Clearing Up Omni-Confusion about Omni-Channel
What, precisely, is ‘omni-channel’ supposed to mean? It kind of sounds like something out of a late-night Creature Feature, but suddenly, you can hardly avoid the term if your job involves customer service or anything about maximizing customer revenue.
But just as in the real world, there’s no such thing as monsters, just lots of things that are mistaken for them, the emergence of the term “omni-channel” is a reaction to something very real: Customer service managers and business execs have realized that you can’t tell an agile-thumbed millennial that the only way she can contact you is through the phone and expect to keep her as a customer.
The Omni-Channel Beast of a Problem
Now, companies realize they must communicate with their customers on a variety of channels—duh!—and still keep everything straight, even when their customers sometimes send texts or emails, and at other times leave voicemail when it’s more convenient for them. And increasingly, they post complaints on social media and expect a response from the companies they call out.
But many of those grappling with omni-channel customers also realize that the simple act of opening up new channels is not enough to kill the beast, however. If you don’t provide a consistent experience across channels, your brand will not have a consistent face to the market, you will frustrate your customers, and you will quickly find them “gaming” different channels to see which one gets them the best deal.
That’s why you need to be thoughtful about how you open your company up to the different channels.
Omni vs. Multi—And the Delay of the Consumer Mind Meld Option
The analysts’ community around the Contact Center has recognized the issue of inconsistent service across multiple channels. Their answer has been to define the term “omni-channel” by contrasting it against the better-known word, “multi-channel.”
Why doesn’t that fix the problem? Because there are as many definitions of omni-channel as there are analysts, and the full width and breadth of the term goes way beyond any technology available today. The perfect contact center—which doesn’t yet exist—would give you:
- Capabilities to provide a consistent customer experience across all different channels, including social media
- An understanding of customer history—perhaps even an estimated lifetime value—to inform the right customer experience based on the value of the customer
- An understanding of the customer’s recent interactions to provide context for the current interaction
- The ability for an agent and a customer to communicate on multiple channels at the same time, possibly including co-browsing or sending someone an SMS message while talking on the phone
- Awareness of what a customer is doing on different channels at the same time. Is she looking at your webpage while you are talking to her—or did she leave your page and go to your competitor’s?
- The ability to bring the store or branch into the mix, perhaps even helping the POS (point-of-sale) system in the store to make offers to the customer based on what they did on the company’s website yesterday
- Insight into the demographics and potential value of a customer and perhaps even her social network
And of course, a Vulcan Mind Meld with the customer would be nice, but so far that capability hasn’t made it out of beta-test.
At its core, though, “multi-channel” is a way of saying “yeah, we can give you an email channel, a voice channel, maybe even a chat or social channel.” The term “omni-channel” goes further, and usually means that you can manage customer communications across all of those channels, and in addition can integrate with other systems to give a much more complete view of customer behavior and interactions.
So What Does ‘Omni-channel’ REALLY mean TODAY?
At 8x8, we like to be totally clear about how we define the level of our omni-channel capabilities. Here’s how we enable omni-channel communications between organizations and their customers:
- We provide a single scripting environment that helps developers to build customer-facing applications across phone, chat, web, email and other channels. This means a company can set up all of their communications through a single interface or API, without having to program, say, the email channel separately from the phone system, the chat function, and the social media channel. It’s all done from one environment. You can also set up rules to respond to a call via voicemail first, then send email, then escalate the issue to the customer care department, etc. And you can modify these rules easily, too, through the same API.
- We have our own CRM system and many CRM partners—such as Salesforce, NetSuite and Zendesk—who can provide the context and interaction history that can provide context for interactions on any channels. So you don’t have to force agents or phone answerers to log the call and write the info to your CRM database; it just happens automatically. Conversely, when a call comes in from a recognized phone number—even when it doesn’t come in directly to your call center—the phone system can recognize it and pops customer details and history to the screen.
- We have the routing intelligence to take advantage of this customer insight to provide excellent and context-appropriate customer experiences—and to help you upsell and cross-sell efficiently.
- Between our partners and our own Virtual Contact Center and Virtual Office technology, companies can engage customers on all channels—and as everyone knows, “flipping” a customer who isn’t happy is likely to earn you an enthusiastic convert who is likely to evangelize your company to others in her network, increasing that customer’s value to you.
Unique Values that Go Beyond Multi-Channel
And we do things that many others in the industry cannot attempt to claim:
- We can integrate people beyond the contact center into a CRM system, eliminating many of the holes in the customer experience that show up today when customer reach beyond your contact center for assistance—or when they skip around among different channels.
- We provide intelligent applications like Proactive Web Engagement, Virtual Queuing, or Direct Agent Routing that have the intelligence to see multiple interactions as part of a single conversation.
So, yes we are omni-channel. Admittedly, the Mind Meld and Omniscience options are still a few years off. But until then, omni-channel capabilities such as these can go a long way toward providing better customer experiences and maximizing customer revenue.
Learn more about how 8x8 Virtual Contact Center and 8x8 Virtual Office can help you reach your customers on the channels they prefer.