Why Omnichannel is Key to Great Customer Journeys

Ensure that customers can communicate with you through any channel they choose. This article is the third in a six-part series on how to create a great customer journey with your contact center.

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Why Omnichannel is Key to Great Customer Journeys

The average person these days touches their phone 2,600 times a day. And much of this time is spent communicating with family and friends on multiple channels, from SMS to video to messaging apps. We are so used to living in a connected world that we expect to be able to connect with businesses just as easily. But many companies haven’t been able to keep up. For example, 9 out of 10 global consumers want to text with businesses, but only 48% of businesses are equipped with SMS.

Perhaps you have taken the leap to add more communications channels for your customers to reach you—this can be key to improving your customer experience. But even if you provide multiple channels such as email, in-app chat, or voice, this doesn’t mean your service across channels is integrated and consistent.

An important question to consider is this: can your customers have a seamless, ongoing conversation with you across different channels without losing context along the way?

Having multiple communications channels is powerful, but giving your customers the ability to seamlessly switch between channels is what takes your customer journey to a whole new level. For example, when your customer can begin on your website, initiate a chat session, and then roll that chat into a video co-browse session or voice call with your agent, that customer is receiving personalized, high-quality service. This kind of seamless interaction across technologies is the key to great omnichannel experiences.

Omnichannel vs. Multichannel

The terms multichannel and omnichannel are often confused. Many companies say they offer omnichannel communications when what they really have is a multichannel approach. In fact, in a 2016 consumer report that surveyed 6,000 people in seven countries, delivering an omnichannel communication experience was ranked as the second biggest challenge businesses face in their contact centers, after people and processes.

In reality, many companies manage different channels in silos. Voice interactions may be handled in a call center, for example, while emails are answered by another team, and chat interactions are contracted to a third-party provider. Most likely those separate teams aren’t able to track interactions across channels or share context derived from one to the next. In a multichannel approach, agents don’t have visibility into the end-to-end customer journey on their contact center dashboard, which limits the level of service they can provide.

Even though multichannel communications are more common for most companies today, an integrated omnichannel approach is the best practice that’s quickly becoming the expected norm.

The Importance of Omnichannel Context

Customer interactions today take place on multiple channels. By the time customers connect with an agent in an inbound contact center, that customer has usually already started their journey online. They may be communicating with your business via in-app chat, email, or Facebook messenger before picking up the phone to call for customer service. But often, the information—or context—gathered from the time these customers spent online is completely invisible to the agent.

High-value customer engagement increasingly takes place through social media, proactive notifications, and chatbots—so giving customers and agents the ability to communicate seamlessly across channels is key to providing the best customer experiences. When an agent understands what product a customer is looking for, what problem the customer is trying to solve, or what that customer has recently done on a social network, that information helps the agent make better decisions and arrive at a solution more efficiently. When context is seamlessly blended into the experience, customers move down the path to resolution very quickly.

Providing context to your contact center agents, however, isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Transferring context from one communication channel to the next doesn’t work with just any contact center technology: legacy and siloed software systems can’t handle such hand-offs. That’s why it’s critical to choose a contact center platform designed for true omnichannel communications.

Blended Agents: Your Contact Center Super Heroes

Omnichannel communications with integrated context don’t just improve the customer experience, they also make it easier for agents to provide excellent service. Instead of keeping your channels in silos, with agents specializing in only one type of interaction, you can staff an omnichannel contact center with "blended agents" that are equipped to handle tasks from multiple channels.

When agents can see what customers have been doing in other channels, they can take care of customers’ needs with greater ease and efficiency. Agents no longer have to transfer a caller to a different department to be able to send the customer an email or SMS. They are no longer clueless about the string of emails that a customer already sent before calling. In an omnichannel contact center, agents see context from a customer’s entire journey, and can deliver meaningful and even memorable experiences.

Adding New Channels

Integrating omnichannel communications and seamless context throughout the customer journey—especially in a complex environment like a contact center—requires the right infrastructure. Any system with limited features that requires a lengthy installation process and restricts integration with other platforms will not provide the agility needed to deliver excellent customer experience in an omnichannel world. And when customer experience directly correlates to a healthier bottom line, there’s an ever greater need to build these features into your current platform.

However, many businesses have not yet made the switch to omnichannel communications, and are often tied down by substantial investments in legacy contact center infrastructure. The financial outlay and dedicated resources needed to bring a legacy system up to speed can seem out of reach. Yet, customer needs and expectations continue to evolve rapidly, while the volume and methods of mobile communications proliferate.

The good news for these companies is that they don’t need to rip out their existing infrastructure, they can simply add to it. By leveraging the flexibility of API technology, they can deliver an excellent omnichannel customer experience. API building blocks allow for the freedom to experiment and the ability to integrate, which together create a personalized customer experience. With API-based communications platforms, you can stay agile, A/B test, and experiment to continually improve.

Twilio Flex, the first programmable contact center platform of its kind, offers an out-of-the-box, enterprise grade, omnichannel solution that gives businesses complete control over their contact center. Flex is built on top of Twilio’s APIs, can be deployed with a click of a button, and customized with the skills of a web developer. In addition, Flex is designed so companies can programmatically customize every element of the contact center experience—from the infrastructure to the user interface. With Flex, you can instantly deploy any channel —voice, messaging, video, chat, home assistants, or integrate with apps like Facebook Messenger, Twitter, WhatsApp, LINE, or the next channels of the future, all on a single platform.

Omnichannel in Action: CarFinance247

CarFinance247, the UK’s leading car finance broker, was losing around 100 potential new customers who dropped out of call queues every day because their requests were not being routed quickly enough to the correct agent. The team previously used an on-premise VOIP solution: every agent had a soft phone installed on the desktop, along with a headset. However, their system made it difficult to filter calls by context and customer.

To solve their contact center woes, CarFinance247 built an IVR using Twilio which enabled them to iterate and test user flows rapidly, ensuring that customers were being routed to the correct agent. The impact was almost immediate. All contacts are now integrated with their CRM data, meaning that each communication can be tagged to a customer profile.

By providing context from IVR to agents, the company experienced an increase in approval-to-deal conversion by 12%. “We approve about 55% of all applications,” said Jon Wilson, Carfinance247 Technology Director. “We can only convert what we get approved, so we look at a conversion rate of approvals to deals. After installing Twilio, we had around 12% uplift in that conversion, which is significant in terms of revenues and, obviously, profitability.”

“My estimation of 100 people every day having a bad experience and being unable to call us, well this problem just vanished overnight,” said Wilson.

Switching to Twilio also gave CarFinance247 the ability to communicate with their customers in the way they prefer. They found that nearly half of their customers prefer to communicate via chat or SMS, options that weren’t previously available. “Having the ability to text and use SMS, and to be able to communicate with customers as we would with friends and family is really powerful, and the feedback from the agents is absolutely fantastic,” said Reg Rix, CarFinance247 Founder and Managing Director.

In addition to giving customers the ability to choose their preferred channel, CarFinance247’s new system lets agents know the best time to reach out. “We’ve had 85 percent reduction in time from the customer sending the application through to us being able to make initial contact,” said Tom Sykes, CarFinance247 Software Engineer Technical Lead. “We’ve been able to create a tailored system, which is tailored to not only our needs, but to our customers’ needs —which we would not have been capable of if we just bought off-the-shelf software.”

The Omnichannel Customer Journey

When customers are contacting your business through different channels, with third-party support teams possibly involved along the way, it can be very challenging to understand your customer journey, not to mention to provide cohesive service. However, in an omnichannel contact center, agents have visibility into the entire customer journey through real-time and historical dashboards. They can look at trends over time, by channel, and track the metrics that matter to the business.

Omnichannel dashboards are customized to the specific needs of each business and can be integrated with CRM and other relevant data sources. If SMS interactions are resulting in more sales, you can see this. If customers are reporting unsatisfactory experiences with the IVR, you can make changes fast. Omnichannel contact centers also allow for better monitoring of customer satisfaction (CSAT), an important metric for any business. You can measure satisfaction for each channel to make sure you’re providing consistently excellent service in all forms of communication. And where your CSAT scores fall short, you have the insights you need to make improvements.

The visibility businesses gain from an omnichannel dashboard, along with extensive reporting and analytics, takes the mystery out of the customer journey.

How to Choose the Right Platform

It can feel daunting to choose a new contact center platform, especially when you’re constantly putting out fires with your current system. Undergoing a huge overhaul can seem impossible. But when you think of your customer journey from a strategic perspective, and look at what will provide the best experience, the benefits often far outweigh the costs.

Customer expectations for how businesses communicate are changing rapidly, and omnichannel experiences are quickly becoming the new norm. Customers want a personalized and low-effort experience. Piecing different contact center channels together in a stopgap manner will not be sustainable for your business in the long run. To provide the experience your customers will not only enjoy, but expect, you need a platform that allows for interactions across all channels and locations to be universally managed and prioritized.

When choosing your ideal contact center solution, look for a single interface for multiple channels—SMS, phone calls, in-app chat, email, messaging apps, and more—to save you the effort of maintaining separate integrations. You want to be able to add new channels to your contact center as they become popular, such as social apps, home assistants, and whatever new trend is right around the corner. And if you need a channel that's custom to your business, choose a system that lets you roll out your own channel easily.

Look for a platform that identifies customers across all these channels so you can better understand their history and predict their intent. Knowing who your customers are and being able to predict how best to help them is critical for reducing their effort and increasing their satisfaction. Similarly, choose a platform with intelligent routing that lets you match customers with the best agent based on skills and proficiencies. Make sure the platform gives you complete ownership of your customer interaction data across channels and provides a single omnichannel desktop to set your agents up for success.

Armed with the power to communicate with customers on their preferred channels, the ability to add custom channels as needed, and the visibility into your entire customer journey, you’ll be staying ahead of communication trends instead of struggling to catch up.

Want to dive deeper? We wrote an entire e-book on the subject. Download the Four Essential Ingredients for a Modern Contact Center.

Check out Part 1 for an overview on the four key ingredients for building a great customer journey, Part 2 to learn all about customizability, Part 4 for a deep dive into contextual intelligence, Part 5 to understand the importance of trust and scale, and don’t miss the difference between SaaS, CPaaS, and CCaaS in Part 6.