Change the Channel to Omnichannel

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Change the Channel to Omnichannel

/ Strategy, Planning
Change the Channel to Omnichannel

Digital channels are growing in popularity; having an omnichannel strategy is crucial.

If Gen Z is the first truly digital native generation, which means they have never known life without the internet, then that must mean that I’m part of the truly analog native generation. I’ve never known life without a telephone and a television. But television when I was growing up was nothing like television is for Gen Z, and for millennials for that matter.

Those of you who have grown up in a digital world are going to have to trust me regarding the information that follows, even though the description I’m about to share may seem to be both crudely fantastical and unbelievable at the same time. As hard as this might be to wrap your heads around, here goes. When I was growing up, most households had only one TV. It was typically located in a central family gathering spot, such as the living room or family room, and everyone in the family sat and watched the same program on TV. Together.

But wait. It gets even more bizarre.

I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, and because it was such a large metropolitan area, we got an extra TV channel. So, we could watch any of the three major television broadcast networks or, if we wanted to impress someone, we could watch the PBS station. On top of that, we had Channel 2.

Channel 2 was locally owned and operated and focused primarily on local interest programming. It was the home to “Dialing for Dollars,” as famously referenced in Janis Joplin’s song “Mercedes Benz,” and was home to “Captain Satellite,” the only kids’ after-school TV show back in those primitive, analog days. So, we had a total of five TV channels from which to choose. When someone in the family wanted to change the channel, it didn’t involve a long decision-making process. You basically chose one of the five TV stations that came in over the analog antenna. If you weren’t sure what was on, you consulted your copy of the magazine that once boasted the highest subscription rate of any magazine in the world—TV Guide.

In the analog call center, you also had the choice of any communications channel you wanted as long as it was the telephone. And while television made huge strides in the 1980s in terms of viewing alternatives through such innovations as cable TV, the appropriately named call center still stuck pretty much to the telephone as the only channel available for contacting customer service, unless you also counted snail mail.

Even the advent of email as a communications channel in the mid-’90s didn’t really have a noticeable impact on the customer service call center. In fact, according to the latest Saddletree Research survey of end-users, email is supported as a customer communications channel by 89% of contact centers. While that sounds like a pretty good statistic, it also means that there are still 11% of contact centers out there that don’t support email. I imagine this 11% also has black-and-white TVs in the employee break room.

On the other hand, there are many contact centers today that are embracing digital customer communications channels beyond email, such as social media and texting. In fact, over 60% of contact centers today support three customer communications channels: voice, email and web chat. Twenty-five percent of contact centers support, not only these three channels, but also Facebook and Twitter.

As the digital natives become consumers, these channels will continue to grow in importance and popularity among the customer population, but in order to optimize the customer experience, contact centers must be able to fully understand the cross-channel customer journey. That’s where omnichannel becomes crucial.

Also crucial is having an omnichannel strategy. According to Tom Goodmanson, president and CEO of Calabrio, “As digital channels increasingly become customers’ preferred method of service, companies cannot simply add channels, they must optimize the entire process. Adding digital self-service requires an end-to-end strategy that is specific to that channel. This includes everything from tracking and analysis to training. Then they must link all channels together to gain a complete view of the customer—and their journey—to better understand how a new channel will fit into the path that customers want to take.”

Having an omnichannel strategy isn’t just about the technology. Not surprisingly, people also play a big part in omnichannel customer service. “To get the best possible outcome, contact center agents must have the flexibility to move customers across channels as the situation demands—and not force customers to repeat themselves in the process. For example, if an interaction isn’t easily resolved via chat or text, it’s imperative that companies allow them to seamlessly cross over to the phone to speak with an agent,” Calabrio’s Goodmanson continued. “When companies understand what their customers want and how they behave, they can map the journey that customers want to take. From there, they can deploy true omnichannel strategies that have the right mix of people, processes and technology to empower customers to quickly get the answers they need.”

I was speaking to a member of the National Association of Call Centers (NACC) recently and she told me that they are now getting calls from customers who are calling them on the phone while simultaneously web chatting with them. She said that omnichannel has become a necessity for them, and the reasons are clear. Generational norms and expectations will drive widespread adoption of omnichannel in the contact center whether the contact center likes it or not. Those who don’t quickly adopt will be left behind to wonder what just hit them.

There are some evenings when I sit down to watch TV and, remote in hand, scroll through a hundred satellite channels and not find anything I want to watch. Back in the day when families sat down to watch TV together and there were only three or four channels to choose from, it seemed we could always find something we all wanted to watch. I miss those days. And I sure miss “Captain Satellite.”

Paul Stockford

Paul Stockford

Paul Stockford is Chief Analyst at Saddletree Research, which specializes in contact centers & customer service.