How to detect and prevent omnichannel failures
When call centers live and die by the customer experience, the rise of “omnichannel”—or any other hotly debated customer experience issue—deserves due consideration.
What omnichannel is is a multifaceted way for customers to interact with companies, often through whatever medium suits them best.
What omnichannel isn’t is a magic bullet, a simple implementation, or a solution to the same woes that have plagued traditional call centers for decades.
And that’s where this post comes in—shedding light on the ways omnichannel has the capacity to spectacularly fail customers when executives buy into omnichannel because they think it’s going to make everything better.“The tools agents have available to them help them capture data and remain compliant—but do not actually help them improve their speaking behavior with customers.”
An omnichannel approach is only as strong as its weakest link, so we aim to highlight five areas to pressure-test before you declare omnichannel a true “solution.”
With call center industry turnover at about 29 percent, delivering an outstanding customer experience is almost impossible. Agents at traditional brick-and-mortar call centers often feel powerless to help customers because they work in environments where their resources are siloed, out-of-date, or don’t enable them to treat customers the way they expect to be treated.
Joshua Feast, founder of Cogito, put it this way in a blog on Customer Think: “Call center agents become disengaged over time and often feel powerless to help customers. They fail to build the kind of strong rapport with customers that will ultimately provide a more rewarding experience for the customer and the agent alike. The tools agents have available to them help them capture data and remain compliant but do not actually help them improve their speaking behavior with customers.” [emphasis added]
Feast continued, “As a result, customers feel that they are speaking with someone who is apathetic to their needs. Agents often dread speaking with customers because they know that frustrated customers will treat them as obstacles rather than as enablers.”
Underinvestment in frontline staff
Mobile and self-service options mean customers have more ways than ever to get the service they’re seeking, and much of this is automated. Yet when customers do need to connect to a real person, such as a customer service phone agent, it’s not unusual to hit a dead end.
That’s because traditional call center training is often rushed or slowed to meet the lowest common denominator in a physical classroom, rather than self-paced to maximize both speed and knowledge transfer. As a result of this training deficiency, customers often bring tough question to agents who just aren’t equipped to handle deeper issues.
As one service leader at a large retailer told Harvard Business Review, “Our people are woefully ill-equipped to handle today’s customers and their issues. We’re not running a contact center here. It’s more like a factory of sadness.”
“We’re not running a contact center here. It’s more like a factory of sadness.”The HBR article, Kick-Ass Customer Service, goes on: “Compounding the issue, as companies have focused on new self-service technologies, they’ve underinvested in frontline service talent. They still hire, onboard, develop, and manage their service reps in much the same way they always have. While the self-service experience has improved dramatically in recent years, the live service interaction has barely changed in decades, creating a gap between customers’ expectations and actual experience. Tales of poor service provoke outrage on social media and go viral despite companies’ best efforts to contain them.”
Empathy isn’t everything
According to Customer Think, empathy, or lack of it, isn’t the biggest complaint customers have. Instead, it’s getting answers.
“The solution here is to arm agents with a unified, AI-infused, omnichannel knowledge-base that can be accessed at the push of a button. This will ensure consistency of answers while guiding agents (and consumers) to fast, accurate answers with step-by-step AI guidance, where needed.”
Systems aren’t designed omnichannel
Most contact centers are working with legacy systems originally intended to support one channel: voice. Yet smart technology options are available to pull customer communication onto a screen for easy reference by call agents.
When agents have the resources necessary to support customers, they’re more likely to feel empowered and able to deliver an outstanding experience.
HR is recruiting for the wrong skills
Companies haven’t changed their staffing structure to reflect skill sets needed to deliver omnichannel customer service. Most staff at contact centers are recruited for their telephone skills. In reality, if contact center staff are expected to respond to a variety of channels, they need to be comfortable multi-tasking, as well as have proficiency in each channel.
Contact Center Pipeline writes that center leaders need to think about these types of challenges in evolving toward omnichannel. Some centers might find they have enough staff to support the variety of channels simply by seeking volunteers who are interested in taking on more channels.