This article examines the Omnichannel communications system of customer support, which unites and integrates all the media of communication for customer convenience, and how it is set to surpass and replace the old Multichannel model.
Customer support and the technology revolution
Companies are becoming increasingly aware of the vital importance of adopting the customer-centric model of doing business. Expectations are higher than ever before. Globally, 96% of consumers say customer service plays an important part in their loyalty to a brand. For many, good service takes priority over price. Americans have indicated that they would pay 17% more to do business with companies who have a reputation for better customer service. This figure rises to 21% among millennials.
The practice of customers using a single means of communication in their commercial activity is a thing of the past. The ever-broadening choice of information sources – live chat, email, social media, etc. – means people rarely make any significant expenditure without interaction via multiple media with potential retailers and sources of information. Once the purchase has been made, the choice of channels for enquiries, complaints or advice is equally large. The growing problem for customers and customer care staff alike is handling the transition between the different media when this becomes necessary.
The old model: Multichannel communication
Until recently, the dominant model of customer support was the Multichannel one. As the decades went by, companies would add each new form of communication to their range of channels. Each was welcomed as a valuable addition to the range of options available – websites and email in the 1990s, live chat and social media in the 21st century, etc.
Preferences vary according to the type of support desired. Live chat is the fastest growing mode of customer care communication. 63% of millennials choose it above all other methods, while 79% of all customers say they prefer to chat to an agent due to the immediate connection this method offers.
Until recently, the focus was on improving each individual medium for the customer to contact customer care. But in the race to benefit from each innovation, little thought was given to integrating them into a unified system of support. Each form of communication expanded and improved in isolation from the rest.
What’s the problem with Multichannel?
With Multichannel customer support, customers have the benefit of rapidly advancing technology, with increasing options available to communicate with customer staff. But the staff in each one are cut off from one another. If a customer wants to switch from one medium to another, they often have to start all over again with a new agent, repeating every detail of the problem at hand.
It’s a system that’s the result of the gradual increase in the number of support channels over the decades, with a new option being added every five years or so since the 1990s. Nothing was planned ahead in terms of integrating and harmonizing platforms to improve the customer experience. The existing benefits of the communications revolution are so great that many people ignored the obvious inefficiencies and missed opportunities of this Multichannel model.
Multichannel communication vs Omnichannel communication
Obviously, when it comes to communication, more is not necessarily better. Adding one medium to the next is a necessary but not sufficient requirement for customer satisfaction. The different media do not in themselves have the facility to integrate with each other. The technical skill of combining them all means having a software system that integrates all of the channels of communication in such a way that they are merely different facets of an efficient whole.
This is where Omnichannel communications software comes into the picture. Omnichannel customer support is the natural solution to this problem of uniting the diverse strands of communication into a streamlined and efficient system. The same service is then available across live chat, SMS, WhatsApp, e-mail, App, and social media, with the option of seamless and effortless transition for the customer. The agent who started contact via email can continue by means of live chat if that turns out to be a better method of explaining the problem and providing a satisfactory solution.
1. How to make life easier for your support team with Omnichannel
Customers like and appreciate the variety of channels available to them when seeking advice or assistance. But it often turns out that their first choice may not be the best one for the problem at hand. For instance, a customer may initiate a request for assistance about a product by social media, only to find that live chat would be a better means of allowing them to explain the problem with the product in question.
Under the Multichannel system, switching to live chat would be awkward and could require starting with a different agent at a different location, who has to be brought up to date on the problem from the start. Omnichannel communications platform permanently eliminates this problem.
2. How to stay connected at all times
The Omnichannel model of customer support recognizes that shifting channels does not have to be awkward or troublesome. It can be done as seamlessly and effortlessly as changing channels on a TV set, so efficiently that the customer could switch twice or three times during one interaction with an agent without ever having to repeat anything to anyone.
In the Omnichannel system, the agents have the ability to move from one channel to another without the slightest interruption in communication, working from a database custom made for Omnichannel support. Also, the customer has the ability to switch smoothly between mobile, desktop or tablet devices in the course of one interaction with an agent. Even if it becomes necessary to switch to another agent with better expertise in the matter at hand, the customer’s details and history are instantly visible to the new agent.
3. What is the advantage of uniting the different media?
A useful analogy might be the multiplicity of different stores, each specializing in one kind of merchandise, before the revolutionary idea of the one-stop department store made shopping easier and less time-consuming for all. Companies need to remember that the customer doesn’t see things in terms of “channels”. The customer is solely focused on finding a solution in the fastest and most trouble-free way possible.
The division between channels is merely an artificial by-product of the manner and the sequence in which the different forms of communication became available. There is a huge opportunity to improve the customer experience by permanently removing the barriers between live chat, email, social media, etc. Customers can then shift between them while barely noticing the transition, without having to deal with a new agent in a new setting with each change of medium.
4. Why is it important to have contact with one person / one agent?
Inefficiencies in customer care are among the prime motives for customers abandoning a brand. In a survey of people who had a bad experience with customer care, 72% cited the need to explain their problem to multiple people as the reason. In an age where data can be stored, transferred, manipulated and integrated in milliseconds, such inefficiency is unnecessary and inexcusable. The technology to allow effortless shifting between channels is available and ready to be implemented.
Omnichannel dispenses with the problem of handing a customer from one agent to the next. The entire interaction with customer care consists of explaining the problem to one person from start to finish, with a huge reduction in customer anger and frustration. That tipping point where the customer decides they’ll stop buying from the company is much more likely to be avoided. 67% of customer churn (i.e. a company losing customers entirely) could have been prevented if issues were resolved in the first instance.
5. How to use Omnichannel to drive improvement in policy
Customer support is no longer just a means of after-sales service or providing information for potential purchasers. In a well-run company, it’s an indispensable part of shaping policy. The vast amount of data that customers provide is invaluable when their feedback is calibrated and analyzed. In a well-run business, customer opinion and reaction to the company’s products should be shaping policy in real time. Anything slower or more complicated than that is too inefficient for 21st century business practice.
Omnichannel provides the opportunity for a faster and more efficient method of using customer complaints and feedback to improve company policy, redesign products, etc. Each customer’s history exists as a unit, with their interactions with agents clearly tabulated. With the decrease in shifting between agents when they come in contact with customer support, there is a smooth and seamless record of the customer’s history with the company, along with the progress of any complaints or requests for assistance. With Multichannel, the contact between customer and agents can be needlessly fragmented and repetitive. Smooth and clear communication is vital for data-driven change and improvement within a company.
6. How to save money with Omnichannel?
Even if it had no other advantage, Omnichannel customer support would save money once on customer care. The interaction between customer and support staff is streamlined, with less shifting from one member of staff to another and less time wasted on the repetition and duplication of the details of the customer’s query or complaint.
A truly effective Omnichannel communications model will have all the relevant information about the customer at the agent’s fingertips. They will be able to see the purchase history, web page visits, previous queries or feedback by the customer in question, all in coherent and searchable form. Getting past the cumbersome transition from one medium to another under the Multichannel system saves time and money.
7. How to improve agent-customer relationship with Omnichannel
Omnichannel support also enhances the agent’s relationship with the customer. Under this system, more and more often, a customer with a query or complaint will always be dealing with the same member of staff rather than being shuffled between agents. With the complete data about the customer’s history with the company at their fingertips, they will have a better way of knowing what the solution to their current difficulty is likely to be.
As with any relationship between two people, knowing the person’s history can make it easier to know their preferences and tastes, and to predict and anticipate to some degree their actions and opinions. Without compromising or intruding on the customer’s privacy in any way, it brings the agent-customer interaction closer to that of a personal relationship, giving a better idea of what kind of assistance the customer may need and what is likely to cause them difficulties.
8. How to improve employee satisfaction
More and more companies are seeing moving to Omnichannel as the obvious choice if they wish to compete. Making the move is a matter of choosing and implementing the right Omnichannel communications software and ensuring staff are fully trained in its use and accustomed to the new concept of easy shifting between the different media.
The Omnichannel model will also increase staff satisfaction. Gone is the frustration of starting anew with an irate customer who has been directed from another medium and has to repeat their story yet again. So too is the dissatisfaction resulting from the abrupt cutoff from a customer who needs to switch to another medium. Agents will have the satisfaction of developing a more satisfying relationship with the customers they help, knowing they will be with them throughout the entire interaction. Happier staff are more courteous and co-operative.
As the number of websites, social media outlets, and other channels of information grows, business in general will gravitate towards the Omnichannel approach model out of the sheer necessity of competing in the market.
Those left behind in the Multichannel world will be faced with increasing difficulties as their competitors move ahead with superior customer care methods and more efficient ways of using customer feedback to improve their products, policy and practices. The question for businesses is how to find an efficient and cost effective means of going beyond the fragmented Multichannel model into the new era of customer care.