As the COVID-19 crisis continues to enforce business change and impacts upon the economy, we take a look at how companies are harnessing a move towards an omnichannel approach. Creating a new kind of normal and customer experience.

It’s hard to ignore the power of an omnichannel strategy at the moment, whether you’re talking about the selling of products, or customer experience. Those businesses that had more than one stream of revenue, multiple ways of being found and various options as to how customer could reach them are the ones that have best been able to weather the COVID-19 storm. Whereas traditional bricks-and-mortar stores were forced to close their doors and furlough their staff, online retailers were enjoying a jump in sales that could see their share of the UK retail trade increase to 23% by the end of the year, up 4% from 19% last year.

However, embracing omnichannel theories and tactics is, for retailers, not just about ensuring customers have more than one way to buy. It’s every bit as important for businesses to offer an omnichannel customer experience that includes visibility, engagement and customer services operations and is not just restricted to the retail sector. Because in an age when consumers have virtually endless choices companies must fight for every customer, meaning product and price are no longer the defining criteria by which a customer will make their purchase decision.

According to a recent report by Microsoft, 95% of people say customer service is important to them when it comes to choosing a brand. More tellingly, 61% of customers surveyed said they had previously switched to a different brand because of poor customer service. It’s therefore becoming increasingly important for businesses to get their customer interactions right, each and every time. And that means moving towards a seamless omnichannel approach that puts the customer at the heart.

Connected consumers

The face of customer services is changing. It’s no longer enough to offer service with a smile as you ring a product through the till. Businesses can’t afford to rest on their laurels while technology – and alongside its customer expectations – is advancing at a rapid rate. In a recent survey by Salesforce, 75% of customers said they expect companies to use new technologies to create better customer experiences.

Today’s consumer expects engagement across all channels including, but not exclusive to social media. They want to be able to WhatsApp a query and have their calls answered and directed quickly. They want to be able to make in-app purchases and claim refunds in chatbots. And they want to be able to switch between all these platforms, without having to explain each and every time who they are and what they need help with. They want a seamless and rapid experience that not only surprises but also delights them.

It’s that latter element that differentiates an omnichannel customer experience (CX) from a multi-channel one. Having various contact platforms is great but having them synced and working together is the panacea for customer experience, engagement and retention.

The omnichannel dream

Businesses are now serving ultra-connected customers, who expect a consistent experience through every channel. The omnichannel theory is that customers should have access to businesses through multiple platforms at any time they need it, with the expectation that they will be treated the same way, wherever, however and whenever they reach out.

What this means for an omnichannel contact centre is that it will enable a business to route interactions seamlessly through email, chat, SMS, video, telephone and social channels. So when the customer conversation naturally changes channel mid-way through, or should the query require the input of a particular agent with a particular skillset or area of expertise, all relevant data and history will travel with that customer across each and every touchpoint. Meaning the customer is free to use whatever channel suits them most without the need to repeat everything they’ve already said, every time.

This is why omnichannel contact centres are able to help businesses deliver the seamless, one-to-one, personalised experience that today’s customer has come to expect. And for those businesses who have already adopted this way of working, is what is enabling them to stand out amongst the competition in this current climate.

COVID-19 has forced the hands of many businesses in many different ways. In these unheralded and unprecedented times, contact centre managers have had to reconfigure their processes and refine their CX strategies in a bid to adapt. Those companies that had previously relied heavily, and primarily, on call centres found themselves floundering once they were asked to send staff home and had to quickly come up with other ways for customers to get in touch. For some this meant redeploying their call-handling agents to chat functions or email queries, whereas others moved their telesales agents to customer services, and some even suspended their phone lines completely. For one beleaguered company, the issue became so pressing at one point that the company sent emails to its 5.5million broadband and cable customers asking them to stop calling. It was a scattergun approach, which failed to take even half-hearted steps towards the seamless, integrated omnichannel experience customers expect, and one that has the potential to inflict a lot of reputational damage to the brand in the long term.

For companies which had already embraced a cloud-based contact centre and had an omnichannel strategy in place, maintaining operations during this time has been easy. Agents and supervisors alike could be sent home with all functionality easily

transferred, and with security in place VPN and managed internet breakout could be managed. A straightforward firewall upgrade enacted would ensure enhanced security for the increased number of remote users, making a transition to remote working for these companies relatively seamless.

Omnichannel security and compliance

Security and compliance are generally the biggest fears managers have when it comes to cloud computing, and hosted contact centres are no different. Those fears, while not necessarily founded, perhaps explain why so few companies had been prepared to make the switch to remote contact centre working prior to the coronavirus pandemic. Of course, the scramble to retain customers and ensure continued operations during the lockdown has forced many managers to cast aside those fears and just get on with it. And as businesses have adapted to this new way of working and managers have seen the omnichannel strategies in action, those fears have been at least partially allayed. Many are even predicting that the current situation will prompt a sea change in the way contact centres operate in the future.

Overcoming fears

Managers are undoubtedly coming to see the benefits of an omnichannel CX strategy, whereby customer contacts are routed through the cloud and filtered by enhanced analytics with pinpoint accuracy. Businesses are relying on email, chat and messaging more heavily than ever, and the benefits of an omnichannel contact centre are there for even the most traditional managers to see. They are saving money. They are freeing up personnel. And they are realising their security and compliance fears needn’t halt business progression. Many cloud-based contact centre solutions come with in-built processes for ensuring all compliance standards are being met. Likewise, by channelling any element of the business through the Cloud, managers are automatically placing it behind enhanced layers of security, and ensuring greater resiliency, disaster-recovery capabilities, and business continuity.

Fears over employee productivity and line management capabilities have also frequently been cited as barriers to remote working for call centre employees. Traditional call centre supervisors are used to walking the floor, looking over their workers’ shoulders and offering support and training on the fly. But even those concerns are being cast aside as managers find a way to facilitate operations during lockdown. It is in these instances that forward-thinking companies are lighting the path ahead.

A cloud-based, omnichannel contact centre makes it easy for managers to oversee their entire workforce. By unifying multiple channels in a single interface, managers get a 360-degree view of their customers and their workforce. They can remotely handle work streams and delegate tasks. It makes it easier for supervisors to identify call queues that are seeing a spike in traffic and need extra personnel, and it will allow them to move agents to where they are needed most, thereby reducing wait times for callers. It will provide managers with consistent analytics, with metrics calculated the same way across all channels, making control of the contact centre activity straightforward and easy. All of this, of course, enhances the customer experience.

Omnichannel is here to stay

Coronavirus has undoubtedly changed the face of the contact centre. Organisations and companies around the world are seeing the massive benefits to be gained from an omnichannel strategy, from the enhanced analytics and freed-up resources to the massive cost savings and often increased security. Many are already vowing to never return to their previous way of working.

Download a copy of our latest whitepaper to find out more on how the pandemic could potentially change the shape of contact centres for good and what the future contact look like.

If you are ready to set your business up for the future and enhance that all-important customer experience, get in touch with one of our team today – we’ll be happy to discuss your requirements.

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