Omnichannel is a hot topic in contact centres. Many technology vendors make outrageous claims about its market potential, but what is the truth behind the trend? What, for a start, is the difference between multichannel and omnichannel?
Ask Wikipedia about multichannel and it will tell you that it “allows the retail merchant to reach its prospective or current customer in a channel of his or her liking.”
Omnichannel is defined by Frost & Sullivan as: “Seamless and effortless, high-quality customer experiences that occur within and between contact centre channels.”
So, the key differences are around ease and quality. It is not enough for the contact centre to handle chat, e-mails and social media as well as voice telephony. To do omnichannel, these must be integrated so that the customer’s request will be handled as quickly and effectively as possible, regardless of which channel is used.
Dimension Data, in its Global Benchmarking Report for 2015, stated that digital (non-voice) interactions account for 35% of all contact centre interactions worldwide. It predicted that within two years, digital volumes would overtake voice - the 2016 report confirmed that this was on track to happen by the end of the year. Some 87% of respondents to the 2015 survey of contact centre managers were predicting an increase in digital channel volumes, while only 42% predicted an increase in voice volumes.
What are the drivers for this switch to digital channels?
The most important driver here is customer demand. While older customers tend to stick with voice, middle-aged and younger customers are increasingly turning to digital channels when these are offered. Dimension Data's survey shows that 63.5% of baby boomers - those born between 1945 and 1960 - tend to choose the telephone as their first option for contacting a company. Twenty eight percent of Generation X (1961-1980) will choose the phone, while only 12.3% of Generation Y (1981-1999) prefer voice - but 47% of these will choose the internet or social media.
Since using the phone is as simple as picking it up and talking, why would anyone want to use the internet or social media?
- Cost: voice calls are charged by the minute. Some organisations even have premium-rate numbers
- Convenience: if they don’t need an answer right away, customers can take part in an email conversation in their own time
- Speed: the internet and social media allow users to send pictures or documents, which the agent can work with immediately to fulfil the customer’s request faster
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Our second driver is financial efficiency for the contact centre. An agent can only handle one call at a time, and calls must be handled immediately. Chat interactions must also be handled immediately, but agents often handle three or four chats at the same time. Each voice call costs the contact centre between three and four times as much as a chat conversation. Most workforce management solutions build these considerations into their forecasting and scheduling algorithms.
E-mails are an even greater blessing for the contact centre. They do not have to be answered in real time, and can be left for quiet periods where inbound call and chat volumes are not so high. E-mail handling times can be reduced further with generic templates, making them a more cost-effective way to handle customer requests.
Specific request forms on websites and smartphone applications compel customers to structure their requests so that they can be partially automated. One technology company I have encountered has an incident reporting form where the customer classifies the incident and effectively performs their own triage.
Our last driver is legal compliance. Organisations are not legally required to use any specific media to communicate with customers, but the MiFID II legislation for financial services will mean that companies must capture all communications in any media related to any investment transaction, irrespective of when the transaction happened. Authorities will also have the right to examine these records to investigate any complaints; companies will now need to monitor communications more carefully to keep a tight rein on everything their employees say and do.
Finally, the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) requires that any organisation handling EU Citizens’ data must tightly control their interactions and data collection activities. Further legislation on data collection, data security and communicating with customers can be expected in the future.
The digital revolution brings new opportunities for many companies to do more and better business with their customers. At the same time, a coordinated approach is needed to ensure that companies remain competitive and legally compliant. It's an approach that can only be realised with omnichannel.
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