Customers have made their communication expectations clear across industries: They want to interact with companies via the channels that they use the most in their daily lives and which they’re most comfortable with, whether that is a phone call, mobile app, email, social media or webchat.
Companies have responded by quickly adding more contact channels to accommodate customers’ preferences. The challenge, though, is to ensure that new and traditional channels are linked together in a way that allows customers to seamlessly switch from one to another and pick up where they left off. It’s one of the key differences between providing a multi-channel vs. omni-channel service experience.
How Multi-channel and Omni-Channel Call Centers Differ
Multi-channel or omni-channel… both provide a variety of access points for customers, right? While that is true, and many use the terms interchangeably, there is a critical distinction between the way that multi-channel and omni-channel contact centers operate and the value that they provide to the business. The meaning of the root words provides the key.
Multi = More Than One
“Multi” means more than one. Many call centers have offered multi-channel support for years by providing phone and email access, and more recently, by adding digital channels like chat, SMS and social media.
But while multi-channel contact centers offer a variety of channels through which customers can communicate, each one may be managed on a separate system and often by specialized teams. As a result, each channel operates in a silo and lacks insight into the customer’s activity on the other channels.
While multi-channel call centers may allow customers to interact with a company on their preferred channel, it also can become a source of dissatisfaction if the transaction cannot be resolved within that channel. When customers attempt to switch channels, they must begin all over again. The majority of consumers (89%) say that having to repeat their questions to multiple customer service reps is a frustrating experience, according to a survey by Accenture.
Service costs also can be higher in multi-channel contact centers. Why? Consumers are more inclined to toggle between channels to get the response they need. Research by The Northridge Group found that 36% of customers will switch channels if their issue is not resolved within an hour. The study predicts that this trend will only continue to rise since millennial consumers are even less tolerant of prolonged resolution times, with 44% switching channels within the hour and 21% within just a few minutes.
Omni = In All Ways or Places
“Omni,” on the other hand, means in all ways or places. Therefore, when we refer to an omni-channel experience, we’re talking about one that is unified across all of the channels and devices that the customer uses to interact with a company. Unlike a multi-channel call center in which each channel may function in isolation, an omni-channel call center has integrated systems in place to ensure that the customer’s information, history and interaction activity is connected on the back end. This provides the call center with a holistic view of the customer’s entire journey; thus, agents have access to the necessary information to quickly resolve the issue without having to put the customer through additional paces.
Having the capability to deliver consistency across service channels translates into more loyal customers. According to Aberdeen Group, companies that provide a consistent service quality across multiple channels retain 89% of their customers, whereas companies that do not ensure a consistent quality are only able to retain 33%.
In addition to providing a customer experience that is seamless, unified and personalized, omni-channel call center systems are able to collect valuable customer, channel activity and transaction data across touchpoints that can be aggregated and analyzed to improve customer engagement, staff training and internal processes, as well as highlight industry trends to help the business stay competitive.
Staffing an Omni-Channel Contact Center
In an omni-channel call center environment, frontline agents have access to more detailed, real-time information, which greatly increases their call-handling efficiency and performance. However, the types of interactions that agents handle have become more complex.
While most consumers are satisfied using digital self-service channels to handle routine requests like checking an account balance or getting updated shipment information, most prefer to interact with a live agent when dealing with more complicated transactions. A survey of more than 24,000 consumers in 12 countries by Verint Systems confirms that 79% of consumers prefer that the human touch remain a part of customer service when engaging with brands and service providers. The research found that, as service requests become more complex, reliance on human interaction increases.
So what does this mean for omni-channel call centers? Phone agents will require advanced problem-solving skills as well as the ability to collaborate with subject-matter experts across organizational functions to resolve customers’ issues. Agents who excel at providing phone support may not make the best chat or social media agents; therefore, recruiting and training practices will need to expand to reflect the different types of skill sets required for each channel.
Omni-Channel Is a Journey, Not a Destination
Communication channels will continue to emerge, evolve and change, as will the way that customers use them to interact with businesses. Likewise, omni-channel contact centers will need to be nimble to continuously transform and adapt to ever-changing customer preferences.
Keep in mind that an effective omni-channel approach is not about offering every channel, it’s about the right channels for your customer base. CustomerServ’s omni-channel call center outsourcing experts are on hand to help you identify the proper contact channels to support your business and ensure that the customer experience is at the center of every decision.