messaging services by 2018. While less than a fifth of consumers regularly use mobile chat apps to talk to companies and access customer service, over 50% say they would be open to doing so. So-called ‘conversational commerce’ – where chat becomes the next user interface for retail – is expected to follow a similar trend to mobile apps and quickly become a multi-billion-dollar industry.
The omni-channel customer experience
The purpose of an omni-channel strategy is to improve customer experience while increasing efficiency by offering a unified brand experience. Because digital and mobile channels are more efficient for both the customer to use and for the company to operate, they allow both objectives to be achieved at the same time.
Outsourcers are today increasingly judged on their ability to transform the functions they manage. In the contact centre environment, that means outsourcers are increasingly expected to be able to offer an integrated, omni-channel, digital and mobile customer experience.
But simply offering additional channels is not enough. Omni-channel is not just about multiple channels, it is about the integration of all those channels into a single, fluid customer experience. Customer journeys today may well cross multiple channels, involve numerous business processes, and even be managed by several different external suppliers. Outsourced contact centre providers must therefore be able to integrate flexibly and lightly with their clients’ external systems, and with those of other providers, in order to manage their part of the customer journey.
The challenges for clients and outsourcers
Any company wishing to offer effective omni-channel customer experiences, must have the ability to:
- Obtain a single view of the customer and ensure this context is preserved in each interaction, and that each interaction is handled by the most appropriate person and channel.
- Design, orchestrate and optimise customer journeys which cross channels, business functions and business processes.
Unsurprisingly, the majority of companies state that their existing technology is the biggest roadblock to omni-channel. Unless ripping and replacing most of the existing contact centre architecture is an option – and it generally isn’t, particularly in the outsourcing world – what’s needed is a simple omni-channel digital application layer that can work with existing systems.
With this application layer in place a company can ensure that its existing hardware, software, systems, and suppliers work together to ensure customer journeys are seamless between channels, and that customer information ‘flows’ between channels and between teams (whether internal, external, or both).
At the contact centre infrastructure level, while most providers have added email, web chat or other channels as point solutions, the ability to provide a true omni-channel experience is only just emerging as a technical capability.
The real digital challenge, it seems, is in getting the operational reality to match up to the strategic ambition. The more use a company makes of outsourcers the more challenges it has to deliver the necessary levels of integration.
Modern contact centres are built on essentially two technology layers. The first is the software systems used by agents and back office staff. These include the agent desktop, the CRM system, knowledge bases, analytics for MI, and back office tools used to run workflow.
Feeding into these systems is the contact centre infrastructure, which is essentially all the stuff that connects agents with customers. This includes the telephone system, the switch, routers, and supporting software for workforce management, scheduling, skills-based routing and so on.
The two elements are generally connected by a CTI (computer telephony integration) layer, which could be provided by either a CRM or infrastructure supplier.
A key dilemma that many contact centre operators are having to face up to is: Where do the new digital channels sit, and which type of supplier should provide them?
The thinking is that the CRM supplier can deliver solutions that integrate well with the business processes that agents use – and the software that runs these – but which would be poorly integrated with the company’s communications systems. Switching from channel to channel is therefore more difficult as the infrastructure to integrate digital interaction channels in many cases does not yet exist. Or if it does, it requires some pretty costly systems integration.
On the other hand that problem is alleviated by looking to infrastructure providers for digital channels. However, then there’s a high probability that some expensive middleware, or professional services work, is going to be required to get the new channels talking with the CRM system, agent desktop and other back office systems.
The adoption of new IT platforms, particularly in large organisations like consumer contact centres and outsourcing providers, is often slow. There are always legacy systems, and right now the introduction of messaging based interaction to the contact centre can be addressed though several different routes.
It’s important to keep business objectives in mind though when making technology investments. Sometimes “starting simple” is more than sufficient to accomplish what needs to be done.
Remember that the business objective of an omni-channel strategy is the integration of all self-service and assisted channels with the business’s various units, technologies and processes to deliver a unified and, wherever possible, personalised brand experience.
Best of Breed
Delivering on the business objective means providing a simple view of customer engagement across channels, along with simple tools for contact centre agents and supervisors to manage and interact with customers on their chosen channel.
A unified digital interaction application can in effect provide the capability that sits between existing enterprise systems and the channels the company wants to use, and customers. It is channel agnostic, which means all digital channels can be managed through the system.
Best-of-breed digital interaction applications can these days deliver significant advantages in terms of cost, depth and richness of features, flexibility, and ease of integration.
1. Feature depth:
A digital omni-channel specialist understands the strengths and weaknesses of each digital interaction channel. At the back-end they can negotiate the best rates with carriers for connectivity traffic and manage that traffic to ensure the maximum up-time and lowest latency.
Their applications generally also come pre-packed with channel-specific features that would be missing from more generalist offerings. These include multichannel workflow capabilities, a supervisor and agent desktop environment designed for managing multiple channels without switching applications, and reporting facilities that enable the key metrics to be tracked consistently across all channels.
Additionally, the fragmentation of channels becomes less of an issue with a cloud application. OTT messaging channels from different providers (Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Twitter) can all easily be integrated using a single cloud application. The applications from most specialist providers will come with many of these channels pre-integrated. For future proofing purposes, the provider will keep all these channels up-to-date when the companies that run them upgrade their apps, APIs and terms of service, which they do frequently.
2. Orchestration capability:
The major benefit of having a single, integrated application for all digital and mobile channels – working alongside voice of course – is the ability to genuinely orchestrate interactions and whole customer journeys.
As the digital application is integrated with the CRM system, it becomes the ‘system of record’ that enables a single customer view. This means customer and transaction data is always available no matter the channel.
Just as important is the ability to use this data to design and deliver channel-crossing customer journeys. By integrating with the contact centre infrastructure, a digital application allows interactions to be intelligently routed to appropriate channels, systems and agents based on the customer’s preference, and which stage of their current customer journey they have reached. As the system knows this it can route and personalise interactions automatically once workflows have been set up.
3. Cloud benefits:
A SaaS / PaaS deployment model, whether on public, private or hybrid cloud, brings many benefits. The obvious one is the ability to reduce or entirely remove capital expenditure from the equation. Companies in the outsourcing sector generally do not invest in technology up-front, until a client has a need. A ‘pay-as-you-go’ model enables outsourcers to expand their service offerings just-in-time with very little risk.
Cloud-based applications also benefit enormously from the use of APIs which enable a deep yet light touch integration with existing systems. Rather than replacing legacy systems, a digital channel cloud application sits over the top of existing systems and gets them talking to one another. This enhances effectiveness and extends the lifecycles of legacy software and systems, which is an immediate ROI win. Cloud based applications also do not care where the systems they integrate with are physically located, which brings additional flexibility to location strategies and enables remote and home working.
The strategy is up to you, but get the right technology
Ultimately, procuring the technology for digital omnichannel is only, at best, half the story. As always it’s up to the end-user to have an omnichannel strategy that makes best use of it. While interactive digital channels do need to fit in to the company’s existing technology infrastructure, API integration with cloud platforms is generally fast and easy these days, giving companies many options for integration into their CRM and contact centre infrastructure stacks.
With the technology issues solved, the question becomes a much more creative one of designing innovative and interesting customer journeys that dovetail with the brand, improve satisfaction and loyalty, and generate increased returns. While outsourcers should also be ready to make a contribution there, that’s a story for another day.
IMImobile have published a new white paper that looks at how contact centres are coping with the challenges of delivering an omni-channel experience utilising digital and mobile engagement channels and best practises in digital customer interaction. To download a free copy please click here: https://imimobile.com/white-paper-digital-contact-centre/
Matt Hooper, SVP Global Marketing, IMImobile
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