A Service Management Approach to Omnichannel

When we examine the different ways service desks offer support, we can group these strategies into three types: search, reach out, or user network. Currently IT service desks offer channels with which most are familiar: phone, email, web request, walk up, auto logging, and live chat. Some organizations now offer social media and chat bot support, and some still offer support by fax.

However, many users prefer asking a co-worker, while others seek solutions to their problems on the internet. It is important to find the preferred channels for receiving service within your organization then offer these service channels to the staff. People in finance, sales, medical, development, etc. all will have different expectations.

All of this for a simple reason: Employees within our organizations expect to be met, at least partially, where they live and reside. In so doing, service desks must be able to offer employees a quality working experience by providing them with a great cultural and technological environment. When we make the decision to do so, our customers have these expectations that we will do so from any channel available, perhaps including voice, email, text, web portals, or even social media channels.

Organizations provide service on many of these channels, but these channels usually exist in silos, and managing expectations and engagements on them can be quite cumbersome and even confusing. Ultimately, when taking on this approach, it's really just taking a stance with an omnichannel process. So, what is omnichannel service management?

The answer might be in the question. Omnichannel service management, or multichannel service management, is really just service management provided across the many channels that you've opened up for customers to communicate with your team. If your service desk currently allows for such communication and ticketing, you likely already have an omnichannel service desk.

This allows your colleagues to get answers to their question or solutions to their problems. Communication lines are changing and opening up. No more do you only accept all requests via the phone. After the phone-alone model, we moved into answering questions via email. Then the communication model moved to incorporate chat, and a secure portal. As always, there are the walk-ups. And now service desks allow for communication through social media platforms. Further innovations will probably change even more how service desks communicate with their users.

While customer expectations for communicating through these channels grow as they become more comfortable, they are likely to wear down your support services if the approach remains siloed along with the information. Omnichannel self-service solutions mean empowered users who can receive support in one channel and seamlessly transition to another. So, for perspective, a conversation that begins on Twitter or another social media channel can be moved to direct message or text and continued. Or it can be moved to a phone call with all of the relevant context preserved across channels.

It's worth noting that omni-hannel approaches do not need to be implemented or supported by every possible channel. However, whatever support channels are selected and offered must be monitored and be responsive to queries or questions.

An omnichannel approach is extremely relevant in the mobile world as users carry on dialogs via text, voice, social, and instant-messaging while having constant access to information. When organizations leverage and integrate these service management channels, each user can have a seamless experience on the device of his choosing.

A Bit of History

The history of omnichannel is interesting. According to Forbes, the real omnichannel emerged from a term given by business to consumer retailers, describing the ability for customers to have a consistent experience over traditional channels and new, information-rich digital channels, meaning that customers can move from channel to channelwhile always progressing along the customer journey. That means seamless journey continuity, from first touch to checkout, support, returns, and whatever else.

Now, for organizations, service channels have increased, and being reachable on more than one channel is a bare minimum. Much like a customer communicating with a business, internal users expect their IT departments to quickly answer email, pick up the phone, and respond to conversations on Twitter or through Facebook. When responding to or carrying these conversations across multiple platforms, this is known as a cross-channel conversation. In a traditional sense, this might mean a conversation for service begins with a walk-in that switches to email for a follow-up question. A call might follow.

Communication is only one part of the picture. Communicating on a single channel does not reflect the way users interact with organizations or how they expect you to assist them when they need assistance. An omnichannel environment means a user can move from one channel to another without completely losing the thread of the journey or the conversation. It means users can hang up the phone then reach out about the same issue over chat on a company's homepage and all of the information is maintained for further interaction without having to start over in the communication process. However, while this might be great in a contextual approach, this still is not a true omnichannel.

Real omnichannel requires focusing on the user no matter the channel. No matter where they contact you, the user journey must progress withour repeating or steps backwards. Each interaction must push the customer journey forward. A user can chat with an agent through a desktop then switch to text and even pick up the phone.

Delivering a great experience raises users' value and lets you answer support tickets as quickly as possible. service desk agents usually own the user relationship, and through omnichanel mediums they have the needed information to deliver a personal, high-touch, and rewarding experience. Regardless of how many channels are available, the service desk must be able to respond to the business' needs. Also, within true omnichannel organizations, service desk teams are really evolving and becoming more user representatives and experience associates.

Highly Personalized, Direct Approaches Provide Value.

Through a highly personalized, one-on-one approach using every available channel, organizations can streamline responses to needs and focus on reducing service times. Ultimately, this means providing more value for the user. Having a number of communication channels available for users to connect with the service desk also can lead to better conversations with users.

What all of this means is that omnichannel doesn't just mean being present on more than one channel and allowing users to interact with the service desk however they want. That's part of a full communication and engagement strategy. However, one of the most obvious results is allowing service desk teams to move between each channel seamlessly, during the same conversation and journey. Service desk representatives must then own the customer relationship to build value.

Omnichannel is more than responding to tickets. Instead, the focus should be on understanding and serving users and, therefore, engaging in real conversation with them to provide what they need. So, while an omnichannel approach offers a number of useful usable communication channel, this approach is the user and not the channel itself. Enabling users to conduct business with the organization however they want and where they need is the real value of an omnichannel approach.

Nancy Van Elsacker Louisnord is president of TOPdesk USA. She's also a public speaker, contributor to several industry publications, and service management expert.