SOCAP International

The Omni-Channel Contact Center

  • Cover Story

In the contact center of the future, all channels will merge. Here are tips to help the transition.

Customer relationship management systems are the lifeblood of any brand or company looking to capture any and all interactions with current and future customers, and gain valuable insight into the minds of their consumers. Whether sales or service-related, CRM should be part of the company’s overall business strategy. When properly strategized, CRM helps companies better understand and retain customers, resolve complaints, attract new customers, decrease costs and, most importantly, increase profitability.

Today’s digital world, however, has drastically changed the nature of CRM, giving brands more customer touch points than ever. This will force tomorrow’s contact centers to take a more omni-channel approach to customer care. To evolve into an omni-channel center, three areas must change: customer interaction, technology and staffing.

The key is moving beyond channel strategy and toward a consistent customer interaction strategy across all contact channels.

Customer Interaction

First, the future will demand that contact centers be prepared to handle customer interaction regardless of the channel. The evolution of additional channels should not be of surprise to consumer affairs professionals, as it simply continues a cycle of what has been happening for decades: mail, then phone, then email, then chat, then social and mobile.

Second, contact centers will be at the forefront of, and will work closely with, marketing to ensure consistent messaging and voice across all channels. The key is moving beyond channel strategy and toward a consistent customer interaction strategy across all contact channels. In many cases today, inconsistencies abound when reviewing customer interaction practices across channels. In social media, those inconsistencies even exist within the same property. One customer with an issue is treated one way, while another with the same issue is treated differently. Customers are becoming more savvy and the future will push both strategy and execution to a point where they can expect a consistent experience regardless of channel.

Third, because of the ease and immediacy of social media, customers are no longer content waiting—not for a few days, 24 hours or sometimes even an hour to receive a response from a company. Customers want their answers immediately and will be persistent until their request is met, or in some cases, they simply move on to a competitor. Recognizing the need for immediacy and adapting to it is paramount for brands to succeed in CRM in the future. A brand that is more attentive to its customers and their questions, comments and complaints will have the opportunity to capitalize on the word of mouth nature of social media and create positive buzz. Those who fail to adapt will find themselves overwhelmingly generating negative buzz.

Technology

Measurement, measurement, measurement is a key focus in both current contact centers and those of the future, and one that will require new and improved technologies. Social media as an additional customer touch point was an area originally owned by marketing. Brands have done a wonderful job of using social media to support their marketing efforts. It follows suit then, that the technology that was used to support marketing socialmedia efforts would have served those in marketing.

However, as customers use social media for customer service, and contact centers take a larger role in supporting customer interaction via social media, the need for technology to support the desired outcome to operationalize social media becomes larger. For example, social media and traditional CRM will need to be integrated. Social media cannot continue to exist in a silo separate from all other consumer channels.

In addition, as in all other channels within the multichannel contact center, brands and their contact center agents and representatives will have to develop servicelevel metrics, as well as productivity goals. Measuring how well a team is doing and specific individuals is second nature to a contact center. Having technology to support these measurements for social media is something that contact centers will most likely have to drive as they strengthen partnerships with either the current or emerging group of social-media monitoring vendors.

Staffing

As all contact channels merge in the contact center of the future, new staffing models must be taken into consideration. New skill sets, like social-media monitoring and engagement, become more attractive to brands. However, it does not mean that all agents should be responsible for providing service for all contact channels. Contact centers should identify those agents that are qualified to work in multiple channels and assign them appropriately. Staffing assignments become more critical than ever in the contact center of the future.

Beyond employing the right people with the necessary skill sets, there’s a need to ensure that contact centers are building the right staffing models that take into consideration all consumer channels. Insights into an agent’s level of productivity, volume and hours of operations that typically were only available for the traditional consumer channels, need to be defined for the emerging channels and utilized within future workforce management tools. With the development of new technologies, this type of information is key to measuring success and accountability.

Recognizing the need for immediacy and adapting to it is paramount for brands to succeed in CRM in the future.

Strategies to Consider

The contact center of the present is already undergoing an evolution towards the contact center of the future. Now is the time for brands to be proactive in strategizing and preparing. Below are three things to keep in mind when developing strategies for the contact center of the future:

1. Be connected: Assume virtual connectivity 24/7. Every year, customers become more and more connected— first with the web, then smartphones and social media, and now a combination of all three. In the future, connectivity will only increase and brands will have to adapt quickly. As such, centers must develop and implement technologies to support mobile interactions and instantaneous responses.

2. Be proactive: Take the initiative to have a deeper conversation with customers beyond the initial interaction. Social media gives brands a unique opportunity to create an ongoing conversation with the customer. Instead of waiting for the customer inquiry, brands must insert themselves, when appropriate, into a customer conversation to encourage engagement.

3. Be intelligent: Become the intelligence center for the organization. With access to data from multiple consumer channels, CRM has an opportunity to play a huge role in the overall strategy of the business, especially in regards to the various emerging customer touch points. As such, the CRM function should be integrating the data from all channels of communication, mining for consumer insights and relaying that information throughout the company. Insights can and should be used to determine business strategies, product innovation, and sales and marketing techniques.

Keys to Success:

The “Sweet 16”

The contact center of the future presents incredible opportunities for brands to engage with their customers and build loyalty like never before. They will be able to integrate all CRM efforts and become one unified brand that not only attracts new customers, but promotes repeat customers and ultimately contributes to the company’s bottom line. Changes will have to be made, but those who adapt will reap the rewards. Here are the “Sweet 16”—keys to success every brand should implement to remain on top in the contact center of the future:

1. Develop a customer interactions strategy. Like every other aspect of a business, CRM demands a strategy and should be considered an integral part of any brand’s business.

2. Partner with the right technology. Technology is key in the contact center of the future, so finding the right partner is an important part of the process. Find the right vendor who meets all your needs, and who is thinking about the needs of the future.

3. Staff appropriately. New contact channels have new needs and appropriate staffing is crucial for success.

4. Sync teams across all channels. The introduction of social media has added additional agencies that now interact with your customers. Ensure they all work as one multichannel contact center.

5. Train customer service. Arm the contact center staff with the customer service techniques you’d like them to use and build in formal social-care training.

6. Measure. Develop new metrics to measure CRM across all contact channels—current and emerging.

7. Listen to the customer’s message. Respond appropriately to each instance to ensure customer satisfaction and tailor each interaction to build loyalty.

8. Don’t avoid difficult topics or conversations. Social media is not a good place for a brand to hide. Be smart and plan for the unexpected, but also be prepared to be forthcoming and direct on anticipated sensitive topics.

9. Monitor beyond the brand. Take social-media monitoring one step further and look beyond the brand. Monitor competitors and industry related issues and topics.

10. Be proactive. While monitoring social media, if you are not sure if someone needs help, simply ask them. Identify who you are and ask if they need help with anything.

11. Be consistent. A customer is an individual and will attach emotion to any interaction or lack of interaction you may have with them. If you like a photo from one customer and ignore another, what type of customer experience are you creating for that second customer?

12. Confirm with the customer. Take customer service the extra step by confirming that the customer has everything they need. In some cases, it may mean a follow up response a few days after the initial conversation.

13. Be timely. Don’t sit on comments or complaints. Your community may respond, but there are times when a quick and accurate response is crucial.

14. Articulate expectations. Avoid complaints by clearly articulating expectations like service hours or response times.

15. Make it easy for the customer. Don’t make the customers do any more work than they have to. For example, if they ask a question via a nontraditional contact channel, don’t send them to one of the traditional contact channels for the answer.

16. Think about customer/community perception. Before hitting send, always think about how the response will be perceived not only by the customer, but by the community as well.

With access to data from multiple consumer channels, CRM has an opportunity to play a huge role in the overall strategy of the business.

Although the future typically refers to things far off—10, 20, 25 years—the contact center of the future is already here in some form. The omni-channel function is in its nascent stages, as many more people are turning to nontraditional channels for customer service, in some cases, whether the brand is there or not.

Anyone needing further proof needs only look at the results of a Harris Interactive survey (Right Now’s 4th Annual Customer Experience Impact Report, 2009), which found that 86 percent of consumers stopped doing business with a company because of a bad customer experience, 89 percent began doing business with a competitor following a poor customer experience and 59 percent will try a new brand or company for a better service. Brands must adapt because their customers will be changing with or without them—and the time to adapt is now.

13-MacDaniel_John_headshotJohn MacDaniel, senior director of voice of the customer for Telerx, has more than 25 years of experience in the contact center industry. Since 2008, MacDaniel has focused on defining and expanding the contact center’s role in supporting brand social-media initiatives. He works with a number of Fortune 500 companies, helping them leverage their contact center operations to provide engagement and monitoring services, as well as a social-media reporting solution that integrates traditional with emerging metrics.