Harnessing omnichannel presence for the ideal customer service strategy

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The shift in channels for consumer engagement and communication has become more pronounced than ever. Digital disruption is changing the way people communicate in their personal lives. Messaging tools like WhatsApp, Viber, Facebook messenger etc. have been growing in popularity among millennials.

Brands are catering to this consumer communication channel shift by cultivating a presence on these new B2C communication channels such as Facebook Messenger (FBM), Google My Business, Apple Business Chat among others. Gartner predicts that by 2020 adoption of mobile apps and messaging tools will increase by 300% and this number is only likely grow at an even more accelerated pace.

This development is in a big way, changing consumer expectations of communication with brands in accordance with the convenience and availability of messaging tools and apps.

Consumer expectations today:

  • Service at their fingertips: Consumers (especially millennials) are increasingly looking at engaging and communicating with brands in the same way they reach out to their friends and family on apps like WhatsApp or Snapchat. This means that organizations are required to be accessible where customers are most likely to make contact – “their smartphones”.
  • Know their context: Have you ever called the customer service line of your bank or telecom provider, entered your account number, passed through the IVR (Interactive Voice Response), authenticated yourself and finally connected with an associate online only to be asked “How may I help you today?”. More often than not, information provided at each step of a long process isn’t shared with the executive or used in any way to resolve the issue at hand. In essence, after going through several steps of the IVR process, the customer has to begin the narrative of her issue from scratch thereby leading to a negative customer experience.
  • Service at their own pace: The millennial does not like to be kept waiting for a response any more than a consumer initiating contact via other traditional voice channels. However, the waiting period in the context of a messaging tool is a little different. For starters, everyone is constantly multi-tasking. While texting friends, one doesn’t expect a response immediately as long as there is an assurance of a response within a reasonable duration of time. Same is the case with customer service interaction. Once an assurance is provided, a consumer typically moves on to other tasks and periodically circles back to check for a response.
  • Services based on preferences: Consumers today are used to shopping on Amazon and booking a taxi using Uber. In both cases, products and service recommendations are based on a thorough analysis of the consumer’s past choices. This has become the new normal. Customers expect enterprises to understand them and anticipate their needs. Any brand that chooses not to do so, runs the risk of conveying to its customers that it doesn’t care about them.

To deliver on these expectations, customer management organizations now need to re-align to a service strategy built on omnichannel platforms. This service strategy should be able to identify customer segments, predict volume drivers and offer channels of service that customers will most likely use.  All this is easier said than done.

Before discussing an actual omnichannel example, let us take a minute to define the omnichannel experience:

An omnichannel experience is a multi-channel approach to marketing, selling, and serving customers in a way that creates an integrated and cohesive customer experience no matter how or where a customer reaches out.

Offering customers service at their fingertips and a pace they are comfortable with:

In 2017, one of UK’s largest telecom and media providers noticed that its customers’ channel preferences were changing rapidly. The voice channel was expensive and woefully inadequate in addressing several customer issues. For instance, customers would spend nearly 10 minutes on the phone just to know what a specific charge on their account was for or to learn a little more about the features of a subscription plan. The organisation partnered with both its BPM (Business Process Management) and messaging platform providers to become an early mover in introducing a channel shift to target inbound calls on its IVR. It then put in place a service strategy by identifying the best suited contacts for messaging and accordingly offered it to customers. Customers on IVR with those specific contact types were given the option to move to SMS or Facebook messenger instead of waiting on hold.

Now, the question of how customers could be authenticated, arose. There was certainly no point in opening a new channel with the sole objective of providing customers with general information. To address authentication and security concerns the company introduced a verification solution that allowed customers to authenticate themselves over SMS and FBM (Facebook Messenger) channels creating a secure connection with the assistance of its customer service team. Following the success of the IVR deflection the company has launched in-app messaging across IoS and android platforms. What’s more is that customers are now able to start FBM and SMS conversations directly from the website precisely from where they left off conversations on their mobiles. This of course is slowly but surely replacing traditional web chat channels.

Now let’s take a peek into the results:

Within 12 weeks, the company had 1200 contact center associates handling messaging. 30% of uncontained contacts on the IVR moved to messaging. Messaging proved to be far more efficient than the traditional voice based approach. For example, a single customer service executive was now able to handle 6 customers at a time (recall the point on – customers not expecting an immediate response but rather a reassurance that their request was being worked upon). This led to 2.2x efficiency over voice and a surge in customer satisfaction, which was now in the range of 80%-90%.

Know the customers’ context and offer services based on their preferences:

A leading Indian bank was pursuing large scale expansion across multiple cities and launching new product in quick succession. Customer support for these new product lines resulted in setting up of multiple contact centers across cities to cater to the local population in 10 different languages. Disparate systems in each of these contact centers with limited understanding of customers led to a negative customer experience and rising costs.

The bank tasked its BPM partner to consolidate their contact centres and technology solutions. The BPM provider built a service strategy across channels and consolidated contact centres in 2 locations such that it could cater to customers across all languages.

The strategy also defined how the top contacts would be managed despite a reduction in customer effort. This was achieved with an omnichannel solution that integrated:

  • IVR
  • Inbound voice
  • Email
  • Web chat
  • Outbound calling
  • Knowledge management

The solution offered a 360-degree integrated view of customer engagement across all contact centre channels.
This resulted in:

  • Issue anticipation and improved customer experience with the IVR traverse path being shown to customer support associates
  • Reduction in AHT (Average Handling Time) by 15% to 20% with limited navigation to other systems
  • Improved customer context by integrating interaction history across channels
  • Next-in-line actions such as escalation alerts being offered to associates handling interactions

In terms of next steps, the bank is also considering usage of analytics to service customer based on segmentation, customer life cycle value, spend patterns, location, emotions and sentiments shown.

Technology is defining how customers will be serviced in the future and contact centres are best placed to leverage this technology for an omnichannel experience.

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