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Expert's Angle: Five Steps for Building an Effective Multichannel and VoC Strategy

Now more than ever, customers have multiple ways to communicate with an organization. In addition to a traditional phone, they can use chat, email, or even mobile text messages to reach out when they have a problem or need assistance. Self-service options are also more readily available, and can be accessed through a company’s website, IVR, social media and review sites. This dramatic expansion in communication channels has left many organizations with the need to rethink the processes, technology, and overarching strategy for their multichannel customer service operations.

Some customer service organizations often question if all these channels are really necessary. I recently witnessed, first hand, an example that demonstrated the need for multiple support channels. After analyzing first call resolution (FCR) issues within its contact center, a large healthcare insurance provider discovered several different types of questions that some customer service representatives (CSRs) couldn’t handle effectively. As a result, this healthcare insurance provider established an internal resource center to support its CSRs. Initially, the resource center looked at providing only a phone channel for this support desk. This caused various peaks with long hold times on these lines, so they switched to chat only. It noticed a very significant drop in inquiries into the resource center, and realized that not every question could be effectively addressed via chat. Eventually the company found the right balance between phone and chat, with phone being used for more complex issues and chat for getting a quick response to simple questions.

Step One: Strike the Right Balance to Effectively Use Each Channel Where Relevant

Different customers prefer different channels in different situations. If you're in a loud environment, you're probably better off conducting customer communications via chat or text versus holding a conversation on the phone. It's best to try and identify which channels are most effective in each situation or customer type. Then, set up the most effective channel as the first default choice for each unique situation or customer profile. For example, by analyzing the IVR channel you may find that more complex issues usually end up needing live agent assistance so it's probably more effective to offer that upfront rather than trying to guide the customer though a complex set of automated menus before they are eventually transferred.

In order to optimize the performance of each channel, various analytics and performance tools have been created as new channels emerge.

  • Quality Monitoring provides a sample of audio and screen recording to help monitor agent effectiveness, quality responses and compliance.
  • Speech Analytics categorizes and analyzes customer phone interaction content to reveal the root causes of customer complaints and compliments, repeat calls, customer churn and other critical business issues. It can identify competitive threats and market opportunities, and surface trends that might not otherwise be detected without listening to thousands of contact center interactions.
  • Text Analytics analyzes customer interactions and feedback from a variety of text sources such as email, blogs, chat, Twitter, Facebook and other social media channels.
  • Customer Feedback and Enterprise Feedback Management engages customers after their interactions with an organization to gather data on products/staff performance and customer loyalty/satisfaction levels⎯across the different channels of contact.
  • Data Analytics mines massive amounts of structured data from speech and text analytics output, quality scores, survey results, screen events and more. This information can often reveal specific scenarios that can impact overall contact center KPI performance, and it can also estimate potential ROI as it relates back to cost savings and operational efficiencies before action is taken.

Step Two: Link the Customer Journey Across the Channels

Simply providing customers with multiple channels in which to communicate, and then analyzing and optimizing each channel separately with these performance tools is no longer enough when it comes to managing the customer experience. It’s important to realize that in many cases, the customer journey spans more than a single channel. Data in the March 2011 Ovum Optimizing Customer Service in a Multi-Channel World research report claims that "the majority of consumers use three or more communication channels when engaging customer service."

A typical contact cycle can go much like this: 1. the customer logs onto your website for information, 2. after having trouble finding the answer, he/she may try online chat, 3. the customer may than end up calling the contact center, where he/she will likely be greeted by an IVR system, and then have to eventually ask to be transferred to a live agent. When these multiple courses do not lead to an effective resolution, the customer may be prone to go social with the experience, sharing his/her challenges with friends, family and general web readers.

Although many organizations realize the importance of listening to the voice of their customers, they typically have different monitoring and analytics solutions for each channel. In many cases separate departments own different channels. This leads to what is sometimes referred to as "disconnected listening" where each department gets a different version of the customers' voice, making it very difficult to effectively prioritize actions and create a culture of customer centricity across the enterprise.

Creating a centralized team that evaluates and monitors insights across all communications channels is something more organizations are starting to establish. It's an advantage to have the appropriate technology in place, which links the customer journey and respective insights across the different channels. Linking interactions to a single customer journey is critical for successful multichannel and voice of the customer strategies.

Organizations can start by identifying the customer within each channel. Then leverage their internal data warehouses to link email addresses to phone numbers, account numbers and potentially also to social media names used by the most vocal customers. By connecting these interactions across the channels, organizations can help identify the correct patterns and behaviors to help optimize and balance effective usage of each channel.

Step Three: Understand the Content and Context of the Customer's Voice

Tracking and linking the associated metadata of the different interactions may still not provide enough insight. Take an example of two customers both starting off on the web and then initiating a call, which is answered by the IVR and eventually transferred to a live agent. Although the patterns may seem very similar, the actual outcome of each call can be very different. Without analyzing the actual content, sentiment and key topics of these interactions, it is difficult to identify patterns, knowledge gaps and appropriate actions. This is where speech and text analytics come into play, especially since they can leverage natural language processing capabilities or a complete semantic index of all words and phrases identified in all calls. These solutions are becoming critical for optimizing costs and generating real actionable insights from unstructured voice and text interactions.

Step Four: Track Early Warning Signals

Organizations also need to look at the macro effects of a multichannel strategy. Bad web design can lead to an increase of calls into the contact center. An increase in frustrated discussions or emotional elements in phone calls can indicate an early warning signal that may spill over to other channels including social media. Closely monitoring these changes in customer behaviors by tracking the actual terms and phrases discussed across different channels can help proactively address new emerging issues and prevent them from going viral in the social sphere.

In some cases these emerging issues can help identify opportunities, not just threats. For example, a large insurance agency identified the term "clunkers" spiking in their inbound contact center calls immediately after the "cash for clunkers" campaign was announced. Turns out, thousands were trying to take advantage of this generous government program and shopping for cars during the weekend but they needed to call and apply for insurance before they could purchase the new car. With a short analysis, this insurance company leveraged speech analytics to identify this early signal, realizing a $350 million auto insurance opportunity. Opportunities such as these are rare, so when one arises you want to make sure you're the first to identify and act on it.

Step Five: Take Action!

After putting in place the right centralized team and technology to link and mine interactions across different channels, you’ll end up with a list of insights. It's important to set up a process that translates these insights into actions ⎯ from the frontline agents to the back office and across many departments especially customer service and marketing.

Some actions can be automated by leveraging workflow and workforce optimization applications, while others require more strategic thinking and human intervention. These may include identifying themes for a new marketing campaign, developing new products and services for unmet customer needs and updating various processes and policies to better address the changing customer expectations. An effective multichannel analytics strategy is more than the sum of all the different channels. It’s a strategy that leverages interactions between channels to better understand the customer journey. Organizations that set up a centralized VoC team, powered by analytical tools that provide deep understanding of the VoC, can drive actions that produce significant return on investment and help create a culture of customer centricity across the enterprise.