Get ready for the multichannel contact centre

Interactive Intelligence’s Dave Paulding, Regional Sales Director UK, Middle East & Africa, offers three strategic tips for decision makers negotiating the looming shift to multichannel contact centres.

February 10, 2011

Interactive Intelligence‘s Dave Paulding, Regional Sales Director UK, Middle East & Africa, offers three strategic tips for decision makers negotiating the looming shift to multichannel contact centres.

The rapid adoption of digital lifestyles by African consumers means that companies are being forced to address the issue of multichannel customer service. Today’s digitally orientated consumers expect to be able to interact with companies on their terms, using their medium of choice – be it Twitter or email. They also want to be able to control their conversations and interactions with service providers, rather than being forced into a particular method of engagement. And, increasingly, consumers expect their issues to be addressed and resolved in so-called internet time. A bad experience on any of these fronts is likely to see the customer move to different companies the next time around.

While this new, communication concept might be expected to create major contact centre headaches, the reality is less concerning than one might expect. In fact, allowing customers to ‘self-serve’ through an expanded range of interaction channels can actually boost overall contact centre efficiency, if the process is approached correctly. Research from the Gartner Group shows that self service can reduce calls into a contact centre by 12-14%. When email is the second channel added, the reduction in call volumes goes up to around 16 -18%, and adding a chat interaction channel can reduce calls by up to 25%. In summary, the research indicates that SMS, social media, chat and email interactions are cheaper to handle and generally more efficient than phone calls in resolving low priority customer issues.

Interestingly, Gartner research also shows that 24% of US companies are currently integrating social media into their contact centre, with a further 32% of businesses negotiating the planning stage. That over 50% of US companies are already putting in place multichannel contact centre functionality confirms.

When the move to a multichannel contact centre is undertaken, decision makers should pay attention to three key strategic issues.

#1 Customer focus really counts

The first step is to create a detailed blueprint for multichannel success. Ideally the creation of this blueprint will involve significant input from customers, as well as from your key customer service agents and supervisors within the contact centre. The goal is to be 100% customer focused and to gain, via the, a full view of how the companies’ customers prefer to interact with it. Once the need for each new service channel has been thoroughly verified and explored, the companies can decide exactly how it is going to live up to that need.

#2 Be technology smart

There are a number of critical technology questions that need to be asked and answered if multichannel evolution is going to be successful. It’s essential, for example, that all channels are integrated into the contact centre’s desktop interface, that reporting mechanisms are multichannel capable and that all channels can be recorded and monitored in real time, to name just a few aspects. At the highest level, integration with the existing CRM system is an obvious and primary organisational concern.

A good approach to ensuring a smooth evolution is to take incremental steps, with a single channel implemented at a time, and with each new channel supported by extensive agent training. During this incremental phase channel availability to customers can be selectively restricted to ensure a manageable process. Ultimately, success will rely in great measure on the company’s ability to offer comprehensive training and support to its agents. With effective agent support in mind, it can also be a good idea to over-staff the contact centre for the first thirty days of a channel launch, which will create enough room to cope with the inevitable variables.

#3 Market, measure and monitor

Marketing new channels is very important – if they are going to be successful, your customers need to know about them and be encouraged to use them, which means highlighting the new channels via advertising and through simple devices such as email signatures.

It’s also crucial to track successes and failures on an ongoing basis and to strive to put in place a reporting feedback loop that supports the long term development of your system. Within this context, the most important aspect is to be sure set realistic metrics, and then to ensure they are meticulously tracked. Ongoing reporting and feedback within the organisation creates the right context for strong performance – it also creates the kind of high level strategic lens that is so important to identifying, and catering to, new interaction channels as they emerge.