Contact Center Solutions Featured Article

Omni-channel is Multi-channel Done Right

October 07, 2014

Recently, Karina Howell, Solutions Marketing Manager at Interactive Intelligence provided some terrific insights on what should be viewed as the essential step for providing what she characterized as the cross-channel customer experience. With so much new terminology being used in the contact center solutions community at large to describe the need and sense of urgency of customer experience professionals to have 360 degree interactions with their customers, I recently caught up with Howell to get some additional thoughts on what is a truly dynamic and integral part of contact center transformations.   

ContactCenterSolutions:  Let’s start with a definition of terms. As you know, I believe that clarity in marketing is important for our community, and back is June I actually asked that we come up with a precise and clear definition of omni-channel since there seemed to be some confusion about its use, especially in regards to multi-channel. In fact, we can’t even decide if it is omni-channel (my preference) or omnichannel. I am curious about your thoughts on this.

Howell:  I cannot help on the spelling which the industry and press will work out. However, as to the rest of your question, the answer is that omni-channel is really multi-channel done right.  In fact, the term omni-channel became useful as the need to do multi-channel right has emerged as a business imperative for our customers. 

ContactCenterSolutions:  Can you elaborate?

Howell:  Yes. While the term multi-channel is a great description of all of the technology, i.e., channels, that a modern customer engagement capability should have, omni-channel addresses the requirement have tying all of those channels together so there is a consistent, granular and coherent view for real-time interactions and for critical recording and compliance needs.

ContactCenterSolutions: Explain a little how we got from where we were to this omni-channel requirement.

Howell:  If you think about it the industry has been becoming multi-channel for many years. In fact, Interactive Intelligence has been at this for over 15 years. We have added channels as technology has progressed to take advantage of interacting with customers according to how they choose and even prefer to act with customer care agents. It started with voice and rudimentary IVR with the first ACDs. As a result of email and now things like mobility, social networking, chat, SMS, speech recognition and portals for self-help and the emergence of video, the consequences of not having the ability to interact with customers according to how they wish to interact with you, either in the first instance of contact or as the conversation changes, can be severe. 

It is why that ‘doing it right’ part has emerged as so critical. Channels are not checklist items. They need to be part of a holistic and integrated approach to customer engagement with the goal of always improving the agent’s ability to enhance the customer experience.

ContactCenterSolutions:  That is where we have come from. How about where we are and where we going?

Howell:   Where we are is that there certainly is awareness of the need for multi-channel interactions. However, we are still early in understanding that for multiple channels to have optimized impact you need what I said about cross-channel integration, visibility and control which is both the capability as well as the promise of omni-channel going forward.  

In fact, what an omni-channel approach brings to the table is a richer context for engaging the customer since the agent has more information about all previous interactions and access to additional resources. It also provides the ability to create and evaluate a much deeper set of metrics that can answer some fundamental challenges.

ContactCenterSolutions: Such as?

Howell:   As all of us who interact with contact centers know, there remains a great reliance on surveys. Plus, the Internet has made administering them faster and easier, and we still have lots of information on traditional KPIs such as call waiting times, how often a problem was solved on the first call, how long resolution took, etc.  This is all great and important, but you would be surprised how many companies are not really measuring customer satisfaction properly or at all given channel proliferation.

For example, they have added channels without integration which means they are not able to get decent information on service levels. In a multi-channel world without omni-channel visibility how do you know what the customer satisfaction is with chat?  If the customer journey to resolution involves using multiple channels, starts with online self-service then moves to IVR and ultimately to an agent via voice or chat, without an omni-channel approach how can you really measure customer satisfaction? 

ContactCenterSolutions: What are you seeing regarding channel use?

Howell:  It is fascinating. There are definite preferences by age, country and culture which you might guess, but what has been interesting is the growing popularity of chat. This is true almost across the board, but is especially true among the digitally adept millennials. It is also why video is going to become increasingly important.

That said, the human touch, real-time voice as augmented by various tools, will always be important.  The trick is in doing as much as possible to automate interactions on less important things so agents spend their time more productively and can take full advantage of the new tools we are continuously bringing to market to make them more efficient and effective.  

ContactCenterSolutions:  So this is about context mediation as driven by the customer preference for engagement? If so, how does Interactive Intelligence provide differentiated value in this type of environment?   

Howell:  Fist, your observation is a good way to look at it. As to Interactive Intelligence, we have not just a lot to offer but also a unique way of doing it.  Along with offering our enterprise customers options built on the same software whether they need an on-premise, cloud-based or hybrid solution, we have a single routing engine. In short, we offer real omni-channel today that gives the agents of our customers the ability to see all interactions on all channels. This also means administrators have enhanced reporting data and detailed actionable business insights about how to assess and improve their operational excellence. 

This is not something that every vendor has been providing. It is something we believe customers need and we are investing heavily in innovations in this area.  Our offers play well into the omni-channel vision and value proposition. Data passes seamlessly from IVR to voice to email, etc.  Can design and define the metrics as a result.  Workforce optimization (WFO) is also part of this.  Blending channels is important as is cost optimization on channel.  At the end of the day it is about blending channels effectively and passing the data. 

The objective is to provide the capabilities that generate data that can be used with the emerging new metrics that will enable them to balance service levels, work flows and workloads and do so while maintaining costs.     

ContactCenterSolutions:  Why should people care, and what is the end game?

Howell:  Why people should care is because customers notice when a system breaks down or is not working properly. Today, with the competition a click away and social media trumpeting bad experiences, there is a premium on getting it done fast and getting it right in ways that are more important than ever. 

As to the ultimate goal, it is to exceed our customers’ expectations so they can exceed theirs.