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Businesses today are undergoing a paradigm shift as the customer journey moves to a “digital first” pathway. Yet the “digital first” evolution is only part of the story. In the past twenty years, we’ve also seen an explosion in the number of digital channels through which customers can be engaged: from websites to mobile phone apps, from social media and e-commerce platforms to the Internet of Things and virtual assistants like Siri and Alexa.

The omni-channel experience must be seamless

One of the most critical challenges of designing the “digital first” customer experience is responding to customers who rapidly move from one channel to another as they engage with a business. For example, a customer may start to engage digitally through a chatbot in the company’s app, then move to the Internet to fill out a purchasing account application, then escalate to a phone call with a customer service representative for assistance.

Research tells us that when the customer transitions from any one of these channels to the next, it creates effort and friction, and there is a good chance that the customer will drop out of the engagement entirely. Take, for example, the customer who finds that, as they move from company app to online account form to telephone customer service, they constantly have to give the same authentication information to verify their identity—even when they are transferred from one call agent to another! This is an experience that frequently alienates customers and causes them to abandon their customer journey altogether—particularly if they are in the critical early stages of engagement with a business.

Businesses that fail to use available tech capabilities to provide an easy, seamless omni-channel customer experience can lose traffic and revenue to companies that provide a personalized experience and track along with customers when they move from channel to channel.  A digital-first strategy is intended to provide an easy and personalized experience, connecting all channels for the customer like a smooth highway – not one that is interrupted with detours and tolls.

Leveraging today’s technology

A genuine omni-channel design analyzes where each customer currently is in their experience, noting where he/she last left off and creating a link to the next step in their engagement. This is possible with today’s technology.

Leveraging available customer interaction data, today’s technology uses predictive intent logic to offer a “next-best” action for an engagement center agent or sophisticated chatbot.  Continuing our example, with predictive intent we can detect that a customer seeking help (by chat, SMS, or phone) has already filled out most of the form to create a purchasing account on the company website but left off at the payment information section—perhaps because the customer felt uncomfortable giving their credit card details. The agent or chatbot can then use this data to nudge the customer along to the next step in the buyer’s journey—not in a “creepy” or invasive way, but in a fast way, by suggesting a next-best step, such as proactive chat support or a “call me now” option to shift the interaction to live support.

An omni-channel customer experience connects all customer engagement channels together, allowing the conversation with the customer to flow from one channel to the next so that no data from the interaction gets lost. In addition, assistance is not only omni-channel, but in-channel—meaning that wherever a customer is on the company’s platform—in the app, logged on to the website, viewing a social media feed, or navigating a call system—the customer can easily escalate to the next level of service and support without reauthenticating.

A customer who becomes confused while filling out a purchasing account application should be able to simply click a button to connect to customer service without having to start the process from the beginning again. The same customer should also be able to escalate from a chatbot interaction to a human interaction—or from one call center agent to another — without having to retell their story in detail.

It’s important to note that the chatbot interaction is another critical point that can make or break customer engagement. Sophisticated, well-designed and optimized chatbots will harness the individual customer data tracking and provide an interaction of human quality. However, many chatbots in use are clunky, do not properly assess the customer’s information, and ask repetitive or irrelevant questions—creating another incentive for the customer to flee the engagement altogether.

Human support aided by technology

Once customers get personal with a company and move beyond AI service, they tend to want to stay with the same human being who knows their story. Surveys show that customers prefer to work with the same support agent who helped previously (in chat, SMS, or phone). Current technology can arrange this with smart analytics and routing.

However, “in-channel” support doesn’t just mean that the customer can easily engage customer service within the channel. It also means that once the customer has received assistance from a bot, human agent, or self-help platform, they can resume their digital-first experience in their preferred channel of choice.  Business processes break down when they force customers who need to engage live support to stay in a manual mode, or worse yet, start their whole journey over from the very beginning— another point of abandonment risk.

A good “digital first” interface will instead neatly drop a serviced customer back at the exact point in the digital engagement channel where they left off—perhaps that same payment information section of the website account form—so that the customer can complete the journey the way most people now prefer to—”digital first.”

Does your “digital first” strategy offer omni-channel and in-channel support for a genuinely personal customer experience? The Northridge Group offers strategic customer experience design that can help you capitalize on your company’s digital potential. Contact us today to find out more.

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