The airwaves these days are full of articles extolling both the endurance and the death of omnichannel. For example, on the plus side we see statements such as

"Omnichannel provides a seamless experience across all media channels to reflect and match the customer's preferences."

Nothing wrong with that, but it doesn't really say anything new. For example if you turn the statement around, then would any company admit to NOT using all voice and digital channels to contact their customers, seamlessly? Of course not!

And it is probably legitimate to call omnichannel dead, if you prefer to use the word multichannel to imply that you can contact your customers on all channels at any time, again switching seamlessly between channels, be they voice, chat, email or video!

So let the marketing folk weave their magic spells.

But there is a serious issue here, about how IT systems are engineered and deployed to support all media types. Omnichannel first showed its face when software vendors for contact centers started deploying digital channels such as chat and email. And, the simple point was – and still is - that vendors could say that they supported all channels.

But then, as now, most systems are siloed. Agents can only log into one system at a time and often there is no realtime access to a complete view of all customer activity. If you want to provide an exceptional customer experience, agents need the ability to instantly switch between media types to respond to customer wishes. For example, if a text chat session is not going well, then the agent should have the ability to turn that session immediately into a live voice call.

The fundamental problem is that ACDs were designed for voice, dealing with queueing, routing and resource management/load/balancing. They were not designed to meet current challenges. For example:

  • Concurrent sessions
    Chat takes place on different timescales, and an agent will potentially be able to manage multiple sessions concurrently.
  • Preferred agent
    The service journey may involve multiple sessions using different media; you may want the agent who handled initial contact with the customer to manage follow-up to give the best customer experience. How to prioritise processing the email follow-up from a customer when the best agent is fully occupied on inbound calls at peak period?
  • Multidimensional SLAs
    Voice is simple. But chat SLAs govern both initial response time and time taken to send a message to a customer while in a chat dialog. What about bringing in chat agents to handle voice demand during peak periods? And the trade-offs to be made on between voice and chat SLAs?
  • Blending when the agent has multiple concurrent sessions in progress.

The siloed systems that gave birth to Omnichannel just don't support this new way of working. What is required is a complete rethink of how the underpinning ACD is engineered to seamlessly allow agents and customers to move immediately between all channels, whilst maintaining a 360 degree view of all customer data. In the process the ACD becomes the Automated Session Distributor (ASD®), managing sessions of all media types.

And it's not just about the customer. Re-inventing the ACD so that it takes on the wider role of an ASD® applies to agent handling of both multiple concurrent sessions and multiple media types. It enables agents to be far better engaged and to play a much more valuable and interesting role in a contact center. More job variety and much less idle time.

It probably also means you can rethink your legacy WFM systems. An ASD® will provide workforce planning outputs that allow you to plan staffing but will also manage the media landscape in real-time to ensure 100% occupancy, regardless of peaks and troughs in call, chat and email volumes.

So what to call this brave new world, where the ACD gives way to the ASD® and tools are in place to blend all media channels in realtime? Watch this space!

 

Multichannel handling

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