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Going omnichannel

28 March 2018

In my previous post, I discussed why contact centres are widening their reach to include non-voice channels such as e-mail, chat and social. I also discussed the difference between multichannel, which handles these as separate silos within the business, and omnichannel, which integrates the channels into one overall customer experience.

If we accept that only omnichannel contact centres will enable companies to remain compliant while they maximise the opportunities of the digital revolution, we need to examine how we put the seamless, frictionless omnichannel concept into practice. We also need to consider how to make the most its potential benefits.


An omnichannel contact centre is, almost by definition, more complex than a call centre, or even a multichannel setup. When you've got a more complex environment, it needs to be carefully managed both to realise the potential efficiencies, and to minimise frictions for customers switching channels.

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Workforce management is key to maximising efficiency and customer experience in an omnichannel environment, and to understand this we need to consider service level (SL). SL is the key performance indicator (KPI) that specifies what percentage of interactions will be handled within a certain length of time - for example, '80% of calls to be answered within 20 seconds'.

When assigning work to agents, activities with a short SL, such as voice or chat, will always take priority, while media with a longer SL, such as e-mails, or manually processing the data gathered in web forms, will take second place.

For efficiency, contact centres will try to move customers from voice to chat, and generally from short SL activities to those with a longer SL. This reduces costs, as a single agent can handle multiple chats at once, and it allows more flexibility when scheduling, as voice responses must be immediate, while customers are usually happy to wait for a reply to an email.

Other techniques reduce friction and improve efficiency further. The average handling time (AHT) for an enquiry can be reduced by setting up voice connections through a website. This allows customers to send supporting documents while they are calling, and so allows the agent to process them while talking to the customer.

Website forms and smartphone apps with standardised fields can also reduce AHT by pre-gathering the full range of information that might be required to process an enquiry. Some data capture processes can be automated, with customers giving permission for their data to be used as they enter it themselves.

The customer journey

Organisations seeking to implement an omnichannel contact centre need to understand not only that the relationship with the customer is at its focus, but that this takes place over a journey, rather than as snapshots at a particular touchpoint. To put it another way, no individual call or e-mail is the whole relationship between a customer and the company, it is just a part of the conversation. Failing to connect the dots will make for a very disjointed and dysfunctional relationship.

To connect all the elements of a conversation that starts as a tweet, continues with a call, progresses to a form filled in on a website and concludes with an e-mail, the contact centre will need a CRM system that functions independently of these interactions, but which can access each of them and assemble them into a meaningful timeline.

Equipped with a view of the entire conversation, searchable by robust metadata, agents can ensure they continue the conversation in the most valuable and effective way.

Ensuring quality

Tom Peters, author of In Search of Excellence, wrote: “Almost all quality improvement comes via simplification of design, manufacturing... layout, processes, and procedures.” As the number of interactions and interaction types grows, it creates challenges for quality management - actually improving quality will require simplification or the application of increased intelligence and automated decision making.

"In a world where customer experience is the go-to competitive strategy, joining the race too late may result in loss of market share and revenues."

Consider quality control. In today’s voice-centric contact centres, about 1% of interactions are evaluated at random. Although this is important to maintain quality, it represents a recurring cost that does not bring any profit to the business.

Random sampling typically reveals that about 90% of calls are of acceptable quality, while the other 10% have defects. In other words, 90% of the quality team’s budget is spent searching for calls which will not improve performance.

The need for improved quality and optimised quality control may be the trigger to review the idea that random sampling is the only approach to quality management. Once a contact centre reaches the point where 90% of its interactions are acceptable, sampling interactions that already show evidence of a problem may be a more effective approach.

Increased automation and AI will help target interactions for investigation. Speech analytics can be used to identify potentially problematic calls. Full-text search can do the same with e-mails and chats. Automated, post-call interactive voice response (IVR) or SMS surveys can show us what customers think of calls. Calls with low scores are the obvious ones to select, but where quality forms are created without public input, a range of survey results can be selected for evaluation to calibrate internal quality standards against public perception.

Returning to the journey

"The greatest impact of omnichannel on quality management processes is that the focus will change from individual interactions to the whole case."

The greatest impact of omnichannel on quality management processes is that the focus will change from individual interactions to the whole case. This returns us to the customer journey. While individual interactions might be problem-free, the customer journey could still be terrible if each interaction is part of a month-long slog of repeated calls and emails to try and resolve a single issue.

The CRM system is critical in providing information for the hand-off to the next agent, so the state of the notes taken is of vital importance. If agents cannot use the previous case worker’s notes, then the next interaction will take longer and has less chance of success, which increases the cost of handling each case and results in a worse customer experience. AI may be able to help us here - ZOOM International's software can already create searchable call transcripts.

Just as higher than average AHT is worth investigating, so too is a higher than average number of interactions when handling cases. Focusing here can lead to savings in time, and therefore money.
As we move forward, simple transactions are more likely to be automated or made self service through website forms and smartphone applications. Human agents will be involved where transactions are more complex, or where something has gone wrong. Handling times will be longer and first contact resolution (FCR) rates for human agents will be lower. Effective case handling will be about how quickly agents can solve their customers’ problems.

Omnichannel’s impact on contact centre operations will be substantial, and many organisations will consider delaying its implementation. But be warned: in a world where customer experience is the go-to competitive strategy, joining the race too late may result in loss of market share and revenues.

Planning, updating or enhancing your contact centre? Let Ideal and ZOOM International help you focus on delivering an exceptional customer experience - give us a call.

Image: Paul Kehrer/Flickr, Creative Commons