When it comes to delivering omnichannel customer service, quality over quantity is key. Here’s why ‘single-channel outcomes’ should be your focus for 2021.
The coronavirus lockdown catalysed new ways of getting things done for everyday living. Businesses and contact centres went online, some tried non-voice channels for the first time, and others simply used them much more.
As a result, chat, social and messaging took off in ways not seen pre-pandemic. Niche modalities also prospered. Our substitution of face-to-face socialising with video sessions delivered a stronger sense of connection than a mere call or text. Keeping the bond between families and organisations without Teams or Zoom would have made the challenge even more taxing. As a result, video has graduated as a customer engagement channel for certain use cases.
Pretty much everyone hoisted the ‘digital first’ flag and reinvented key journeys. Even so, voice still dominated, especially when customers needed trust and reassurance during conversations about financial holidays, cancelled itineraries and the like.
Live assistance was not the only part of the contact mix to evolve rapidly. Self-service became a key strategy to reduce inbound demand. Many organisations had to deal with both sustained customer demand and reduced headcount. Productivity issues from the unexpected pivot to homeworking also added urgency to nudging customers into self-managing their needs.
There were some stunning examples of agile bot deployments when needs were simple and standardised. Equally, some discovered the power of proactive engagement with a constant campaign of outbound communication to inform customers ahead of their need to make contact.
Things evolved at an unprecedented pace. Omnichannel, single inbox and unified desktop solutions with cross-channel histories on tap became the ‘go-to’ technology, along with a move to the cloud to facilitate the new hybrid model of home and office working.
So, what does this mean for you?
Customer behaviour has changed in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Omnichannel customer service is no longer a luxury, but a necessity. So how can you improve?
The key question you need to ask is: are each of your channels providing your customers with a clear path to their desired outcome? Or are your customers having to flip between channels because they aren’t delivering as expected?
Consider this hypothetical scenario: you are looking for some information. You google in the hope that effective SEO links your question to the right answer. No such luck. However, a relevant support page offers a way forward. You take it and spend the next 10 minutes scrolling through FAQs and typing into what proves to be a highly ineffective local search service. By the end of it, you scrape together half an answer.
You still need more specifics and notice a web chat widget lurking in the bottom right-hand corner of your screen. You try it but no-one is there. Unfortunately, they have all been seconded to deal with a surge in the voice queue.
You are now running out of time, so you find and fill in the contact us form. Before the day ends, you notice an automated ‘thank you for contacting us’ arrive in your inbox. The promised response time does not fill you with confidence, so you leave a quick cry for help on Twitter in the hope of getting someone’s attention.
The next morning, after a night’s rest and coffee, you decide to ring and wait. You put yourself onto speaker mode and multi-task until you are finally put through to someone. To stoke your growing frustration, you are given the extra chore of repeating yourself at both IVR and agent stage.
Even if we discount the repetition phase because our imagined service organisation has already migrated from multi-channel spaghetti to omnichannel orchestration, it does not follow that the customer journey just described automatically simplifies and results in a satisfactory experience.
‘Single-channel outcomes’ should be your focus for 2021
Optimised paths to outcomes need to be explicitly designed, tested and constantly monitored for improvement opportunities, otherwise omnichannel adds complexity, effort and confusion for both customer and organisation. And neither side will welcome the extra time, effort and cost.
Let’s assume as a result of changing customer behaviour triggered by the pandemic that you are now expanding from an engagement choice of just phone or email to include a few social channels and messaging with an integrated bot to triage, answer simple questions and escalate to advisors.
Is it a sign of success that customers then use as many of these to resolve an issue? Or does it suggest you are offering channels that do not provide a clear path to their outcomes?
For instance, is the customer being forced to use another channel because your FAQ is incomplete, your phone queue is longer than the time they can spare, or a key task such as sharing an ID document or finalising an agreement with a digital signature cannot happen in the current channel and so needs to be completed by post?
All these are examples of the outcomes being blocked and the customer being forced to pivot.
Instead, a key design principle should be to focus on ‘single-channel outcomes’ whenever possible. In other words, the value of omnichannel from the customer’s perspective is simply about initial choice. Research suggests that ‘in the moment’ convenience most often drives that choice combined with personal preferences for a particular way of engaging. After that, omnichannel ceases to be of interest, unless it becomes a hindrance.
How can you achieve single-channel outcomes?
Recent research from Execs In The Know (2020 Consumer Experiences and Opinions) showed that “70 per cent of US consumers have been involved in multichannel and/or multi-contact service journeys”. The key takeaway is that “the longer it takes or the more touchpoints involved to resolve an issue, the less satisfied the consumer will be at the end of the journey”.
From the organisational perspective, we need to offer choice because the customer situation and preference demands that. However, that does not mean we then allow them to find their own way through, allowing the traditional voice channel to become a homing beacon for lost customers to eventually gravitate towards.
It is our job to know the detail of every service journey, and through in-depth analysis and testing, come to a point of being able to offer customers recommended paths to their outcome. If that must involve more than one channel, then design it so it feels like there is no ‘interruption, deviation or repetition’ to quote a well-loved UK radio show.
For instance, you might use the triage process to recommend that customers use mobile video chat to install or fix things, then use omnichannel orchestration to get them to that channel. Of course, they might still email you if they prefer, but you are influencing that choice by letting them know that their preference for ‘fast, effective outcomes’ (the top universal customer expectation) is best served by your recommended channel.
Your service design mission then becomes one of listing every task in a particular sales or service journey against the channels you offer and figuring out which modality and type (live, self or proactive service) works best against the ambition of achieving ‘single-channel outcomes’.
We are on the cusp of a new chapter in which the power of AI to predict and influence the paths customers take to reach their outcome is being explored. Even when this becomes mainstream, the underlying automation will still need to be guided by a framework of decisions about what constitutes the best path to a customer outcome.
We should always keep their priorities top of mind for rapid, easy resolution.