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4 Facts About the Omni-Channel Customer Service Revolution

Brian Cantor

Derived and designed in the boardroom, many customer service initiatives hitch their wagons to the notion of luck.

They can align perfectly with widely touted customer service "best practices," rely on supremely innovative technology and demonstrate vast superiority over competitors’ offerings, but the initiatives ultimately emerge devoid of influence from the one voice that matters most: that of the customer.

Well-designed and executed initiatives might ultimately benefit the customer, but insofar as they are developed independently of legitimate customer sentiment and guidance, they come with no assurance of success.

There is a chance they will work out, boost satisfaction, grow loyalty and add to the bottom line. There is also a chance they will fall short or even in opposition to customer expectations and thus represent another failed contact center effort. Customers will remain unsatisfied. The investment will go insufficiently returned.

Omni-channel is not a typical customer service initiative.

A product not of vendor hype or organizational convenience but of a legitimate shift in the marketplace, the omni-channel movement predicates itself on an alignment between business and customer.

Not simply about serving customers in all channels or even in their preferred channels, the omni-channel movement involves transforming the perspective from which businesses engage. Instead of thinking like a "provider"—and determining which channels to offer and what investment to make into which one—it asks businesses to think like customers. It asks them to focus on assuring the experience the customer receives is efficient, effective and seamless no matter when, where and how he chooses to connect.

If a business approaches its effort from that mindset, it assures that the investments it makes and strategies it employs directly benefit the customer and thus improve the customer experience, satisfaction levels, loyalty levels and, ultimately, revenue levels.

Call Center IQ is gearing to launch its "Executive Report on Omni-Channel Customer Management" within the next two weeks. Before that goes live, enjoy these four facts on the omni-channel revolution.


1) Not everyone considers it urgent

Businesses have no trouble talking the talk when it comes to customer management. They often struggle to walk the walk.

Ideas that sound customer-centric and valuable in principle rarely manifest in immediate, vociferous action. Businesses might dabble in some new, buzzworthy initiatives, but it is rare that they go "all in" at rate at which they claim they need to go "all in."

In that sense, it is refreshing to see businesses at least being honest—and realistic—when it comes to their omni-channel strategies.

According to exclusive research conducted by Call Center IQ, 50% of businesses say they have no urgent plans to improve their commitment to the omni-channel revolution.

Intriguing about that statistic is the fact that only 20% of businesses say they have made significant or definitive progress in becoming an omni-channel organization, and 65% of those business do plan to make urgent improvements to their offerings.

That means the majority of businesses without plans to urgently improve their omni-channel offerings have not even made notable progress in becoming an omni-channel organization. The weak, it seems, will not get stronger.

It would be one thing if these organizations opposed the concept of omni-channel. After all, why should a business exercise urgency in implementing a strategy it does not believe is the right one?

That is not the case. Per the survey, only 4% of businesses maintain a conceptual opposition to omni-channel. 96% of businesses accept it as the valid approach to customer engagement.

Refreshing honesty aside, it is thus concerning that only 20% of businesses have made significant omni-channel progress and only 50% urgently plan to improve.

2) E-Mail and telephony are still the most popular channels

Hype might be on the side of "new" media like mobile applications, social networks, live chat and web self-service platforms, but practice still favors the most traditional channels.

That does not, however, mean some of the more buzzworthy channels are not making progress whatsoever.

According to the CCIQ research, 96% of businesses engage customers via e-mail. 94% do so with live telephone agents. The next most popular channels include telephone IVR (81%), Facebook (80%), Twitter (77%) and web self-service (76%).

Channels failing to gain traction include Tumblr (16%), video chat (21%), virtual agent support (27%), Google Plus (31%) and mobile applications (35%).

3) Cross-channel communication is paramount

From a linguistic standpoint, a business would need to offer engagement opportunities in every possible channel to warrant the omni-channel label.

From a customer-centric standpoint, a business would need to consistently accommodate customers’ channel preferences to even stand a chance of being deemed omni-channel. If a customer cannot get the care where he wants, when he wants and how he wants, the holistic, customer-facing experience is falling short.

Accepting of that philosophy, 25% of businesses believe it is essential to honor a customer’s channel preference. A total of 52% of businesses call it at least very important, and more than 72% of businesses label it at least moderately important.

But businesses are even more smitten with another crucial tenet of the omni-channel customer experience: seamlessness.

Recognized as essential by more businesses than concepts like accommodating customer channel preference or even offering some form of engagement in all channels, the ability to communicate customer, contextual and transactional data between channels and agents is considered pivotal by 39% of businesses.

A total of 66% of businesses call seamless cross-channel communication "very important," while a total of 87% believe it to be at least moderately important.

Being where your customer wants you to be is clearly important. But it pales in comparison to being able to ensure that when a customer spans channels, his information spans with him.

Businesses looking to amplify their omni-channel strategies, therefore, need to assure the channels they offer are not simply optimized but integrated.

4) Saying "I Can’t" is Preferable to Saying Nothing

The majority of businesses understand the importance of being in as many channels as possible. The majority of businesses want to be in as many channels as possible.

But due to either limitations, organizational inertia or lack of comfort and familiarity, businesses know they will not be in every channel. Save for the 5% of organizations who say they can "always" satisfy customers in their channels of choice, businesses know they will come up short for some customers.

The question thus shifts to how they will respond to customers whose particular channel preferences they cannot honor—at least at a particular time.

For 43% of businesses, the answer is to respond in all cases but let customers know when their issue needs to be escalated to another channel. The popularity of this option serves to reiterate the importance of seamlessness: if the business is going to ask customers to shift to a different channel, it needs to assure there is no repetition, wait or undue effort associated with doing so.

29% of businesses attempt to pre-emptively "right channel" customers. They specifically advertise their channel offerings (such as only listing an 800 number under the "Customer Service" portion of the website) to deter customers from communicating in the "wrong" channels.

23% of businesses are less aggressive about pre-emptively routing customers but just as committed to doing so. Such businesses will publicly declare a channel’s limitations within the channel so that customers who attempt to engage in that forum will know what can and can be done. A common example includes identifying a Twitter account as "for marketing inquiries only."

The remaining 5% of businesses passively route customers by ignoring inquiries in non-preferred channels. Speaking anonymously, one business, for example, says that it deliberately ignores complicated email questions in order to condition customers to seek telephone support.