Omnichannel: The Key To Elevating Your Customer Experience

From vendors to partners to industry analysts, it seems that omnichannel is the new buzzword. But while everyone is talking about it, is anyone really doing it? Or doing it well? And where did all this buzz come from?

The interest in omnichannel stems from two significant macro changes we are seeing in the market today. The first is a shift in customer experiences, with the experience customers have with companies becoming just as important—if not more&mdashthan the products or services those companies offer. Experiences themselves are a distinct economic offering, and companies are trying to leverage this as a competitive differentiator.

The second trend we are seeing is that companies are becoming more ingrained in their customers' lives than they ever have been before. Whether it's the convenience of Uber, Amazon drone deliveries, or self-driving cars, these experiences are changing the way customers expect to engage with companies, when they engage, over what channels, and how often.

Omnichannel is a response to these changing customer expectations. According to Forrester Research, 95 percent of customers are using up to three channels to communicate with companies. As evidenced by their research, customers want to interact with companies on a variety of channels and move between channels seamlessly, without having to repeat themselves. Omnichannel also enables issues to be resolved faster. Zendesk's annual Benchmark Report, which looks at customer service interactions from 45,000 organizations across 140 countries, discovered that those not using an integrated omnichannel approach have 31 percent lower first resolution times. This is an important finding when, according to Gartner, 89 percent of companies believe that customer experience will be the key differentiator for businesses.

However, it's important not to confuse multiproduct with omnichannel. With customers dictating the terms of engagement, many organizations are responding en masse, making themselves accessible through the communication channels their customers use and meeting them where they are—whether it's email, phone, chat, social messaging, or texting.

Offering multiple channels to consumers is important, but without an omnichannel strategy to ensure those channels are integrating, this can cause chaos for both customers and support teams, resulting in siloed, fragmented experiences. When this happens, customers wind up having to repeat themselves over and over as they navigate through channels and get passed from one agent to the next.

Support agents suffer as well, spending time navigating through multiple interfaces, resulting in inefficiencies and long handle times. Support administrators also struggle to get a sense of what's happening holistically across channels with respect to agent utilization, key performance indicators, and analytics. All of this results in lower customer satisfaction, frustration, high agent turnover, and long time to value. This is the current state of multiproduct today.

Customers want seamless conversations. They want something that flows effortlessly across any channel they might use—similar to the way we communicate in personal relationships. The interactions we have in real life take place across a number of channels, but the conversation remains seamless. For example, I might send my wife an email from work about our plans for the evening. As I leave the office, I'll send her a text to let her know I'll be home in 45 minutes. Later, during the car ride home, I'll give her a call to ask if she wants me to pick anything up from the store. These are the kinds of natural, human relationships we have in our lives: conversational, effortless, real. And consumers are starting to expect this level of engagement and seamlessness with companies as well.

The fundamental paradigm shift that is happening is that companies are putting the customer experience front and center in their innovation practices and leveraging customer experience to drive competitive differentiation.

Research by Forrester highlights how impactful this investment can be. Customer experience leaders grew at a rate that was more than five times greater than CX laggards. In other words, companies that do not invest in customer experience or make it a priority will become irrelevant in the coming decade.

Your customers are busy. The last thing they need is to get bumped from agent to agent and to have to repeat their issues multiple times. Keep the thread of customer conversations, aim to solve their issues as painlessly and seamlessly as possible, and let them get on with their days. Your business will benefit greatly as a result.

Mark Bloom is director of product marketing at Zendesk.

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