What's the word that everyone in marketing either loves or hates? Yes, it is omnichannel. Everyone says they do it, apart from a few, who have declared its imminent death!

In this mega blog, for which we make no apologies, we are going to look at its health and relevance. And if it is in a mortal state, what comes next? And what does it mean for great customer journeys and contact center performance?

Let's start with the view from the customer side.

The Customer Experience

Omnichannel describes a process whereby companies offer all media channels (voice, email, chat, social, SMS, etc) so that customers can be connected to and with, in any which way. But for it to mean anything, customers must be able to glide smoothly from one channel to another.

So, imagine we have a voice call and then the customer expects this to be followed immediately by his preferred method of contact, which might be say a WhatsApp message or an SMS. Any self-respecting company should be able to do the necessary join up in reasonable time. Maybe not immediately, but no more than minutes, if they have to log out of one system and then log into another. Nothing remarkable in this.

But omnichannel, from a customer delivery viewpoint is often used to describe something beyond this: it is not just a communications issue that is being solved, but the effective provision and delivery of goods and services to the customer. Binding these two things together gives what we know as effective customer journeys.

And this of course, is the essence of great CX, not just the communications or omnichannel element. For example, a customer might enquire when a delivery will be made and receives a prompt text in response saying that he will be advised in due course. Omnichannel, yes, but not an effective customer journey.

Terminology does matter. If you are an organisation vaunting your grasp of omnichannel for your customers, it's not enough. What your customers really want is for you to master your supply chain so that you can give precise feedback as to how the customers' demands and wishes are being met.

So why do some companies talk about their omnichannel capabilities to their customers, rather than their ability to deliver a great customer journey? Well, omnichannel is the easy bit, but integrated service and delivery chains are a step up from this and something that most companies still struggle with. Moving beyond just omnichannel to get great CX means mastering very many customer journeys, some of which be unique to individual customers.

So how do your promote yourself as CX friendly, when the range of customer journeys demanded of you is endless? There are many answers to this question which are really outside the scope of this article. One of them might be not to boast about your omnichannel capabilities! Everyone has them. Think instead about your ability to deliver a range of goods and services in a timely way that continually delights your customers. And maybe there's scope for some new analytics providers measuring customer journeys in particular industries and providing ranking measures to help customers choose.

Some readers may feel that not only is omnichannel a done deed everywhere but that all companies are now on top of their customer journeys and CX is in everyone's grasp.

Just not so. Take a few minutes to read the real life case study (to the right).

The Agent Experience

Now let's consider omnichannel from the perspective of the contact center agent.

When we consider deployment of software in contact centers, omnichannel takes on a rather different meaning. Again, it means the ability of a contact center to communicate with its customers via all media channels. And as we noted earlier, this is just par for the course. Contact centers habitually deploy campaigns using different media channels.

But this doesn't get to the heart of the matter. The customer may get the omnichannel experience they want, but it may not be a proper customer journey and it is very inefficient for the agent. And this is because, very often, access to different media types is siloed. This means that if a customer wants a voice call to be followed up by a contact using his preferred method of contact, as we pointed out above, it is not unlikely that the agent will need to log off one media channel and into another. Omnichannel, of itself, tells us precisely nothing as to how media channels work together.

So, what comes next?

The good news is that you can expect contact centers of the future to do two new standout things, that go well beyond the basics of omnichannel and have a massive impact on the role of the agent.

  1. Agents will be able to handle a range of media sessions concurrently. For example, they could be dealing with say three chats and could be asked at the same moment to handle an inbound call
  2. Contact centers will automatically load balance across all campaigns, no matter what the media type: in other words, blending across all channels. What does the supervisor do? They set SLAs and let the software do the rest

Sounds easy? It is not, and it's a world away from simple omnichannel.

The engine room of the software driving this change has to figure out whether passing a voice call to the agent would compromise chat SLAs (both handling times and response times) and balances this against impact on voice SLA. To do this properly the software has to deal with a multidimensional problem:

  1. Multi-disciplinary agents will have skills across lots of workloads
  2. There will be multiple queues across many different projects that all have to be balanced
  3. Some agents will be better than others at handling multiple sessions

The only way this all works is if you have an engine at the heart of the contact center software that manages all these matters in real-time.

This new way of managing brings some huge advantages to the contact center:

  1. The job of the agent becomes much varied and job satisfaction will rise as agent turnover falls
  2. The act of load balancing easily across all channels means a reduction in agent idle time, with the scope for substantial productivity improvements

Don't be fooled by systems with fancy agent screen layouts, which buzz with options to handle all media sessions at the touch of a button. The acid test is: do they provide dynamic media blending and automatic load balancing in the way described here? Almost certainly not.

So, by all means keep talking about omnichannel in the context of how contact center agents work with all media channels, but understand it's just a starting point for the development of much more effective contact centers in the future. That future is with Sytel now.

Want to know more? Then just talk to us.


A Real Life Case Study

Your author is currently ensconced in the Southern Hemisphere, where he is working for a couple of months. Needs include

  • reactivating an old bank account
  • organising some temporary insurance
  • getting another mobile phone service
  • deciding on some wheels (i.e. car) for the duration

So, what to do? Easy. Take a browser and start searching for companies who can provide what I need. Definitely customer in a hurry.

An interesting pattern emerges in terms of getting service.

  • It is virtually impossible to find an email address to write to. And, if you are lucky enough to find one, then you are told response will be several days. But there is an exception. If you are after a used car, then ted@ is always on hand within a day or so. But banks, insurance companies and mobile phone companies, no way.
  • Everyone has a chat box that pops up the moment you arrive on site. Its Charlie or Cora. They are happy to have a conversation with you. First of all they demand your personal information. Then they want to know if you are a current customer, and then they invite you to ask questions. By this time, you are getting a little fed up. Answers to questions are poor and any sensible person simply says "Pass me to a live agent, please". You get there if you wait long enough - but in some cases just get told no! None are available. Oh, and don't present as a current customer, because they know you will put up with waiting. The promises of Conversational AI are a way off.
  • Try a voice call instead. Interminable queues. But the rare exception takes your number and will call you back.

Omnichannel? Of course. They've all got the tools. But they are rarely joined up for incoming customers. I tried inbound voice and chat at different times, with several companies, trying to figure out the best way in! And it was pretty clear that neither channel was aware of what was happening in the other.

What to conclude? Much flaunting of CX capabilities is just wishful thinking. Many contact centers run siloed systems for each media channel, voice, email and so on. Cost and customer prevention are the driving forces! And the idea of load balancing customer demand across different media channels is just a foreign concept. And this experience is a common theme in many other countries.

Better technologies in the hands of customers, e.g. smartphones, have created demand bubbles that are stretching the best minds to solve. Few companies admit to having problems with their customer journeys, but there are certainly tools and solutions out there to reduce the angst that many customers experience when they seek to make contact.

Not sure about that? Just talk to us.