It’s a multi-channel world – 5 things you need to consider
In today's highly competitive business environment, organisations must seize upon any opportunity to increase their responsiveness to customers.
Embracing multi-channel communications can eliminate barriers between you and your customers and give you a competitive edge. However analysts DMG Consulting estimate that less than 20% of contact centres are currently optimised multi-channel environments*.
In fact, making the transition to a multi-channel contact centre environment is not really an option anymore. It’s fast becoming essential to communicate effectively with consumers who are rapidly adopting new and diverse channels and are demanding that you keep up!
Here we look at five key areas you need to consider when planning to transform your organisation and contact centre into a truly multi-channel environment.
1. Consider your customer focus
Customers are growing more demanding. They are no longer satisfied with just phone and email options for service and support and they certainly won’t put up with inconsistent quality and response times.
Your contact centre is the heart of your customer contact engine. It’s essential to understand your customer base and align your contact strategy to their requirements. Different people and groups have different wants and expectations, but you must cater for your key demographics.
For example if you’re an organisation focused on a younger demographic, social media and SMS may be the channels of choice. If you haven’t adopted or aligned your processes to them – what would the cost to your bottom line be if your savvy competitors have? The key is to listen to your customers and let them determine your strategy and time scales.
2. Making the move to multimedia
All contact centres in public and private sector organisations are going to have to make plans to support these new communications channels - including tackling the thorny subject of social media.
Many have already begun adopting various multi-media channels, but often in a siloed or adhoc fashion, not fully aligned with their people or processes. DMG consulting states that the inefficiencies resulting from this disjointed servicing infrastructure can represent at least 5% of a contact centre’s budget*. This is a cost no one can afford to ignore.
You may be hurting your organisation and brand by maintaining outdated technology, but many organisations are reluctant to replace it due to the perceived risk, expense, time and resource required. Different customers have their own channel preferences and service expectations and it’s your customers – not you – who are driving timescales. For some the transition to multi-channel customer engagement is an urgent requirement; for others a phased approach is more suitable.
The underlying contact centre technologies, as well as software and applications are undergoing a fundamental change with new, innovative products coming to market or reaching maturity. However, the technology to enable multi-media communications is already available, even if best practices for utilising it and making the transition are lagging. It is a moving environment – customers themselves will change and so you need a technology platform that can help you both manage planned new channels of communication and adapt to unexpected developments.
3. Defining your multi-media routing strategy
Once you understand your time scales and your customer focus, next consider your multi-media routing strategy and the technology solution you’ll need to support it.
To define your strategy and technology requirements you must understand the types of customer interactions you have (both sales and service for example), ensure you have agents with those required skills, and then decide how you’re going to route the right traffic to the right person. Will your agents be dedicated to a single channel or will they be blended? Will you use automatic task allocation or Workforce Management tools?
There are several approaches to tackle the multi-media challenge and managed properly they can be complementary. One typical approach is to train agents as specialists in a single channel i.e. email or phone only, and maintain these single function agents in silos within the contact centre. This seemingly removes the complexity and challenges around routing traffic, but how can you accurately predict the volume and peaks of traffic for these new and emerging channels (especially social media) and ensure you have adequate resources? You are also losing the ability to manage peaks in demand by sharing resources. Additionally by maintaining channels in silos, it can lead to a disconnect between them, affecting the service quality and failing to cater for interactions that may span multiple channels.
A more effective approach is a software based multi-media contact centre solution, like Callmedia, which offer one central queue for all traffic types (voice, SMS, email) with dynamic priority assigning the task to the most appropriate agent available. This software approach manages this blended traffic channel in a flexible way, with automatic allocation of tasks to deliver a true, highly efficient multi-media contact centre environment.
In most contact centres, the PBX has traditionally handled routing (which is another way of saying task allocation) but adding another engine for multi-media traffic routing (such as email and web chat) in addition to the PBX represents both an unnecessary cost and inefficiency. Where the ACD handles routing, the telephony platform is often unable to add the allocation of interactions from other channels. A quick fix has been to have a separate routing engine to allocate tasks for other channels. The problem is, where you are sharing agents between channels, you have the challenge of coordinating activities from two different routing or task allocation engines.
4. Making a business case: Analysing the benefits and ROI
So having mapped a multi-media strategy to your bespoke contact centre scenario, you must consider the practicalities of making the transition and define the tangible benefits for your organisation.
People are the biggest cost in your contact centre, so when building a business case the key is to get the most out of that cost. There is a range of qualitative (soft) and quantitative (hard) benefits from transitioning to a multi-channel contact centre environment.
The hard benefits are often the most important to focus on, as CFOs aren’t in the habit of approving projects based on soft benefits alone. These can include reduced operating costs through improved productivity by sharing resources across channels – as opposed to holding the headcount for the peaks and troughs in demand for each individual channel. Having a single application to purchase and manage delivers further efficiency savings and having a single source of data makes it simpler to manage agents and collate information for reporting.
The soft benefits include delivering an enhanced, consistent customer experience, handling enquiries faster and more effectively, improved agent satisfaction and reduced agent turnover and enhanced business agility. For example, by letting your customer update renewals using the IVR system and not by speaking to an agent or feeding information to you via SMS or email – you can streamline customer service and free up agents’ time for more complex enquiries.
The benefits of a multi-media strategy are far reaching and make measurable contributions to customers, agents, the contact centre and the enterprise in general.
5. Selecting a contact centre technology vendor
The choice of technology and vendor can be the key to the success or failure of your multi-media implementation.
With so much focus on multi-channel communications all vendors will position themselves as being able to deliver something – even if it is an idealized vision of their real capabilities. When investigating making the leap, the obvious first port of call is your incumbent contact centre system supplier. But don’t assume that because you have good voice routing in your contact centre currently, that your vendor will have the same maturity in terms of multi-media.
Your vendor may lack true multimedia routing – for example some vendors do not provide skills based routing for multi-channels. Don’t take vendors’ word for it, as many exaggerate their capabilities. The devil is in the detail¸ so make sure you understand how the routing really works and whether it would work for you. Working with a vendor who has real world, proven experience of delivering multi-channel solutions will offer further peace of mind.
Another consideration is whether the vendor has the capabilities to support all the channels you need, or whether your will have to adopt a multi-vendor approach. The ideal is an integrated approach across the management of various communications channels – this can enhance the customer experience and the efficiency of the contact centre.
* DMG Consulting Ltd - Best Practices for Transforming to a Multi-Channel Contact Center, 2011
Azzurri is the UK’s leading independent provider of managed communications services. We help organisations transform ICT into a strategic asset to support growth, enhance agility and efficiency, boost collaboration and deliver competitive advantage.
Azzurri’s Contact Centre Practice builds innovative contact centres to support customer contact strategies from network level through to the applications on agent workstations. We use best-of-breed technology to facilitate and improve customer interactions, enhance the customer experience and increase the operational effectiveness of a contact centre.
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