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Omni-channel success

How to prepare your agents and your customers to ensure great customer satisfaction – whatever the channel

I recently read that “Mobile is the killer channel for customer service!”   While I understand the sentiment, there are a couple of basics that need clarification.  First and foremost, mobile is *not* a channel.  It is a way to communicate using other channels – voice, email, text, web chat, social media and apps.  Secondly, a mobile device – be it a traditional mobile (or cell) phone, smartphone, or tablet - is neither a channel nor a strategy. 

Omni-channel theoretical basics

Omni-channel is extremely topical and everybody has a view on how to do it.  However, certain ‘basic’ components are essential if organizations are to be successful.  So, in the interests of clarity, I thought it would be helpful to first define some commonly used terms, before exploring the essential components of a successful omni-channel strategy and examples of best – and not so good – practice.


  • Mobile device: a phone (smart or traditional “cellular”), tablet, PDA – a device capable of facilitating contact between 2 or more parties.
  • Mobile channel: voice, text, webchat, social media, apps. Note that any of these channels can be accessed through other devices (traditional phone for voice, laptop/desktop computer for all).
  • Mobile strategy: a plan to provide customer service on mobile devices, usually referring to providing an app designed for smartphones.
  • Omni-channel strategy: a plan to provide customer service using customers’ preferred method(s) of communication.  Device- and method-agnostic processes and interfaces that make customer communications (interactions and journeys) and their resolution seamless through the consolidation of data, the appropriate use of technology and by empowering customer service agents with requisite skills and knowledge.

Essential components

  1. Mirror the customer’s behavior.  If your customer contacts you by email, then respond by email, unless asked to do otherwise.  And make sure that the interaction information is accessible to the agent handling the contact (if applicable) through other channels, so that they have a true holistic view of the customer.
  2. Mobile is a reality.  It is 2014 and you can safely assume that all customers could contact your organization using a mobile device, regardless of their channel preference. This includes voice, text, email, web chat, posting on social media and/or using an app.  In fact, as cases and transactions are no longer linear processes, customers can – and will – use channels simultaneously; for example, they will ask a question on Facebook or send an email via the website while waiting on hold to speak to agent.    That’s why organizations need systems that can handle omni-channel communications in real-time, instantly updating information irrespective of the channel via which it was captured.  And of course, agents need to have access to all appropriate information for the customer, both history and the information needed, to resolve any issues and/or complete a transaction.
  3. Simplify things for the customer.  Design all methods of contact to make the customer experience easy.   Remember that the customer controls the interaction, but that your organization controls the information and means to resolution.  Although the content will vary considerably depending on your industry, the more self-service options you can provide the better, but there will always be instances that require live help – via voice, web chat, or, increasingly, video – so it’s important to have agents ready to step into the breach.
  4. Simplify things for the agents.  Agents should not have to access multiple systems to support the customer – it’s time consuming and detrimental to customer satisfaction and their own job satisfaction.  Empower agents by providing access, systems training, and by giving them all requisite skills and knowledge (through training and/or access to materials) to do their job properly – whatever the task, whatever the channel.

Omni-channel service in practice – a fine example

I applied for a new savings account on a large financial institution’s website, using an easy-to-use webform.  There was a good help-menu and options to click-to-chat or call for help (although in the event I did not need additional support, as the application process and interface were clear and simple).   I requested to receive communications via email, my preferred method (I was given the options of email, call, or text).

Within minutes I received a personalized (or, at the very least it appeared to be personalized) email from an agent that clearly outlined the next steps required to complete the process.   I duly submitted all required paperwork and received confirmation (again, via email).  The final step was to confirm my identity and I was given the option to do this electronically or through a phone call.  For this step, I opted for a call, and was called immediately by another agent, who had all information on hand, was able to answer a complex question I had, and completed the task quickly without any hold time, transfer, or repetitive conversation.

I sent a personal thank you to the original agent (via email) and posted a brief summary of my positive experience on the bank’s Facebook page, ensuring more than just the agent and her supervisor were made aware of my delight with both the employee and the company.

Omni-channel service in practice – how *not* to do it

My salon has an online system to set appointments, but only for certain services, and with certain stylists. Why?  I don’t know.   As far as I’m concerned, this type of application should be all or nothing.  The only other means to make an appointment is to call. This often requires being put on hold, repeating myself, being interrupted and the occasional dropped call.  The interaction takes too long for what should be a quick, simple task - one that can be fully automated with the right tools.  The confirmation of the appointment was possible by call, email, or text - I chose text – and was able to reply to a text confirmation by sending a "C" to confirm (but if I need to reschedule, I must call).

This example is symptomatic of a lack of centralization and integrated systems.  The phoned-in appointments are made in local salons, but booked in a centralized database.  The online appointments, as it turns out, are tracked in a different database, with a program that does not have comprehensive data on all salons, nor does it offer multi-channel communication (email only).  The process of omni-channel service for this company is incomplete: it is missing integration, centralization, and agent/employee empowerment (knowledge and access).

Mobile and omni-channel strategies in the contact center

Above and beyond the ‘mobile’ strategy, the ability to implement omni-channel operations depends upon an ability to integrate data, and giving agents the tools, access and knowledge to provide the right level of care.  As in a traditional call center, the agent should have access to information at their fingertips – and that no longer means being tethered to a desk and signed into multiple systems to search for answers.

The role of the agent is changing, and research shows that more and more straightforward customer contact and troubleshooting will be dealt with via automation and self-service.  This means that agents are now ‘escalation’ agents by default, so they require significantly more knowledge and empowerment than ever before.   It is also vital to ensure that tools and processes for self-service and automation are ready for all methods of contact (and that they have their own “knowledge”), or else you run the risk of having agents waste time on tasks that can be automated and inevitably frustrate the customer.  And that is a situation that needs to be avoided or else any potential cost savings will be negated by contact duplication and detrimental impacts on customer loyalty and employee satisfaction.

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