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Reality Check: Most Contact Centers Aren't Really Omnichannel

Even outside of work, we are all familiar with contact centers; they are the places we call when we feel unhappy, confused or annoyed by a brand, or when we need information about a product or service. Recently, technology has given us more ways than ever to contact these helpful people — even if those ‘people’ are sometimes robots due to the advent of chatbots, web chat, and e-mail. Contact centers are becoming increasingly responsive in channels such as chat, email, and social media. But the truth? Even though "omnichannel" has become standard vocabulary in the world of customer service, most modern contact centers aren't quite there yet. Most contact centers are still genuinely multi-channel.

According to Trevor Butterworth of the UK Contact Centre Forum, “Many contact center leaders think they are providing omnichannel service, but they’re not. As with the retail experience, the difference between multi and omnichannel lies in the degree of integration. At the moment, most contact centers will have a team to deal with social media, another team of agents to take phone calls, another team of agents to deal with e-mails and so on. But they won’t be able to pass details and inquiries across those formats, so they are multi-channel, just as a shop that has a website and retail premises and a social media site is multi-channel until all three are seamlessly integrated. Contact centers will only become omnichannel when conversations with customers are translated across formats according to the customer’s profile and needs and with all relevant information and background knowledge traveling with the inquiry."

As technology develops, customers’ expectations of a seamless omnichannel purchasing experience grow. An omnichannel retail or service experience demands the back-up of an omnichannel contact center, but the transformation does not end there. Machine learning and chatbots are rapidly becoming commonplace in contact centers, and customers are welcoming them. In a recent survey, 64 percent of people said that the access to 24-hour service was a benefit to them and 55 percent appreciated the instant response to inquiries, while the same number also felt that being able to access answers to simple questions in this format was a substantial benefit.

This automation of simple processes is freeing up human agents to work on more exciting and challenging tasks, as a result of which, contact centers are rapidly becoming engagement centers. This means they are proactively serving customers, deflecting problems before customers notice a problem, encouraging purchasing behaviors with customized offers, and directing clients towards new products and information that may be of particular interest to them. In short, new customer engagement centers are using the substantial amount of data they hold to proactively serve customers, while also nurturing brand engagement and pushing up sales.

Technology Drives the Change

It is a mark of technology’s impact upon the world that this evolution feels very intuitive and in touch with what customers expect now. Delivering a genuinely omnichannel customer engagement experience is far from easy or intuitive. The most crucial element underpinning its success is the agents' ability to source and access relevant, real-time information, such as the detail of previous contacts and sales, expressions of interest in products, and contact preferences. And of course, in the age of GDPR, centers need a safe repository or means of validating customer consent before they use data — or risk the wrath of the law.

For most settings, but in particular retail and services, the answer lies in having reliable technology that integrates with what is being used in all areas of the business, from sales floors to stock levels to digital signage in contact centers. There needs to be a central repository through which the data from the various channels and departments flows, which is then able to process and deliver insight in real-time. An adept Content Management System (CMS) can do this. Companies are not able to provide superior customer service, with complete knowledge of a customer’s user experience, unless they can track their customers’ entire journey with their company.

For a CMS to serve an omnichannel engagement center adequately, it must be able to deliver tailored information quickly and in real time. In addition, that CMS must operate across multiple platforms, providing the same excellent service on each, and allowing the transfer of data seamlessly across formats and between company employees. Given the speed at which technology advances, it must also be future-proof; sufficiently flexible to adapt as engagement formats evolve, and to accommodate change as the user’s business grows.

Businesses should be investing in technology that can support seamless integration across all channels of a company from customer-facing business outlets, to informing internal departmental functions such as marketing and onto the engagement center. Ensuring that employees can talk to customers knowing that their knowledge is both comprehensive and current. And managers can push out information to employees quickly and efficiently, for a range of purposes such as internal communications and requests that customer service agents focus on, particularly offers or products.

What Is the Future for Today’s Contact Centers?

Quite simply, the contact center as we know it is no longer fit for reactive problem-solving or question-answering to proactive customer engagement is already underway.

It seems clear that the future lies in omnichannel purchasing and customer engagement experiences, and businesses have little choice but to provide these. The customer engagement center must play its role in delivering a frictionless omnichannel experience that today’s customer expects.

The alternative, as we have seen in the form of several business failures, is not an option. Contact centers must become centers for customer engagement that put the wealth of data gathered by a company to best use. These must, in turn, take a more integrated role at the heart of an omnichannel business, encouraging brand loyalty through customized engagement, as well as problem-solving and troubleshooting. And underpinning it all, driving the effectiveness of the customer engagement center, must be reliable and agile technology, that is both fit for today and fit for future growth.