Omnichannel Customer Service: Function or Fad?

The market has a new buzzword.

A day doesn’t go by that I don’t see a webcast or event invitation that includes the term omnichannel. I suspect that many vendors are simply jumping on the tidal wave created by others and hoping to get some visibility out of it when in fact many do not offer an omnichannel solution!

The terms multichannel and omnichannel are being tossed around the marketplace freely, in some cases even being used interchangeably.

Some understand how they differ, but the situation has left others wondering, “What’s the difference?” or “Is omnichannel just market hype without substance?” With so many vendors suddenly claiming to offer omnichannel solutions, it’s no wonder that some are skeptical and perhaps just a little bit confused. Yes, there is a difference.

I would like to set the record straight: Omnichannel is multichannel done right.

I think we all know that consumers expect flexibility in how they engage with a business. Sometimes it’s over the Web, sometimes they want to talk to someone live, sometimes it’s a mobile application, and believe it or not, sometimes they actually go to the store. Sounds a little bit like multichannel customer engagement, right? And it is. The difference is in how a business connects the dots.

With multichannel today, companies add new customer touch points, such as chat, SMS, social, mobile and video, to the traditional voice channel. But in most cases those channels are silo’d or only provide minimal views into other activity. They aren’t connecting the dots.

For example, you call your local service provider to order a new service. A couple days later, you experience a problem so you go to their website and search for the answer, which you can’t find (of course).

You send an email to their customer service department because you don’t have time to deal with the Interactive Voice Response system or wait times. You receive a reply asking you for your account details so they can investigate further. You send the information but decide that you really can’t wait and need to call to get this resolved quickly.

You go through the IVR, enter your account information, wait for 5 minutes, and finally get an agent who then asks you for your account information, again. Just to find out that they have no idea what your problem is and you need to explain it… again. Then the transfers begin. I think you get my point. The channels and the data across those channels are not connected.

Done right, omnichannel customer service leverages context to drive the right result.

That context can include:

  • Awareness of previous channel conversations and engagements
  • Information about the customer such as preferences, social profiles, location, demographics and status
  • Information about the agent such as availability and skills
  • Information on the current situation, such as time of day or even the device being used

For example, I shop frequently at a women’s clothing store and when I was last there, I was interested in a blouse that they didn’t have in my size.

The sales clerk said she could call another location but I was pressed for time and didn’t end up making a purchase. Later that day, I receive an email saying that I could order the blouse online.

I click the link and it takes me to an ordering page for the blouse. But during the transaction something goes wrong and I’m unable to order, so I decide to chat with an agent. The agent knows who I am and that I’m interested in a particular blouse. She places the order for me and while she has me on chat shows me two other items that I end up purchasing.

This retailer took a lost sale and turned it into a bigger sale because of their ability to offer a seamless experience across channels – a true omnichannel experience.

If you think about the definition of Omni, which basically translates to ‘all’ or ‘every’, the added value of ominichannel becomes clearer. In a customer service scenario, this translates to the ability to use all relevant data to drive a desired outcome.

However, without a unified engine that brings all of these customer touch points together, the resulting experience will be limited. A single routing engine can enable the assignment of the best resources based on agent, customer, and situational context – an essential feature of the omnichannel experience. This drives a consistent overarching brand experience, rather than single channel experience.

For Avaya, delivering an omnichannel experience is business as usual. In fact, Avaya has led the charge on this front for many years as part of our Aware Customer Experience strategy.

At Avaya we’ve developed our omnichannel experience based on a single solution for all types of channels.

  • Management and advanced routing of all voice and non-voice interactions
  • Full customer history and context across internal and external (i.e. social) channels
  • CRM screen pops for full customer details
  • Unified backend reporting and analytics

And we’re not done. We’ve built a broad, open portfolio of customer experience solutions, allowing for the evolution of existing channels and the introduction – and integration – of new ones. We look forward to delivering advancements in how context will be used to provide optimized work assignment with advanced analytics to drive real-time decisions and information, as one example.

But don’t just take my word for it! Avaya’s leadership in omnichannel was recognized by Frost & Sullivan, who named Avaya the 2013 North American Omni-Channel Customer Engagement Company of the Year. We are proud of this recognition and appreciate that the industry is embracing a concept we’ve long evangelized.

So what are your thoughts on omnichannel? Share them in the comments box below!

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