Accessibility in the Multichannel World
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Accessibility in the Multichannel World

The sooner you pull the full range of interactions and channels into your customer service operations — categorize them correctly and build them into your plans and processes — the sooner you are able to scale resources and respond as opportunities unfold.

This is an exciting season of development, as contact centers become increasingly important to their organizations and the economy. As hubs of communication, they are vital to understanding and serving diverse customers, capturing marketplace intelligence and harnessing the voice of the customer to improve products and services.

To meet their potential, though, they must account for, corral and manage a full range of customer interactions. That begins with accessibility and some in-the-trenches planning. All interactions must ultimately be categorized as those that must be handled as they occur and those that can be deferred.

Service level is tried and true in centers worldwide for contacts that must be handled as they occur. Inbound phone calls are a common example, and interactions that include chat, click-to-talk, time-sensitive social interactions, walk-in customers and video calls also fit into this category. Service level has a specific expression: "X percent of all contacts answered in Y seconds," e.g., 90 percent of calls answered within 20 seconds.

Most contact centers are also responsible for contacts that belong in a second category — those that don’t have to be handled right away. Examples include email messages, many types of outbound calls, interactions through social channels that can be deferred, postal mail, and customer voicemail. These interactions allow larger windows of time and more flexibility in terms of when the center can respond. Response time is the related objective for contacts that don’t have to be handled when they arrive, and is expressed as "100 percent response within N days/hours/minutes."

Most contact types are easy to categorize. For example, inbound calls or walk-in customers should usually be considered service level interactions. (Okay, someone out there is making the case that they could be response time, and that's true if, for example, callers opt to receive callbacks. However, they’re usually service level.) Similarly, email messages from customers, as a rule, don’t have to be processed when they arrive. (Exception: An email such as, "I think you should know that your home page has been hijacked.")

Differentiating between service level and response time is essential because base staff and other resource calculations vary for these two major categories of contacts. Service level is used in situations with randomly arriving traffic and requires Erlang C or computer simulation for determining staff requirements. Response time contacts can be held for later processing and can rely on traditional units-of-output methods of staff planning commonly used outside of contact centers.

Categorizing Customer Interactions

 Use Service Level Use Response Time
Inbound phone calls 

 
Outbound phone calls*   

Email*   

Social – real-time**

x


Social – deferred*

x

SMS

x


Web chat

x


Web call-me-now

x


Web call-me-later

x

Web click-to-talk

x


Fax

x

Postal mail

x

Video calls

x


Walk-in customers

x


*These contacts use response time if they can be deferred. Some may require handling when they arrive.
**Social interactions are varied, and are broadly categorized here as those that should be handled as they occur and those that can be deferred.

Most contact types are easy to categorize. For example, inbound calls or walk-in customers should usually be considered service level interactions. (Okay, someone out there is making the case that they could be response time, and that’s true if, for example, callers opt to receive callbacks. However, they’re usually service level.) Similarly, email messages from customers, as a rule, don’t have to be processed when they arrive. (Exception: An email such as, “I think you should know that your home page has been hijacked.")

There is a point at which response time objectives become service level objectives. For example, some organizations have upped their response time objectives for email from 24 hours to “within the same hour.” Some are going even further and handling email, social and other customer interactions as they occur, just as they do inbound phone calls. For targets of less than an hour, service level, not response time, becomes the defining objective and base-staff requirements should be calculated using a service level methodology.

What about social interactions, the newcomer to contact center workloads? That depends. If a customer tweets that their power is out, it should probably be handled sooner rather than later (it's a "social – real-time" contact). On the other hand, if someone posts an involved question on how to use your software program, it can probably be deferred ("social – deferred"), allowing you time to put together an appropriate post or FAQ. (And with an active community, you will likely get some help from other customers.)

But how do you know the difference? Start by thinking through the factors that drive your customers’ tolerance (their expectations, motivation, etc.). Do your best to put yourself in their shoes. Consider the impact on resources. And then, all of this considered, establish objectives and plans that enable you to deliver services in line with your customers' needs and your brand.

(Many organizations start out by handling social channels as a part of marketing, publicity, or corporate communication efforts. No problem there, and we absolutely need the skills and know-how those disciplines bring to this effort. But the sooner you are ready to pull the full range of interactions and channels into your customer service operations — categorize them correctly and build them into your plans and processes — the sooner you will be able to scale resources and respond as opportunities unfold.)

Categorizing and, in turn, handling and managing the full range of customer interactions is an important enabler. It goes to the heart of getting the right resources in place at the right times, so that we can get on with what really matters – delivering service, boosting customer loyalty, building the brand, and capturing input that can help improve products, services and processes across the broader organization.



Topics: Multichannel Contact Center, Learning & Development, Site Operations, Technology, Social Media

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