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Outsource magazine: thought-leadership and outsourcing strategy | August 20, 2017

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Is multichannel failing customers?

Is multichannel failing customers?
Outsource Magazine

The contact centre industry has been talking about the benefits of integrated communications for years. Multichannel and omni-channel have become the latest industry buzzwords and it seems that organisations are bombarded with the message that all they have to do is invest in the right technology, throw in a Voice of the Customer programme and – bingo – they have arrived at customer experience nirvana.

That’s the theory anyway. In reality we know it’s not always that easy.

Our own experience of working with contact centres and their outsourcing partners has confirmed that simply adding new channels without a coherent and integrated set of metrics or customer feedback mechanism will lead to a chaotic and uncontrolled experience for customers. We wanted to start a more authentic debate in the industry; a conversation that recognises the limitations of technology and doesn’t shy away from the many real challenges our customers face.

So we decided to carry out some research, based on interviews with contact centre professionals, to uncover if and how contact centres are implementing a multichannel strategy, and more importantly, whether they’re getting it right.  We discovered that while multichannel is a reality in today’s contact centre, the industry still has a long way to go.

This article summarises the findings of our report.

1. The multichannel contact centre is a reality

There is no doubt that the multichannel contact centre is a reality. The vast majority (90%), of organisations are offering more than three channels and just under half (42%) offer more than six.

While email and telephone remain the most widely offered channels, offered by 91% and 93% respectively, web and IVR self- service channels are competing for third place at 64.5% and 65% and over half (56%) of contact centres offer social media in some guise. Interestingly, a similar number still offer a postal service channel.

In the same way that voice and email channels were originally introduced to provide lower cost and faster versions of traditional face-to-face and postal contact, the rationale behind newer self-service channels was to improve customer access and reduce cost by lowering volume impacts on voice and email channels.

However, in reality when self-service channels fail, the fall back is voice and email, defeating their purpose and pushing up organisational costs in the form of repeat contacts and increasing customer frustration. Similarly customers are likely to resort to social media and chat only when their query has not been resolved after repeated attempts via other channels.

2. Measuring performance: a long way to go

However simply offering new channels isn’t enough;  measuring performance is vital to understand what is driving the contact.  Our report revealed that even the most established channels could be measured much more effectively. Over four out of five organisations are tracking performance metrics on the telephone and three quarters are tracking customer feedback. This might seem hopeful, but that still leaves just over a quarter of contact centres unable to capture customer feedback on the phone – something that should be second nature at this stage.

So what about newer channels? You guessed it; they fare even worse when it comes to measurement. Although SMS is offered by almost half of the organisations we spoke to, only 8% of those organisations are tracking customer feedback on it and only 14% are tracking performance metrics. The research also found that only 27% of organisations are tracking performance metrics on social media and 18% on chat.

Given that digital channels are generating an increase in volume contacts, with high visibility and immediacy, brands face a higher risk to their reputation and operational costs if they fail to meet the needs of customers and in turn cause frustrations to spill out onto social media.

3. Joining up the multichannel contact centre

It is no secret that rising customer expectations are a key factor driving the multichannel contact centre. Today’s customers increasingly expect multiple channels of interaction and crucially they expect continuity between these channels. There is a significant body of research suggesting that failure to deliver this will have a negative impact on the customer experience and in the long term, customer loyalty.  Even worse these channels are leading to increased volumes of repeat contacts, which means they are failing in their fundamental purpose. At the same time research also confirms that those organisations that do succeed in creating a consistent customer experience across all channels can expect to enjoy improved future revenue.

To build a truly joined-up contact centre and a seamless customer experience, you will need a clear strategy to integrate your channels. Yet our survey showed that just 60% have a clear strategy in place, while a further 31% are planning to introduce one in the next 12 months. Only 10% have a clear strategy in place to integrate all their contact channels and have successfully implemented the right systems and processes to meet it.

4. Understanding the customer journey

Unless contact centres are able to identify the pain points in the customer journey, for example incomplete information on the company website, or failure to respond to an email within an acceptable timeframe, then the multichannel contact centre is going to disappoint customers, increase repeat contacts and negate cost-effectiveness.

Our research showed that a staggering 90% of contact centres do not have a clear picture of the customer journey across all of their contact channels. Given that creating a seamless experience across all channels is a primary driver of customer satisfaction, it is clear that the industry is falling short.

To be fair, 38% of contact centres do analyse the customer journey against half of their contact channels and a further 15% look at a couple of channels. With a fragmented picture of the customer journey at best, contact centres will not realise the benefits of a joined-up multichannel strategy. In fact, quite the opposite; they are quite likely driving contact as a result of failing interactions in an unmonitored channel or the lack of availability in the channel of choice. A multichannel offering is about offering the appropriate service for the medium — as opposed to an “all-for-all” approach.

5. Empowering agents

A customer-centric contact centre must empower agents and encourage them to take responsibility for customer satisfaction. To do this they need the right tools and the autonomy to resolve customer queries accurately and quickly.

Somewhat shockingly, although the concept of the 360-degree customer view was introduced over a decade ago, just 20% of contact centres say their agents can see all previous contacts in a single system; a further 17% say they can see all previous contacts on all channels but in different systems.

The fact still remains that well over half (63%) of agents either have an incomplete history (29%) or no history at all (34%).

6. Delivering customer insight

The rationale and processes behind collecting customer feedback have been changing rapidly in recent years. Voice-of-the-customer programmes that aim to capture a detailed view of the customer’s expectations and preferences have been gaining momentum. New technology has been added to the mix and has opened up a vast range of possibilities in the way organisations gather insight and how they turn that insight into actionable intelligence that translate to operational improvements.

Our research found some encouraging progress when it came to customer insight with almost a quarter (23%) of contact centres saying customer feedback from all channels is integrated and processed in a single system to develop a single view of what we need to change to make things easier for customers. However the vast majority of contact centres are failing to take a holistic view: 40% say customer feedback from separate channels is used by the channel owners to improve performance but is not brought together in a single report; and a further 25% say customer feedback is used to measure performance in the contact centre, but that feedback is not shared with other departments.

Conclusion

Our research suggests that contact centres need to take a more strategic approach to the multichannel contact centre.   It seems that too often new channels are introduced without a clear understanding of success criteria for these channels; and in the absence of useful data it is almost impossible to assess how they are performing.  But the really critical problem that the industry must address is the lack of a joined-up approach to meet the needs of the connected customer.   This challenge offers a huge opportunity for the outsourcing industry to demonstrate how it can become a strategic partner to the brands it serves, helping them to negotiate the multichannel maze and deliver measurable value to their organisation.


About the Author

Jaime Scott is Managing Director at EvaluAgent. He has 17 years’ experience leading customer service operations and customer experience improvement teams and programmes for leading UK brands. As Head of Customer Insight and Improvement at Orange, he established the organisation’s first customer experience function and played a leading role in helping the company to top the JD Power customer satisfaction awards six years running. As Customer Experience Director at Barclays Bank and Vertex, he led teams to design and implement enterprise-level contact management and workforce optimisation solutions for a range of well-known brands including M&S, Tesco Bank, National Trust, Scottish Power and Selfridges.

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