Omni-channel, Schmomni-channel

The buzzword in Customer Service and Contact Centers over the past few years has been omni-channel. Omni-channel supposedly stands for a singular, high-quality personalized experience that a customer has with a brand that occurs regardless of where or what device the customer is using to get service. But in speaking with several industry analysts over the past week, we heard “omni-channel, schmomni-channel,” meaning the term isn’t as broadly understood as many would think. There is confusion and a very different definition by businesses around the world that use the term vs. how vendors use it!

Let’s think a little bit about the history of customer service. It started with phone calls. Then service evolved to “multi-channel,” which really ended up to be 1 or 2 channels, like email and chat, that a business would implement. These channels acted independently, and for 90% of businesses today, still do. The channels, organizations, and data are captured nicely and neatly, but IN SILOS! This is bad. Silos mean a disjointed experience for the customer, a critical asset to any company.

This reminds me of a personal experience I had with a financial services institution (not an Avaya customer by the way) after they changed a recurring payment without any notification, nor my approval. I only discovered what happened when I was notified of a late payment because the full amount had not been submitted. I called and they can’t tell me how or why this change was made because “only customer service, not billing, has access to that information.”

What I experienced happens all too often, and represents a major problem in customer service today. Customers have one experience on the web, a different one on the phone or in-person, and yet another on their mobile device. Ultimately this reflects poorly on the brand.

Almost every vendor of customer service technology has declared that their solution delivers an open, flexible, omni-channel experience, but in reality, it’s been a bit of a stretch. We haven’t connected all the piece parts to make it possible—all data sources (from all vendors) to one repository, in one view, with an agent and customer experience that provides the full perspective. Perhaps the obvious question is: why has it been a stretch? I think the answer has to do with square pegs and round holes.

So I hereby proclaim a better term: multi-touch, meaning multiple touch points. It’s a unified operation where data is shared, delivering a consistent brand experience across all touch points—phone, mobile web page, mobile app, desktop, social media, and in the branch. Multi-touch is all about differentiation in a highly competitive market.

Multi-touch also delivers a new frame of reference: for the customer, for the agent and for the business. But it’s a frame of reference that needs to build on our existing investments and knowledge—customers aren’t going to replace their devices, and businesses aren’t going to throw out their tested solutions. That means any solutions must be:

  • Bulletproof. Businesses will not put their critical customer contact capabilities in jeopardy—there is far too much at stake. So a multi-touch architecture needs to be proven reliable—if the foundation can’t handle voice at five 9s, the move to multi-touch is unlikely to be a smooth one.
  • Flexible. Multi-touch is a journey for most enterprises. They want to build, learn and grow, not take a swan dive off the high board. So a platform that allows migration at the enterprise’s pace with no disruption is essential.
  • Complete. Enterprises won’t turn to multi-touch on a dime, but they do need to know that they have a solution that will get them to the promised land: a solution that will truly change the way they offer customer service, not just at a surface level, but at a level that make that service a bona fide part of their brand.

Multi-touch delivers the same brand experience across all channels, consistently. A consistent experience is accomplished when different groups share information and data freely and in real time throughout the entire organization. It is no longer about taking information and building a routing rule, it is about taking the information and leveraging it to engage the best resources and up-to-date information to ensure the best customer experience—implement strategies not rules! In doing so, businesses are better able to adjust and make decisions faster, ultimately leading to a better customer experience.

At the upcoming IAUG, I’m excited about the announcements that will continue the conversation Avaya started at Enterprise Connect in March on how our solutions can help companies win the customer experience battle. I look forward to spending several days with our customers, listening to their needs, and getting their opinions on multi-touch solutions and the differences they can make for their businesses and the experiences they deliver to their customers.