Leveraging Omnichannel in Customer Care
Almost every company needs to manage an ongoing conversation with customers. It could be for the handling of complaints. It could be that your customers ask for a lot of information before making a purchase. Or it could just be that your customers are particularly social.
The customer service channel used to be strictly defined; customers were guided to a free phone number or email address. These defined channels were how they could get in touch and communicate with the customer service team, but in the past five years this has been turned upside down.
Now it is the customers that define which channel they want to use and if a customer makes a choice about the communication channel they prefer then any smart company will reply on the same channel. The explosion of social networks and the mobile Internet has completely changed how people communicate with each other and this has had a major effect on how brands communicate with their customers.
Think about all the different ways that you have communicated with a company recently. I’m sure that you might have used channels such as a voice call, email, chat or instant messaging, Facebook, Twitter, and product review pages like Tripadvisor.
You might be even more sophisticated and cutting edge than me, but even this list consists of half a dozen ways that consumers are regularly using to communicate with brands.
Managing these channels has been a challenge for many companies, but adding extra channels to the existing customer service function isn’t the only requirement. What companies need to manage is a single view on who they are – an omnichannel communication strategy.
Think of an airline customer who made a mistake during their flight booking. They realize the error and want to find out if it is possible to make a change without a heavy penalty. The customer is in a hurry so she tweets the airline this question then jumps in her car. On arriving at the office there has been no response so she emails the question and then gets on with her work. By lunchtime, with no response to the tweet or email she calls and finds that the agent has no idea that she has already attempted to ask this question twice that morning. The customer then gets angry because the agent says that any booking errors must be rectified within an hour of the booking taking place.
The customer response in this situation is likely to be a screamed “I did tell you immediately on Twitter” only for the agent to respond, “but I cannot see that information, therefore nothing can be done.”
Customer service teams need the ability to connect together various strands of data so all customer communications can be overseen, regardless of the channel used. Customers really do hop about from one channel to another today because each channel offers different advantages – often related to time.
In this example, the voice agent might not be able to answer the question any faster, but if the call is answered and the agent immediately says, “I can see that you asked us a question a couple of hours ago. I can confirm that we can change your details because you informed us immediately” then the satisfaction of the customer is entirely different to the example where the agent knows nothing about any other service channels.
But to really make the omnichannel work well, you don’t just need a way of pulling together the various channels. Two other areas of planning are critical:
- Monitoring; often the customer talking about your products on a channel such as Twitter is not directing the comment at you. You need to go out and find what people are saying on various channels so that you can respond – this needs some sophisticated monitoring of blogs, social networks, and review sites.
- Ability to change; channels are developing all the time. The texting app Whatsapp is quickly developing into a new channel that many customers are using, but if you have outsourced all your customer care to a provider that has a very inflexible contract then how can you add new channels, drop unused ones, and ensure that your customer care team is always ready to help, regardless of which channel is used?
Managing the omnichannel is about more than just adding multiple channels. It needs planning to work well and it is essential that you get this right – your customers expect it!
Executive Vice President of Marketing, Teleperformance
Amit is responsible for leading product innovation, business intelligence, brand management, public relations, demand generation, and other associated go-to-market activities for Teleperformance’s EWAP region. Amit brings a tenured history in the BPO arena having served in strategic planning, marketing, sales, product development and operations. Most recently, he served as the Chief Marketing Officer at leading BPO organizations. Amit is a contributor to various publications such as the Wall Street Journal, NY Times, and BusinessWeek. He is a frequent speaker at thought leadership seminars and conferences globally. Amit has a very global perspective having lived, and being educated, in 3 continents.
Social media contact centers: What new teams, training and processes will be needed?
Social media is rapidly maturing and has emerged as a major new customer support channel — one controlled by the customer, not your company. For some major brands, social media now makes up 10% of all inbound volume, and is still seeing swift adoption as most customers move to ‘social first’ forms of communication with the contact center. The immediacy of social media has many customers asking themselves, why would I sit on hold, or email and risk waiting days for a response, when I can just Tweet from my iPhone and get a fast response, sometimes within minutes
Social media is not like email or chat; its public nature means that a mistake can have huge ramifications for your company. At the same time, its rules and constraints can make mistakes very easy. If an agent is switching between private, traditional channels and public, social channels, they will slow down as they have to constantly re-think workflows and processes.
Social media also has different consumer expectations from other digital channels. It combines real-time expectations with asynchronous workflow. Responding with the same SLAs as email (often measured in days) would be disastrous — consumers expect a social media response in well under an hour (with first response time for many leading brands now counted in the minutes). At the same time, holding a social media conversation open like a chat would be extremely inefficient; the customer may not respond for 30 minutes.
Staffing the social contact center
All of these differences are driving fundamental changes in the operations of the contact center. While some companies may attempt to have ‘blended agents’ who handle a mix of private, traditional channels and public, social channels in the same shift or with the same tools, this is a recipe for disaster (or, at the minimum, significantly worse customer experience and agent efficiency).
That’s why social customer service requires a different approach, with new teams, training and new processes. As a result, we’ve seen the rise of completely dedicated social customer support teams. These teams are inside the contact center, but with a unique team of agents trained in social media, being managed separately. Having a dedicated team is the best way to get started with social customer service. Training a small number of agents is simpler; and it’s easier to reinforce the right behavior, with constant attention. New policies and behavioural norms need to be created, often from scratch or on the fly, so it’s important that these can spread quickly between the agents.
Social media focused executives must keep two main considerations, however, when building a social contact team: resourcing and agent satisfaction. Resourcing for social customer service requires different forecasting methods. If inbound volume in social media spikes and you have stable volume on other channels, you cannot move your other agents onto social media. The risks are too high when any tweet they send could be seen by millions. Unless you have a very large dedicated team, it can even be hard to match normal shift patterns to varying volume needs over the course of the day and week; and offering 24 hour service can be a nightmare to implement. Combined, this can mean huge backlogs and wildly varying SLA performance.
Agent satisfaction can be higher owing to social media customer service in general being more informal and more human than traditional channels. Social agents often have more freedom, and enjoy their work far more than over traditional channels. The social media team is a highly coveted role for most agents. Although this is great, having a dedicated team limits this benefit to a small number of your agents. Widening the pool increases agent satisfaction more widely — reducing staff attrition, which can have a huge impact on the bottom line.
The well-oiled machine
Blending resourcing and agent satisfaction can lead to a more unified customer data and reporting across channels. With training, processes and management clearly established in many companies, it’s now time to help spread the workload and bring more social media savvy agents into the fold. Instead of a team of 10 dedicated social agents, you should be looking to train a much wider base of your digital agents in social media, who can each take dedicated shifts in social media according to demand.
This approach allows you benefit from significantly more efficient resourcing, the ability to hit consistently high SLA performance, and to have higher general agent satisfaction. It also makes you much more ready to deal with sudden social media spikes or crises.
Social media has grown phenomenally over the past few years—but now it is time for social media to grow up. The time of separate, dedicated social teams—whether within the business as a whole (usually run by marketing), or inside the contact center—is drawing to a close. The future is one of social deeply integrated into the contact center, no longer treated as an ungainly step child, but instead the best way of engaging with a mobile, social audience. It’s time to put social first, but not social alone.
Paul Johns has served as CMO for a variety of young technology startups, bringing them public by defining company strategy and developing advocacy, as well as growing each business through product development, channel marketing, partnerships and acquisitions. Paul was previously Global Head of Marketing Communications at Thomson Reuters. Prior to that, Paul held various CMO positions at successful companies, including Genesys Lab, Orchestria, Axiom Systems and Broadbase Software (now Kana).
15 Best Practices For a Seamless Customer Experience
67% of online shoppers have made purchases that involved multiple channels in the past 6 months. Yet, only 7% are extremely satisfied that brands provide a seamless, integrated and consistent customer service experience across channels. In order to maintain a consistent experience for customers across all channels, the proper data needs to be available and messaging tailored to the specific medium in which it is delivered. Here are a set of best practices for providing the highest level of service to multichannel connected customers:
- Create a baseline experience or “feel” that will be associated with the brand and consistent through all channels. This can be achieved through front-line employee recruiting profiles, visual branding through company logos/imagery, and having a mission statement and values that are clearly understood by all employees. Once a foundation is built, monitoring and ongoing development is needed to maintain high quality service levels.
- Robust training is necessary to ensure front-line representatives are communicating the brand the way it should be. It’s important for management to be involved in the training process, especially during the first few days as it will help new hires to feel valued.
- Team Leaders should be provided with clear daily, weekly, and monthly expectations for the number of contacts that should be monitored and frequency of coaching sessions that should be administered. The coaching sessions should be observed through triad sessions with upper management and skip-level meetings between front-level employees and upper management. Training should be an ongoing process that involves feedback from the brand itself.
- Take the time to review chat logs, customer emails, keyword searches, and call center recordings, as the data recovered will highlight common issues. Watch for similarities in customer complaints such as what channel they’re using, response time, or unclear explanations.
- In addition to complaints, channel usage data will clearly show which channels are underutilized and can possibly be cut from the customer service offering. It is important to be present in multiple environments, as some customers will feel more comfortable reaching out through one medium than another. Offering multiple channels will avoid alienation for particular customer segments and ensure consumer issues are communicated to the support team as opposed to being left alone and ultimately, causing the loss of a customer for the business. As important as it is to have a multichannel service offering, it’s more important to be where YOUR customers are. If your customers hate reaching out through live chat, and usage numbers are consistently low, it might be time to rethink that specific channel in your strategy. Taking this approach will focus and maximize CSR support and resources.
- There are approximately 1.08 billion smartphones active in the world today (Smart Insights). Many are using their smartphones to make purchases and interact with brands, leading many of these brands to make mobile a top priority in their customer care strategies. One issue in particular getting a lot of attention is the proper development of company mobile sites. Mobile sites can often be frustrating for consumers if they aren’t designed correctly. Mobile sites should be tested from various devices; what works great on an iPhone might work horribly on an Android device.
- Stay ahead of the curve by keeping up with new technological advancements. Adopt and test new formats and become experts in each preferred choice of communication.
- Keep all of your employees on the same page by updating them on the most current online and in store experiences, product changes, recalls, etc. Review common questions and complaints that come up and how they should be answered, specific to each channel. It is also important to be transparent, if directed, in customer interactions. Perhaps they don’t know about a particular update or product that has recently been released. They may discover they prefer a new option to an old one they were accustomed to.
- Provide seamless and integrated communication across all channels, allowing for a consistent consumer experience, regardless of the contact type. This will eliminate having to re-hash the consumer’s issue from one contact type to the next. Quality should be performed with the same effort and time over each channel and be similar in its elements to ensure a solid benchmark of account performance, as well as a consistent consumer experience.
- Be transparent with the brands you work with. Communicate and clearly explain channel specific metrics. For example, response time/service level are critical issues for phone, but can be extended for email, or understanding that it is not always best to have the same CSR’s handling a combination of channels.
- Encourage customers to use self-direct learning or self-help when possible, by providing them with links to where they can find the information they’re seeking online. This will not only reduce calls or emails to the center, but also increase the level of convenience for the customer, as they can access the information they’re seeking at a time that works best for them.
- Customer inquiries should be responded to as quickly as possible. Calls should be answered within 30 seconds of entering the queue and emails within 24 hours. Templates can be used when replying to consumers via email, increasing processing speed of the files. Reps can be empowered to customize email templates to ensure their emails address the questions and concerns brought forth, and when appropriate, also be able to compose written communication from scratch.
- If a second email is received from the same customer, choose not to email back, but rather to call the guest for a more personal resolution. This helps to build the relationship between the customer and guest relations and their confidence in the service level of the brand.
- When call and email queues become very busy, priority should be given to inbound calls and then emails. All applicable agents should reply to emails in between receiving calls. If they’re working on an email when a call comes in, they should put it aside to complete once their call is over. Balancing service levels is not only important to fulfill business and contact requirements, but also to respond to the guest in a timely manner. By dedicating time and agents to different duties, will increase productivity.
- Don’t wait for your employees to get bored with their work, inspire them to compete in a healthy way with their fellow co-workers. Create various agent and leadership incentive programs to drive specific behaviours in each channel.
- Your customer care team should be proactively reaching out to customers to communicate upcoming changes, news, etc., through multiple channels, with the same consistent message. Ensure your staff is properly educated on all changes and the best way to communicate them to customers, to avoid surprises.
Following a set of best practices helps us evaluate our efforts, keeping strategies and techniques that work and implementing/adapting other best practices to see if they can help us achieve our goals. They allow us to develop customer loyalty, communicate in a clear, consistent way, and provide flexible, customized, and calculated customer service that ultimately keeps both customers and our clients happy.
Matt Wheatley – Vice President of Customer Experience (CX)
As Vice President of Customer Experience, Matt is responsible for supporting all existing customer relationships, including implementation, revenue streams and transforming voice of the agent information into actionable customer insights.
Matt has been with 24-7 Intouch since 2010, holding multiple roles within Business Development and Social Media Management. He has worked with strategic business partners to incorporate technology and enhance the company’s product and service offerings.
Prior to joining 24-7 Intouch, Matt held senior management roles in Customer Service, Operations, Sales and Marketing. Matt’s educational background includes a degree in Computer Engineering and Masters in Business Administration, both from the University of Manitoba. He is also a professional Engineer registered with A.P.E.G.M.
Q & A with Darren Pleasance – Director of Global Customer Acquisitions, Google
Darren Plesance, Director of Global Customer Acquisitions at Google, will be keynoting at SOCAP’s 2015 Annual Conference, October 18-21 in Hollywood, Florida.
Q: The focus of SOCAP’s 2015 Annual Conference will be Customer Engagement—Today and Tomorrow. From your perspective at Google, what do you see as the key elements to effective customer engagement?
A: At Google, we look at the concept of “customer engagement” across the full lifecycle of a customer, starting from when they’re not even at customer at all. We’ve been working hard to optimize how we engage with customers from the first outreach as a potential customer, through the multi-month sales/education cycle, through early onboarding as a new customer, on into account management and growth with Google over time. Our goal is to educate and inspire our customers on the power of Google’s services to help them grow their business and improve the ROI on the investments they make.
To deliver a great customer experience across this lifecycle requires tight coordination between our marketing, sales, service, and engineering teams in ways that most companies have struggled to achieve. The handoffs have to be seamless, the insights we collect that inform how best to engage has to be done at scale, and our ability to “recover” well when we screw up requires strong systems as well as a culture of “do the right thing” that becomes quite challenging the larger a company gets. I think we’re doing a pretty good job at all of this now, though as is always the case, there’s certainly a lot more that we plan on doing as we look to the future.
I think Google’s biggest areas of distinctiveness on this topic are:
- “Lifecycle” view on customer engagement, from Prospect to High Value Customer
- Cross-org collaboration; many companies operate very siloed and we’ve broken a lot of those down with teams working together across the full lifecycle
- Engagement at scale: we use data and real-time signals to help guide our teams on how best to engage with a customer so that we deliver the best customer experience we can with the finite resources we’ve got
Q: What will be the one gamer changer for customer engagement in the future?
A: Big data and machine learning that allows companies to deliver a tailored and timely interaction with a customer that feels very personal and informed, while doing this at scale across millions of customers, through thousands of employees
Q: Please share one “off the resume” fact about yourself.
A: I used to fly for John Travolta and was also an Alaska Bush pilot in my early 20’s
Why Your Customer Experience Efforts Are Failing And What To Do About It
The customer experience bandwagon is picking up riders at a breakneck pace. These days everywhere you turn—blogs, white papers, videos, or other media—someone is talking about how to improve customer interactions to keep them engaged with brands and prevent them from switching allegiance to competitors.
However, creating a great customer experience is easier said than done in the contact center world. Consumer preferences evolve quickly, making it difficult to even really define what a great experience is and even harder to produce it. In the past, all you needed was a well-run call center and knowledgeable, friendly staff. Now, you need so much more.
Today’s consumers are more discerning and more demanding. They’ve become accustomed to connecting with friends and family over a variety of communications channels and expect to be able to do the same with their service providers. They require personalized attention and rapid resolution to their issues, and want instant, seamless, two-way communications with a live person using the technologies and devices that suit their lifestyle.
And more importantly, they want the freedom and flexibility to engage with sales and support teams at their convenience—24/7, across any communications channel, from anywhere in the world.
If your team can’t answer their questions and meet their needs, they’ll go find one that can. As a result, forward-thinking businesses need to seriously consider adopting new programs and strategies to connect with customers on the platforms and devices they prefer or risk them jumping ship to a competitor.
Bridging Gaps with Omni-channel Solutions
Historically, contact centers have relied on the good old telephone to support customer needs. But calling into a central customer support pool for help has been supplanted by other communications methods like email, social media, text, video, and live chat.
Different cross sections of your consumer base will prefer different modes of communication and your center needs to be prepared to handle that. For example, older customers may still prefer to call in and speak with a representative by phone when they have an issue. Meanwhile, Millennials often prefer texting or chatting to talking, and busy professionals sitting at their desk may opt for email because of the convenience and not wanting to interrupt the office vibe.
Many contact center leaders are realizing that offering one service, but not others is a recipe for losing customer trust and business. They try to catch up with consumer trends and by dedicating large portions of their operating budgets to purchase individual platforms to accommodate evolving customer preferences.
But unless you’ve staffed your center with specific teams trained to address each channel on every platform, you’re likely going to face some communications gaps that will not only produce a subpar customer experience, it may very well drive your customer elsewhere. Fortunately, there’s a better way.
Omni-channel contact center solutions can give you and your customer the best of all worlds. The integrated, cloud-based solutions close communications gaps by providing an all-in-one platform that combines:
- Social Media
These solutions are intuitive and easy to deploy with little training. More importantly, they enable employees to engage with customers when, where, and how the customer prefers from a single dashboard.
The result: a measurably better experience without having to add significant headcount or complexity to the center’s operations.
Give ‘Em What They Want
Customers are hard to earn and easy to lose. They’re really easy to lose when their needs aren’t met or when they have a less than great experience. As a contact center leader, you have a responsibility both to your business and to your customers. And if you’re not providing the right communications tools at the right time, you may very well be failing both.
Omni-channel platforms offer the best chance for your contact center to keep up with the changing demands of your customer base. When you can give customers what they want, when and how they want it, you can build longer, stronger relationships that result in higher customer satisfaction and revenues.
Darren Prine is a passionate advocate for great customer care and omnichannel communications. He is a Senior Sales Executive for Bright Pattern and resides in Murrieta, CA.