My take on Omnichannel digital transformation
Every contact center offer is Omnichannel these days. Companies operating in the space of contact center software – like everyone else – follow trends, and having Omnichannel operation, the ability to save and retain context gathered on a channel to then use it the next time a customer starts an interaction, potentially on a different channel, was the big trend of the ‘10s.
The promise of Omnichannel is a lower customer effort. When I call a company, it’s because I have a question about a service or a product. Maybe I am angry because the service was bad, or I was overbilled. The first time I call, of course I expect to explain what the problem is. But if I get interrupted or the agent tells me to check back in a couple of days, I don’t want to have to repeat the whole performance a second time, even if I am using another channel (say: chatting on the website).
An Omnichannel contact center solves this problem by identifying the customer and attaching the context of the interaction to a record in a database. When an agent receives the interaction, ideally, she also receives the context and can see immediately who’s calling, what the issue is, and how far the resolution has progressed. This, irrespective of how the customer contacts the company: by phone, text message, email, social media, (any kind of) chat. It’s the Holy Grail!
Or at least, it should be. But in many cases, it’s not: while the contact center software has the capability for Omnichannel communication, implementing this on the field and especially in the company organization is a whole different story. And so, while 93% of companies agree that consumers expect companies to offer an uninterrupted experience when migrating between the different available channels, only 24% of companies worldwide would give themselves an excellent rating when it comes to allowing consumers to do so. But why is that?
Of course, there is always a delay between a feature being available in the market and widespread adoption. What Omnichannel is now was Multichannel in the ‘00s (the ability for the contact center to manage more than one channel). This is commonplace now, but it took 15 years for a Multichannel contact center to be a given.
New channels are popping up all the time. There is a plethora of messaging platform that appeared only in the past few years for instance. They support chat, voice, and video, but people use it mostly to chat and so these are new channels in the chat arena.
Social media channels for customer service – mostly Twitter and Facebook – have arrived last on the scene and only gained importance in the past few years. Adding them to contact center suites is easy, training the personnel to use them for customer service is harder. Sometimes, personnel using different channels belongs to different organizations: for instance, social media started up being managed mostly by Marketing in big corporations and not by Customer Service. This means a different software platform, different priorities, disconnected orgs. Integrating all this is a big project, so no wonder things are still far from ideal.
How can we make Omnichannel interactions easier to implement? One answer comes from AI. Conversational Virtual Agents offer customers a type of self-service that is pleasant, natural, and effective. Customers type, or speak, as if they were communicating with a person, with the Virtual Agent conducting a dialog in natural language. The channel served can be many: chat of course, but also voice in many flavors, even telephone calls. Social media conversations are also possible. The Virtual Agent can be Omnichannel by storing the context information of each interaction, and retrieving it when it identifies the customer again, on another channel. Conversational Virtual Agents act on text and so the speech is converted into text by specialized software. This allows to treat voice as a digital channel among many, both easing digital transformation activities and providing more homogeneous Omnichannel functions.
Putting one of these systems in front of the Contact Center greatly helps increase efficiency by solving the more straightforward interactions, and categorizing the more complex ones, that need a human touch, before they reach the human agents. This allows to route the interactions more efficiently to the right agent queue. Even more importantly, the Virtual Agent acts as a gateway that harmonizes the various channels and transfers the interactions not by channel, but by category or intent, irrespective from how they came in. So, the Customer Service organization finds it easier to “own” all the channels, since the Virtual Agent can forward the support interaction to the contact center, and other contacts, maybe more sales-oriented, to the appropriate organization in the company.
Not all Conversational AI platforms serve all the channels though: many are only text-based. While chat channels make up a good percentage of the interactions reaching contact centers, telephone calls are still important, accounting for about half of the total. So, an Omnichannel Virtual Agent true to its name should include the telephone channel. However, telephone access is still not common with Conversational Virtual Agents: there technical challenges, integration requirements, specialized expertise needs that keep many vendors from offering it.
Interactive Media has developed a true Omnichannel platform for the development, deployment, and operation of Conversational, telephone-enabled Virtual Agents. With several large customers and an ever-increasing installed base, we are in a perfect position to use our experience to facilitate your Omnichannel digital migration. We look forward to hearing about your challenges and discuss how we can help.