Trends in customer service are very clear. Starting in the fall of 2012 through to early 2013 analyst after analyst consistently placed a multi-channel strategy among the top ten initiatives that should be focused on in the coming year. Though the terminology used varies – with various analysts reviewing multichannel; cross channel, transverse channel and the latest term: omnichannel – they all consistently talk about the importance of being able to service any customer with a consistent context and with consistent service capabilities across any channel.

Providing great and consistent service across channels should be the least expensive, best and most profitable option for a business. Focusing on the outcomes that the business is trying to achieve accentuates the similarities of servicing the customer’s need, and minimizes the inherent technological differences relating to the channel used. This delivers results that are meaningful to both the customer and to the business, and allows channels to be added easily, without affecting core systems and processes. A seamless and consistent customer and agent experience can finally be realized by looking at an open framework that normalizes a customer’s contacts, regardless of the channel of origin, and regardless of the multiple channels that may be used for the entire interaction.

What is a channel?

Channels provide the medium upon which your customers can interact with your business. They can interact with sales people or contact center agents (through assisted service); they can also interact with business systems (such as your IVR or web portal through self service). Many businesses are focusing on providing enhanced self-service capabilities to reduce costs and to improve customer service through high-availability of services.

At a glance:

  • Channel complexity is hurting customer service. New channels continue to proliferate.
  • Customers pick their channel of choice – and then change it!
  • Adding new channels is increasingly expensive.
  • Focus on meeting the customer’s need the first time.
  • Empower your agents.
  • Don’t lose information about customers – if they know, you should know.
  • Disassociate channel from process.
  • Eliminate channel silos.

Assisted service, however, remains the go to medium for customers who have non-standard or complex requests. And unlike self-service, the number of assisted service channels continues to grow and evolve, and with it, the complexity of providing reliable and consistent service to your customer base. Assisted service is the most expensive form of customer service, and when looked at across all industries, still accounts for the highest volume of customer interactions in general. We consider the following channels when evaluating assisted service.

Current channels – Voice; email; chat

Despite the massive growth of the new assisted channels, PSTN voice still accounts for 73% of the contacts that come into a contact center, and overall volume still continues to grow, albeit more slowly than the newer channels. Of the remaining 27%, email and chat are predominant. What is still not clear, however, is whether the growth of these new ‘digital’ channels is displacing voice, or is in addition to voice volumes. Industry dogma tells us that introducing a chat channel will not lower phone volumes at all; however no information is available that tells us whether chats are net new interactions with the customer, or if they are failing to provide the required service and still driving customers to the voice channel due to service issues. Currently, many organizations support voice, email and chat interactions with multi-channel, siloed applications that share no common management or customer experience framework. This impacts customer experience, increases cost, and ultimately negatively impacts your brand in the marketplace.

Social Media: Everyone agrees that Social Media changes one thing in the paradigm of the business – it puts the customer in control of the interaction. Understanding how the customer experience delivered by the contact center is related to the social experience is key to a business understanding how to deal with these interactions. As a channel, social represents a variety of different applications, concepts, and business components. But how do you connect and interact with the customer if the social interaction is owned by marketing? Is it understood how you’re going to transition that contact into customer service or sales, and when? Is there a consistent approach for measuring and monitoring response times, service levels, etc.? Providing an infrastructure that can deal with these issues and support these interactions as the volumes increase will differentiate the leaders of the future from the rest of the industry.

Instant messaging: SMS (Short Message Service) continues to evolve in the contact center, but is still being used primarily as an outbound notification mechanism. For SMS to work as a contact channel, the SMS messages must be considered as an ongoing conversation. Multiple SMS messages from a single person must be delivered to an agent so that context is retained. Future SMS messages must have a persistent history, so that future agents can still track the overall interaction and context. The customer has the history on their mobile phone; the agent should have visibility to the same information.

Mobile: Mobile is often talked about as a channel, but it really represents a collection of dissimilar and loosely related elements. Mobile can be a straight web interaction, a mobile app using a back end web service, or it may be a straight phone call. Or it may represent a combination of all of these elements, coupled with video or pictures. In the short term, enabling mobile service is often simply supporting the more traditional web and voice channels. True mobile may encompass a single customer contact that transverses all of these media for a single issue, going from web voice to video during a single interaction.

Alternate Voice: Alternate voice is a channel that is not being talked about much in the industry, but has a strong potential to change contact center infrastructures dramatically. Alternate voice can be as simple as a web click to call, which ultimately generates a call back on the standard PSTN. Calls of this nature can be managed by existing call center systems. Once the PSTN is taken out of the picture, the required infrastructure changes rapidly. Google Voice and Skype are internet technologies that are quite mainstream today, yet are largely unsupported in a contact center. Newer capabilities such as Facebook Voice Chat have the potential to be extremely popular amongst end users

WebRTC: Is a new technology that may be a game changer for contact centers. It is a standards based technology that provides the ability to easily create browser to browser based voice/video calls with no additional software downloads, and has the ability to democratize voice applications to anyone with a browser. Companies could include voice and video communications in any web page with a few lines of Java Script. End Users, searching for a phone number on Google, would no connected with the call center. These alternate voice channels, while largely unsupported in the contact center today, represent a significant change to the contact center’s technological infrastructure, and should be considered in any long term planning.

Video: Video is still a wild card –it’s unclear whether the public actually wants live video support to a contact center through mobile or other means. Interactions are trending digital which is moving the opposite direction when related to voice calls, being less impersonal rather than more so. There is, however, a strong case to be made around incorporating pre-recorded video in self-service. Video is very well suited to these applications – for example instructions on how to configure a cable box.

Historical Channels: Historical channels are often ignored when planning for a true omnichannel customer experience. Consider that customers have interactions with your organization by walking into the branch and interacting with an actual person. Or by putting pen to paper and using white mail. These interactions still represent part of the overall customer experience and should be considered in any successful channel strategy.

Back Office: Back office interactions are also often ignored in conjunction with the contact center. However, a true enterprise view of any customer interaction set should include all time and activity spent on servicing the customers overall needs. This would include direct ‘face time’ with the customer, but should also include offline work done behind the scenes that leads to service delivery.

Omnichannel Management: 6 ELEMENTS 

Element 1 – Do it right the first time:

Change the focus from getting it done to meeting the needs of the customer. Although 71% of customers agree that valuing their time is core to good service, this concept extends beyond the standard telephony metrics used today. Customer frustrations are magnified when multiple call backs are required from the customer to resolve an issue, or when a customer starts an interaction in one channel and has to move to another for resolution. Using processes that do not ensure that a customer’s issue is resolved clearly does not value the customer’s time. It increases the overall customer effort and negatively impacts customer satisfaction.

As a side effect, it also increases your internal costs dramatically with negative customer value being associated with those dollars. It seems a little obvious, but focusing long term strategic efforts on meeting the customer’s need will help eliminate the variations that are inherent in supporting multiple channels. World class organizations agree that meeting the customer’s need should be a prime focus; however many companies are not as far along in the maturity model, and still focus heavily on metrics such as hold times or transfers. As a final statistic, unsurprisingly, 100% of customers want their request resolved. We do not believe that statistic will ever change.

Element 2 – Empower your agents:

Give your agents the tools and information they need to deliver the best possible service. As companies move up the maturity model, they can increasingly improve how they can associate a complete customer context with a call and ensure that they do not lose the information. Key to this is capturing full history as customers change channels, and in providing the same information across multiple interactions. 75% of people contacting a company will change channels when an online service fails. Contact history – showing any type of assisted service contact a customer has had with the company – ensures that the agent knows what the customer knows.

Empowering agents with the best information to resolve a customer issue is a key component of a multichannel strategy. At its simplest, if the agent doesn’t have the information they need to be able to consistently provide the customers with what they are asking for, it costs you both in dollars and in customer goodwill. When confronted with the complexity of new channels, using dissimilar technology and management platforms, it’s easy to miss out on the fact that, regardless of channel, it all comes down to your ability to have the right information available for the customer when needed. This can be empowering agents with better information, or simply making that same information available to the customers when they choose some other form of self service.

Element 3 – Remember what your customers have done:

Don’t lose information about your customer – across agents, across channels, or across time. A staggering 42% of customers report being frustrated at repeating information when they contact a business. As customers transfer between agents on a single phone call, many contact centers have difficulty even today in transferring the context of that call to the new agent. This, unfortunately, is only the tip of the iceberg. Customer service involves understanding not only who your customers are, but what they want and what they’ve done.

You should know what interactions your customer has had with you – your customers certainly do! Normalizing your customer contacts across channels using a customer experience strategy based on business interactions and contact drivers provides a framework through which you can begin to determine and collect an accurate customer context for each and every interaction they have with your organization, across channels and across time. Having consistent information available on every interaction allows you to create live customer histories, showing all customer activities with your company to any agent who deals with that individual.

Element 4 – Separate the channel from the process:

Normalize interactions and use consistent processes, with consistent information, across channels. Being able to have consistent processes and outcomes comes by differentiating between the channel used to service the customer and the capabilities/limitations of that channel, from the actual process that should be used to handle the interaction. Separating the ‘channel’ and the actual business ‘interaction’ allows your company to normalize every customer issue across every channel for a consistent view of performance. This separation allows the number of processes, systems, and effort used to be reduced and simplified. When a set of processes is used to handle a customer inquiry on the phone, but requires an email to be parked overnight, inconsistencies in service levels result and this impacts both the internal and external experience.

Element 5 – Eliminate channel silos:

Eliminate technology islands. Use a consistent, integrated set of management tools for every channel. With legacy infrastructures, it becomes cumbersome to add in a new channel that isn’t siloed. The expense of adding a new silo to support a single new channel is often dwarfed by the expense of implementing it properly unless some clear, long term omnichannel strategies are used. Adding these silos creates the downward spiral of customer satisfaction, with new capabilities being added without consideration of the bigger customer experience picture. World class organizations are moving to new metrics that are heavily focused on outcomes that matter – their ability to resolve a customer’s issue the first time; time to resolution; or repeat contacts.

These analyses are complicated when cross channel performance is evaluated with different management tools and capabilities (and sometimes none at all!) providing apples to oranges management results. Contact analysis is still required, and is made more cumbersome through unknown inconsistencies and through trying to map the varying and incomplete interactions reactively, after the fact.

By siloing the channels, businesses self-create a ‘big data’ problem from what could be easily contained as ‘small data’ through forethought and better planning. By eliminating customer service silos, performance can be viewed in terms of the real value of the additional channels – are they cost effective; do they generate revenues? Do they have a net positive or negative effect on how much the customer trusts the business to do what they promise? Fundamentally, the data can help you understand why and how your customers interact with you, and let you use that information to improve operations. New channels, if not viewed based on the business outcome desired, create inefficiencies from redundancy, cost, and poor service.

Element 6 – The right technology investment:

Consider customer contact drivers, current and future channels when considering technology upgrades. But investing in infrastructure simply for infrastructure’s sake is not getting funding. New initiatives require an immediate return on investment, and tying in other shorter term priorities helps offset the infrastructure spend. Properly upgrading today is key to any investment.

The business need for any omnichannel solution is being able to consistently understand that customer journey – something which doesn’t sit in a single channel, but rather traverses every contact mechanism you make available. With new channels developing at Internet speeds, businesses must be able to provide agile, consistent and effective service and support, leveraging whichever channel the customer finds convenient.

Agile means that new channels can be supported quickly and effectively; consistent means that the information available from one channel is available on any other channel. The inconsistencies inherent in channel silos are going to be created if you’ve got a different set of information on your self service than what’s available to the agent, and those inconsistencies in turn begin to complicate any attempt to understand the cross channel experience.

Business Interaction Management Solutions: By focusing on the customer intent of an incoming interaction, you create a new category of solutions focused on enabling the management of customer interactions right across the business. Capturing the individual customer interaction details provides the missing link for CRM applications and allows a business to determine customer experience and satisfaction not by what they say, but by what they actually do. Capturing interactions across multiple channels in a consistent and simple fashion, allows businesses to easily add new channels and to define new business management paradigms based on information thought to be previously unavailable.

An Omnichannel solution provides business interaction management and will allow businesses to:

  • Proceduralize and improve first call resolution across time and across channels.
  • Reduce customer effort by predicting future interactions based on past behaviors.
  • Eliminate management and information silos by providing a consistent set of information for all users.
  • Improve customer service by empowering agents with historical customer information on every channel in real time.
  • Improve channel containment by determining what drives people to change channels.
  • Reduce overall costs by eliminating redundant contacts that add no value and reduce customer satisfaction.


Separate the interaction from the channel!  Look for how content is routed to the agent and make that work consistently. Separate the contact channel from the process used to provide the business outcome. so that you can get those new channels or functions added easily and quickly without creating new servicing and management silos. Without a common linkage between these channels, you can’t easily determine if your contact center, digital and self-service strategies are actually effective. By focusing on the reason for the interaction, and developing processes and systems based on the needs of your customer, you can simplify your cross channel integration and provide great omnichannel service that will differentiate your business to your customers.