Rethinking the Omnichannel Experience

Omnichannel could be one of the most-hyped terms of the past decade. However, it's taking on a new context now. As we all move from in-person interactions to virtual ones, effective omnichannel is critical for customer service.

We've been pitched forever on the ideal of communicating seamlessly with a customer regardless of channel, in a world where one customer record captures all communications and agents can quickly become knowledgeable, trusted advisors. In reality, most contact centers are far from providing a seamless experience. Agents move between screens and applications, have incomplete information on customer preferences and interactions, and might be able to handle one or two channels, but not more, in the same customer interaction.

In the old context, disconnected channels meant frustration, friction, and poor customer experience, or worse, an abandoned shopping cart. Many customers avoided e-commerce or digital service at all, preferring instead the in-person experience or phone interactions.

In today's context, and for the foreseeable future, in-person interactions will be more difficult, if not impossible. This means a new focus on omnichannel, both to reduce call volume and to effectively replace in-person interactions. It also means reducing friction between channels with the followiong:

  • A knowledge base and self service that can rapidly adapt and reflect current customer demands and issues;
  • Intelligence delivered to agents so they can serve with insight, not just information, in real time; and
  • The ability for agents to seamlessly move across channels in the context of the needs of the customer.

In a frictionless experience, the context and customer dictate the channel. When a customer needs an agent, that agent can launch a co-browse, video chat, or chat with a customer seamlessly from a single desktop, and customer interactions can be more efficiently, and empathetically, managed.

However, as anyone who has tried to move in-person experiences online in the past few months knows, a seamless experience is challenging even if the technology works. The challenges are even greater if the interaction is with someone who is less tech-savvy. Although Grandma and I might be willing to deal with the extra effort and frustration needed to successfully interact virtually, in the customer service experience, friction and frustration are deal-breakers.

One key requirement for frictionless interactions is an integrated, intuitive, and highly usable agent desktop. A telco in Europe, for example, recently moved to Genesys Pure Cloud, and beyond the rapid time to deployment (8 weeks) and lower cost, a key factor was the simplicity for agents. Its previous on-premises application required agents to jump between four applications depending on the channel they were using. The move to a single intuitive user interface didn't just increase productivity, it enabled the company to accelerate onboarding and training and cut the time to full productivity for new agents by a third.

Another key requirement is making all types of virtual collaboration easier. This is particularly important when customers are used to in-person experiences. A retailer that sells prescription glasses, for example, adopted ScreenMeet to help agents seamlessly move from phone to chat to co-browsing and video chat, if needed from a single application. Co-browsing enables agents to spend less time guessing what customers might be looking at, and customers get a guided experience with an eyewear specialist. Because many customers, some who aren't that tech-savvy, can complete their orders online with help from an agent, shopping cart conversions have increased more than twofold.

As we all become more used to, and comfortable with, meeting virtually, integrated video chat is the next step in a frictionless customer experience. Yes, there are challenges with bringing video into the mix, but as the entire world moves to replace in-person interactions with virtual ones, bringing it into the service environment is a way to humanize the customer experience at a time when it';s sorely needed. Video won't work for everyone, but it will be welcomed by many, provided it is highly usable, with one-click launching for the agent and similar simplicity, with no download requirements, for the customer. Although it can't replace in-person interactions, it's a big step in the right direction.

An effective, frictionless omnichannel environment becomes much more important when the only contact a customer has with a company is online. The ability of an agent to seamlessly move from chat to co-browsing to video chat is more than just a nice differentiator. It's a means to complete more complex purchases and resolve more service issues in a single interaction. It is also a way for companies to bring human interaction and human experience into online customer interactions, which is more important than ever right now.


Rebecca Wettemann is CEO and principal at Valoir (valoir.com), a technology industry analyst firm focused on the connection between people and technology in a modern digital workplace.