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This article was originally published on Contact Center Pipeline and can be viewed here.

Effective technology application, agent recruitment and training are critical to help customers conduct complex interactions.

In recent years there has been an uptick in the number of digital channels through which customers can be engaged. These range from websites to mobile phone apps, to social media and eCommerce platforms, to the Internet of Things, and to virtual assistants such as Siri and Alexa. This is on top of traditional voice channels.

With the breadth of options continually expanding, and in many cases overlapping, it is incumbent upon companies to make sure customer interactions are successful and result in seamless and rewarding customer experiences (CX).

Many companies fail to measure the total amount of time and effort customers must invest in issue resolution.

At the same time, companies must ensure that the customer journey across these channels is cohesive and that interactions are not viewed as independent of each other.

Yet it is on these last points where many companies fail.

We have found that customers increasingly view their experiences with companies as a combination of the contacts they make across channels to resolve their issues.

As such, many companies fail to measure the total amount of time and effort customers must invest in issue resolution.

For example, average handle time (AHT) is a critically important data point that should be consistently measured and improved upon. But this metric only measures one transaction and studies show that calls to contact centers are typically pursued in tandem with additional interactions made via digital channels.

Companies must ensure they are delivering a seamless, personalized experience across all channels. So that each customer’s digital journey with their company is smooth, connected, and problem-free.

Guiding the Customer Journey
A seamless omnichannel CX connects all customer engagement channels, allowing the conversation with the customer at each signpost to flow from one channel to the next, without any loss of data from the interaction.

For example, a customer may start engaging digitally through a chatbot then move to an internet account to fill out a form, then escalate to a phone call with a customer service representative.

At all points in their journey, customers must be able to easily escalate to the next level of service and support without reauthenticating.

While moving from company app to online account form to telephone customer service, if a customer must repeat the same authentication information to verify their identity or retell their story, they may become frustrated. And abandon their customer journey altogether.

These days, most customers research businesses online before they contact them through digital channels or by phone. So by the time they make their first contact, they are already familiar with the company’s products or services and have a reason to engage.

Customers must be able to easily escalate to the next level of service…

If customers have matters to resolve, they usually decide which channel to use based on the issue type, urgency, and complexity and the ease of using each channel. They often use multiple channels to resolve a single issue.

The easy answers are now automated or online so by the time a customer contacts a company via chat or phone for help, the issue has become an escalation. Which means the service interaction that happens next is critical and the company risks losing the customer if it is poorly executed.

Our research indicates that only 42% of customers resolve their issues the first time they contact a company. With more than half making multiple contacts, a smooth experience across channels is essential.

We recently partnered with a top-tier healthcare client to help them reduce their first contact resolution (FCR) rate which was below industry benchmarks.

Our recommendations, which included, among other things, improving self-service digital channels and simplifying their IVR, helped our client improve FCR, yielding a 30% reduction in customer contacts, improved customer experience, reduced call volumes, and optimized contact center costs.

Leveraging Today’s Technology
It is important to track customers as they move from channel to channel. Today’s technology has evolved to allow companies to track activity and know when a customer has taken steps to troubleshoot a problem on the company’s or a third party website and is now in need of human help.

Here are several methods and tools that can direct customers past the signposts on their omnichannel journeys:

  • A sophisticated screen-based, omnichannel design will analyze where each customer currently is in their experience and create continuity in every step of their journey.
  • Social media posts and search engine ads direct customers to websites where they can engage with a company.
  • User-friendly company websites can guide visitors through the process of making purchases or creating accounts.
  • Chatbots can proactively initiate conversations with customers when they appear to be having trouble and make the first attempts at directing them to the areas within the websites that may help them solve their issues. Chatbot interaction can then be critical to making or breaking a positive CX.

Seamless particularly screen-based omnichannel support allows the customer who has received assistance from a chatbot, human agent, or self-help platform, to continue their engagement in their preferred channel. They can do so with a sense of continuity.

Forcing customers who need to engage in live support to continuously restart their journey, e.g., searching the website for the “contact us” link then calling from their mobile devices, often leads to a fractured CX and frustration.

But well-designed, screen-based support will deliver a serviced customer back to the exact point in the digital engagement channel where they left off, such as on a website form, so that they can easily complete their transaction.

The Transformation of the Traditional Voice Channel

While the role of the contact center agent or associate has changed significantly, digital channels do not eliminate the need for their human assistance.

Today’s associates have been elevated to more expert roles and must be prepared for more complex customer interactions.

When a customer reaches out for human help, it is almost always for a next-step escalation. This is because well-designed digital platforms will have already provided a basic level of service to the customer.

Companies need to train their agents to be ready for more complex customer interactions than they’ve handled in the past and to pick up wherever the digital experience dropped the customers off.

In the early days of contact centers, associates might typically have expected that half of all incoming calls could be easily resolved. But in today’s customer service environment, simple calls are rare.

Most customer calls are complex, time-consuming, and potentially charged with customer frustration. Associates must be able to effectively address whatever issue a customer calls about. They should be trained to accurately troubleshoot a problem to get it resolved.

From there, an effective associate can bridge to sharing other relevant products or services that are part of the entire CX. This is as much an art as it is a science and companies need to screen for the skills and competencies that associates need to do this successfully.

Associates must listen to customer cues, know the products and services well, effectively segue from an existing conversation to a relevant offering, and then be smart about closing the deal.

Prepare for More Complex Customer Interactions

Our research indicates that 55% of customers wait an hour or less to switch to a different channel if their issue is unresolved.

Contact centers must respond to this new reality by helping their associates be prepared. They are now more essential than ever to the achievement of a seamless and satisfying CX.

Associates should be supported by technology that tracks a customer’s activities on the company’s digital platform before their calls. So that they can meet customers where they are in the process, preventing the need to retell their issues in detail or to reauthenticate their identities.

Higher demands also necessitate enhanced skills and support. Associates must be ready to navigate for customers who have already tried to solve issues with chatbots and troubleshooting guides.

Contact centers must respond to this new reality by helping their associates be prepared.

In addition to the enhanced skills that this level of service requires, associates need the support of knowledge management systems, so they can easily access, share, and track the most effective paths to resolution. This includes back-end data analytics that can alert associates about issues the customer has previously called about.

The result is a seamless and personalized conversation with each customer. Having the right tools, systems, and technology solutions in place is essential for delivering a robust CX.

Associate Retention and Hiring

Making it easy for your frontline associates to care for your customers drives the retention of these valuable employees. They are the face of your business to your customers and will make or break your brand every day.

So, providing them with the information they need to care for customers, resolve complex issues, and share more about your products and services is critical to the business’ success.

Contact center associates’ qualifications and skills are becoming more specialized and sought after since they are now troubleshooters and problem solvers.

As the nature of customer care roles evolves, it is essential to consider new hiring practices:

  • Recruit from a diverse talent pool to align your associates’ demographics with those of your customers.
  • Ensure that you can offer recruits flexibility, security, meaningful work, and development opportunities.
  • Consider a “work remote” model to solve contact center staffing challenges such as split shifts, short shifts, and access to premium talent.
  • Offer technology-driven learning and development opportunities that cater to diverse needs and learning styles yet are engaging and flexible.

Delivering a Seamless Omnichannel Experience

In today’s omnichannel environment, one of the most critical challenges companies face is responding to customers who rapidly move from one channel to another as they engage with customer service to resolve issues.

It would be inaccurate to assume that the time it takes for issue resolution is the length of a customer service phone call. In many cases, the customer may have been trying to self-solve their problem on the digital platform for hours, days, or longer before calling.

When the customer reflects on how long it took them to resolve their issue, they will undoubtedly view it as the time it took them across all channels. Companies must adjust their AHT metrics accordingly and be sensitive to the total amount of time and effort their customers must invest in issue resolution.

The onus is now on companies to identify the specific reasons customers use each channel, meet each customer on their channel of choice, and provide excellent support that follows customers from channel to channel when necessary.

In the long run, providing outstanding omnichannel service will lead to customer engagement and loyalty, frontline associate retention, and ongoing business growth. Companies that deliver a seamless, personalized experience across all channels will have a competitive advantage.

This article was originally published on Contact Center Pipeline and can be viewed here.

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