By Jed Hewson, co-founder of 1Stream

With more customers owning smart mobile devices, companies are facing an ever increasing need to communicate and respond to customers using channels, other than a simple voice call. While voice is still the preferred channel, most call centers are also expected to support multimedia communication including email, instant chat, SMS and social media. Multimedia poses many challenges for a call centre, requiring a variety of new skills and strategies, but the principles of agents’ productivity and quality measurements remain the same.

Our 2016 annual white paper, features Omni-channel, where all media types are channelled through the same queuing mechanism allowing the call centre management to monitor and report across interactions, as a key trend. In this blog I explore the do’s and don’ts around implementing Omni-channel in your call centre.


Implement Omni-channel
Call centres are about agents, they account for around 70% of call centre operational costs and directly affect “cost to serve” and customer satisfaction. The reality is that if you want to manage agents’ performance and quality of work, you need to be able to measure it, especially if you want to use these scores to incentivise your staff. Omni-channel allows accurate and transparent monitoring and reporting, something that is difficult to achieve using disparate systems.

Create blended agents
One of the daily balancing acts for call centre management is scheduling. Too many agents mean wasted salaries as agents sit idle waiting for a call, while too few agents could result in customers being abandoned and customer satisfaction falling. Using Omni-channel and skilling agents to manage more than just voice calls resolves many of these issues as agents normally left idle waiting for a phone call can keep busy with queries via emails and instant messaging interactions.

Prioritise media types
Once you have implemented Omni-channel, make sure that your different media types are correctly prioritised. Your Omni-channel system needs to be able to allow agents to handle multiple interactions concurrently. For example, agents should be kept busy with email and instant messaging but not at the expense of your target SLA, while agents working on email queries must be able to also handle an incoming voice call. You might find that an agent can only handle one call at a time, while a skilled agent should be able to handle multiple email and chat sessions concurrently.

Implement shelving
Voice calls are usually real-time and dynamic, but many multimedia interactions may need more research before the agent can respond to a customer with an answer. Ensure that your Omni-channel solution offers the agent the ability to “shelve” an interaction, setting reminders and tagging with notes so that the agent can come back to the interaction at a later time. Fit-for-purpose technology solutions will allow reminders and escalations, ensuring that the interaction will not be lost.

Single reporting system
The whole point of Omni-channel is to manage all of your interactions in a consistent manner. In order to fully understand an agent’s performance across all media and their individual performance for each medium, you need to be able to measure all interactions in a consistent and reliable way. All media channels need to be reported on, recorded and quality assessed using the same methodology as a voice call. If you cannot measure an agent’s performance and produce quality scores across all media channels, you cannot drive performance with incentives.


Don’t use disparate multimedia systems
As many call centres use legacy PBX systems to handle their voices calls, the temptation is to implement separate email and chat systems to handle multimedia. The reality is that you will not be able to measure an agent’s performance correctly, because you will have separate queues and separate reporting for each media-channel. Disparate systems will also be unable to prioritise interactions for agents across all media, and there is the risk of agents taking advantage of the inaccurate reporting system and the lack of a 360-degree view of their work load. Make sure all interactions are recorded in a central channel so that agents looking for a history of interactions with a client can get all media and not just voice.

Don’t assume all agents can blend
Agents who have a great phone manner and score well with voice interactions may struggle with written interactions. Agents need to have a good grasp of spelling and grammar to handle multimedia interactions and touch typing is a real bonus, so don’t assume all agents can handle all media. Make sure your agents are fully trained, not just in product knowledge but also in their ability to handle written responses to your customers.

Don’t underestimate the cost of multimedia
There is an age old belief that multimedia interactions are a cheaper form of communicating with your customers. This is not the case. Written responses take longer and cost more time and therefore more money. Where possible, ensure the agent has access to responses for Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) and uses formatted templates. To save time, encourage your agents to call the customer on the phone if the situation is complex.

Don’t get stuck with prioritised queuing
Many call centres use prioritised queues to decide which media type should be handled first. This is good practice, but the reality is that a very busy call centre will start to suffer from queue starvation. This happens when a prioritised queue is always busy and other interaction types are not offered to agents. A good Omni-channel solution will offer dynamic priorities, adjusting the multimedia interaction so that the target SLA is met. Less sophisticated systems may need supervisor intervention to remove some agents off voice calls to focus on other media queues.

The benefits of implementing Omni-channel are clear, and with most call centres already managing or considering multimedia support in their business, the key lies in being aware of the complexities of managing more than one communication channel.