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Getting Serious About Omnichannel Service Experience

Wednesday, December 19, 2018 - 02:00
Omnichannel customer experience

Introducing Guest Blogger, Martin Hill-Wilson

Martin Hill-Wilson is a customer engagement and digital business strategist. An international keynote speaker and chair for contact centre and customer engagement conferences, he is a global authority on social customer service and co-author of “Delivering Effective Social Customer Service.”


There have been several dominant themes during 2018 that I’ve noticed from chairing, judging and client assignments.

AI has provoked fascination, fear and a staunch defence of the value people bring to customer service. Iairn that same spirit, workforce optimisation (WFO) is now apparently dead. Long live workforce engagement management (WEM).

At the same time, robotic process automation has been unleashed throughout many front and middle office environments to reduce cost and hopefully improve service journeys.

Messaging has been bobbing up and down as the new kid on the block. Trying to convince asynchronous engagement is a perfect match for stressed digital lifestyles. Voice assistants and Rich Communication Services (RCS) are not far behind trying for a seat at the table. Even Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality are pitching a claim.

None of this is fantasy. Each topic has its early adopters. But equally, it is not representative of the middle ground where most energy, mindset and budget is being currently deployed. Although no longer a headline feature used by conference organisers to draw registrations, omnichannel remains a ‘Do Not Pass Go’ level challenge.

From my perspective, it is a crucial enabler of every theme I’ve just mentioned. Without the design mindset and operational management that effective omnichannel engagement requires, more channels will simply add more chaos.

This is why those who persuade us to adopt the next generation of channels argue for replacement rather than addition. It makes sense in terms of cost and complexity. Unfortunately the logic fails massively in terms of ignoring customer expectations for choice.

If your brand is entirely focussed on 16-25 year olds and you are 100 percent convinced that voice is as lethal to that age group as sun is to vampires, then of course remain in the realm of asynchronous text. I concede the point.

But for everyone else, it’s a rainbow nation of customers. More accurately, it’s five generations of choice and expectation which is morphing over time. Generational expectation and the specific customer situation drive different choices around how customers want to engage an organisation. Although it smudges the neat boundaries of the personas we believe in, 28 year olds will phone when they want reassurance. Ask the insurance industry. Equally, 94 year olds will use WhatsApp because time is short and they want their daily dose of family antics.

Omnichannel Needs a Proper Plan

This means keeping an up to date view of customer expectations. Delivering an interaction capability that caters to an interconnected combination of modality and channel. Pushing context and intent to wherever the conversation goes. Providing one desktop and inbox. Keeping the hunt for stuff to a minimum so advisors can nail the expected customer experience (functional and emotional).

That’s one part of omnichannel.

The other side is operational management. I attended a resource planning conference recently and checked in with the gurus who demo all the clever solutions. I was interested to see how far omnichannel planning had really got since I still hear of abandoned chat queues when voice gets busy. They admitted it remains much more frequent to discuss single (as in siloed) queue management than planning for holistic case management. In other words, planning assumptions are still based on a fragmented infrastructure of point solutions.  

To that point, I’ve recently heard folk dissing the idea of multi-skilling as being fine in theory but not so much so in practice. I suspect the problem is expecting people to instantly flip between voice and text without time to recalibrate modalities. But that’s another story…

So, I’m not sure we are getting anywhere fast as far as omnichannel proficiency is concerned. Meanwhile the range of choices is rapidly expanding and the old ones are not going anywhere fast.

Outside my own field of awareness, I have some evidence that this remains an endemic issue for our industry. Earlier this year, I tweeted a stat from Contact Center World in Las Vegas which claimed under 10 percent of attendees thought they had an acceptable omnichannel game-plan.

More recently and locally, Call Centre Helper highlighted the same gap in their annual reader review. But the problem is not going away.

“Lack of Integration Between Channels Remains a Key Contact Centre Challenge Less than one in ten contact centres (9.6%) integrate all of their channels, while almost four times that number don’t integrate any, using multiple solutions, one for each supported channel. Unfortunately, poor integration between systems can make an advisor’s job more challenging and decrease productivity. So it’s surprising to find that the vast majority of contact centres either have no integration between channels (36.0%) or just some (45.2%).”

Making Service Journeys Work for Customers 

Effective omnichannel is not just about the right technology - it’s about making service journeys work for customers. This also falls under the remit of omnichannel design. For instance, West’s Customer Engagement: The Road to 2020 research report found that 70 percent of consumers agree that customer service needs to be more convenient and give them more channels to get in touch with companies. The same report found that 64 percent of consumers believe companies are too focused on customer service that works for the business, rather than what works best for the customer.  

Here is another one. Thirty-three percent of brands admit they find it difficult to blend digital and human interactions. This is one I blame on the still dominant ‘digital first’ agenda that attempts to exclude as opposed to integrate voice. Solving this begins with clarity on how customer behave during service journeys and what they expect. Rather than taking an inside-out view of what matters to customers.

There are further versions of the same design shortfall.

Remember I mentioned that customer expectations were morphing? West’s research shows that customers are indeed open to new ways of engaging. To that end, over two-thirds (70%) were happy to be served by a chatbot, provided they could escalate to a person as needed.  This seems entirely reasonable.

Yet, if we return to the Call Centre Helper’s annual survey, it is disappointing to read that only a third of respondents provided escalation from chatbot to live assistance. The majority expect the customer to call in!

So, I hope this is sufficient call to action. If so, you will be pleased to know I’m running a full day omnichannel design masterclass 16th January in Dublin, Ireland where the conversation and resolution will continue. Hope to see you there.

Register to Attend


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