opinionBy Paul Fick
The internet has empowered customers to easily and instantly analyse, compare, search and research products, prices and brands before making a purchasing decision. This has significantly changed the customer-company relationship. Customers now demand instant attention, and if they are not satisfied, obtain good service or the product quality is poor, this knowledge will immediately be shared with their peers via a variety of media channels.
Customer communication preferences have changed dramatically over the last decade with the prevalence of the internet, the availability of always-on connectivity and the evolution of smart phones and tablets. These social phenomena mean that people now communicate more often and in more ways than ever before, and this trend is no longer limited to only younger generations.
In fact, according to a study conducted by Pew Research Centre in 2010 a total of 79% of adults have an online presence, and a substantial amount of time is spent across generations on social media interaction and using tools such as instant messaging. The message is clear - your customers are online and using multiple channels to communicate. If your contact centre cannot do the same, your business is bound to suffer.
This change in customer behaviour implies that the age of the basic call centre is long gone. Customers now have so much more choice in the way they communicate with their peers that they expect the same options when communicating with a business.
Customers can 'make or break' a company
Businesses need to be aware of what is communicated about them in the public domain, and must have the ability to communicate with their customer base in a similar fashion. At the very least, contact centres need to incorporate an email channel as a starting point and should have the ability to monitor the most important social media channels. Customers can 'make or break' a company or brand image using social media.
Aside from the need to know what customers are saying on various social media channels, organisations also need to be agile in the way they respond to their customers. The fast pace of life today means that customers want answers immediately, using the communication channel of their choice, and if one business cannot provide this, there is every possibility that they may take their custom elsewhere.
Chat, or instant messaging, is fast becoming an important method of communication for customers who want information quickly without having to go through traditional voice channels; however, customers may wish to use a combination of voice, email, chat, even social media to communicate with a company, and they expect the same seamless experience they get when using multiple communication channels among their peers.
Customers use multiple channels to communicate, so the importance of a multi-channel contact centre is clear. However incorporating traditional and new media channels can prove to be something of a challenge, given that each medium has its own characteristics.
While fax is sometimes necessary, email can usually do the same job except when policies require that faxes be used. Email and fax messages both have an accepted response time of a few hours, and are cheaper to service than voice. However voice is still a necessary component of any contact centre. Inbound calls have service levels measured in seconds and are good for negotiation and personal communication.
Chat is an extension of this, also requires immediate attention, and is ideal for supporting web customers. Like voice, it relies on agent availability, yet one agent can often handle multiple chats at the same time. SMS is another channel, which is fast and easy to manage, but is limited to short responses and as a result there is potential for misunderstandings. Finally, there is social media, which requires a response time of a matter of minutes. Social media itself constitutes multiple channels, but the benefit of this is that one post can sometimes resolve issues for multiple customers, and it allows organisations to actively detect opportunities and issues.
Increasing management complexity
Multiple networks increases management complexity, and content needs to be filtered. It is also an entirely public domain so is not suitable for all subjects, and organisations have little to no control over what customers say about them on these forums.
Managing each of these channels independently is a complex, complicated process that does not deliver the seamless experience customers demand. A true multi-channel contact centre allows organisations to combine channels to leverage a host of benefits and better manage service levels. Using a blended multi-channel contact centre solution, organisations can gain an understanding of which channels are productive and which are not, and can also incorporate outbound calling and back office tasks.
One solution to manage multiple channels also ensures that there is a universal queuing system and that agents can be assigned to contacts based on priority and skill. This also provides a normalised interface for agents, which requires less training to operate, and allows for standardised reporting and management across communication channels.
Customers are used to communicating with multiple channels, and in order to remain competitive, businesses need to be able to do the same. With a single contact centre solution capable of handling multiple channels, customer frustration can be lessened, wasted agent capacity can be minimised, and service levels can be accurately managed across various platforms. In today's social world, the customer really is king, and the multi-channel contact centre is the next step in improving customer retention and delivering improved customer service levels.