As technology continues to advance, the way that we must be prepared to interact with our customer has evolved considerably. Think about. Forty years ago, the primary channel of communication was the telephone. Computers were still in their infancy and messaging was limited to pagers that could only display numeric characters. Everything came through the phone, even fax machines relied on phone lines.
In the context of customer experience, contact centers were an innovation. Prior to the emergence of contact centers, customers were reliant on interacting with regional or branch offices for customer support. Most interactions could not be successfully resolved over the phone, so a physical appearance may have been required for the interaction. Contact centers changed this by centralizing customer support over the phones benefiting from economies of scale, consistency in practices, and enabling more and more capability of interaction resolution via the phone channel.
One could argue that the original digital worker in this era was the introduction of an interactive voice response (IVR) before a customer could reach a human. Companies invested in tremendous amount of IVR capability which enabled customers to resolve issues without speaking to a person and it presented a more cost-effective and efficient approach to customer experience. Customers initially welcomed these changes until the investment led to a perception that these systems prevented access to support representatives and created delays in resolving issues. The value equation for the customer changed, as the IVR was no longer accretive to an excellent customer experience but seen as a blocker to the access of resources required for resolution of a customer inquiry.
What changed? The emergence of the internet enabled many self-service functions that negated the initial value of IVR systems. Customers can access their account data, transaction history, billing statements, and account balances all online. Eventually, they could change their billing plans and adjust their customer record without the need for a phone discussion at all. So when customers who adopted online access started to need to interact with a live person for resolution for a more complex issue, they were treated as if they started step one of calling the service support team. The problem is there was not a way to know and differentiate between the customers that already attempted to resolve their issue online vs. customers who started their journey entirely from the phone channel. Customers became frustrated with the lack of context and personalization in the experience.
The internet ushered in many more communication channels such as messaging (i.e., SMS, iMessage, Meta Messenger, and WhatsApp). The company response was to simply add it as another channel of support for customers. However, these channels were never connected so what happened on one channel was foreign to the support teams of the other channel. We define this stage as multi-channel customer experience. It is the ability to service a customer in many channels, but it does not provide for a single pane of glass view from a customer perspective. Each time the customer interacts in a different channel, they need to restate their issue and the history and context of the problem in order to receive adequate support.
The next evolution is omnichannel. Omnichannel is a customer experience strategy that aims to provide a seamless, consistent experience for customers across all channels, such as the company website, social media, email, phone, and in-person interactions. This is important for businesses because it can improve customer satisfaction and loyalty, increase sales, enhance customer service, and improve data analysis. An omnichannel approach can also make it easier for businesses to engage with customers, streamline processes, and increase efficiency. By adopting an omnichannel approach, businesses can provide a positive, convenient, and consistent experience for their customers, which can lead to increased sales, customer loyalty, and long-term success.
But legacy systems that were deployed to support multi-channel prevent an efficient omnichannel as solution. To deploy omni-channel successfully, a unified platform like Amazon Connect/Engage is required. It is much more difficult to orchestrate different multi-channel platforms to maintain continuity as a customer shift from channel to channel than it is to deploy a singular solution for all channels that enables out of the box continuity in channel shift. This may seem like an expensive deployment; however, initial implementation fees are now very low reducing the barriers of transition and unifying channels delivers considerable savings to businesses through increased efficiency of customer interactions. Not to mention, customers demand this. Digital-first companies are delivering these solutions at inception and customers are now holding all companies to this standard of service. An omnichannel approach is important for businesses because it allows them to reach customers through a variety of channels, which can increase their overall reach and visibility. This can be particularly important in today’s digitally driven world, where customers expect to be able to interact with businesses through a variety of channels. By providing a positive, consistent experience for customers across all channels, businesses can improve customer loyalty and increase sales. An omnichannel approach can also make it more convenient for customers to interact with a business, which can be particularly important for busy customers.
By providing a variety of channels for customers, businesses can offer the most convenient channels to customers to obtain resolution. And customer journeys can be personalized and contextualized. For example, one can bypass that IVR because we know why the customer is now using the phone channel and we can fast track that customer to the point of resolution. Even better, we can even prevent the customer from having to call at all and can schedule a time when we can interact with the customer directly. Now this is the level of service that is the bar of expectation.
Orchestrating these journeys is now simplified and more of a “ready-out-of-the-box” approach with technology solutions. However, maximum optimization comes from integrating these solutions with front-line customer service teams to identify opportunities to further optimize omnichannel experiences. Think about it as an out-of-box deployment may be effective for 70% of customer interactions, but if you want to get to 85% or 90% effectiveness that will require the expertise of subject matter experts who regularly support customers to partner with technology teams to get this incremental improvement.