The challenge of the Omni-Channel - delighting your customers where they value it.

Is this the new Omni-Channel?Cormac Farrelly, Digital Marketing Consultant with WSI, explores the State of the Omni-Channel

There have been a number of articles on this blog relating to the impact of the Omni-Channel on customer service organisations.  So I was delighted to attend the recent BT sponsored event for CCMA members on "The Challenge of the Omni Channel" and learn from some of the thought leaders on this topic and what the future holds. As timing would have it, eMarketer have just released a detailed report on the state of the Omni channel for retail so it is interesting to explore the overlap of the adoption of the omni-channel in retail and customer service. The term Omni-channel was originally coined by the retail industry to describe a growing trend where customers use multiple shopping channels to complete a single purchase.  Armed with smartphones and tablets, consumers are now moving effortlessly between "real" and "digital" worlds.  They do their research for a new product online, consult forums and review sites to get recommendations, visit brick-and-mortar stores to examine the product and often use their smartphone while in the store to do price comparisons. To complete the purchase cycle, they might negotiate a deal with the store or buy the product online. Interestingly, although the customer has made this leap to the new "Omni-channel", retailers are still playing catch-up and many fall far short of achieving this vision.

When we start thinking about the Omni-channel for customer service, perhaps this same analogy holds true?

First, let's look at why retailers are lagging behind to see if we can learn any valuable lessons.  The eMarketer report cites two main reasons why retailers have not embraced the omni-channel:

  • The reality is that the majority of product sales still happen in "brick-and-mortar" stores hiding the revolutionary effect mobile devices are having on the shopping experience and lulling some retailers into complacency.  As we mentioned earlier, the final sale may have been completed in the store but in many cases the consumer started their buying cycle online.  Perhaps the analogy here for customer service organisations is that the majority of customer contacts still come via phone?
  • Second, Omni-channel is hard!  Retailers have to integrate their offline and online sales and marketing initiatives and "attribute" value to each channel that influences the sale.  This might start with a TV ad, complemented by a digital search marketing campaign, good website content and a knowledgeable salesperson that closes the deal in the store.  When we lay it out like this, the importance of cross channel attribution becomes obvious - You might wish that the customer walked around with a bar code on their head but unfortunately that's not the case!

We can start to think of similarities here for the contact centre. Perhaps the customer started their customer service experience by searching for a solution on your website, accepted an invitation for live chat, followed up with an agent by email and finally phoned support for clarification. Notwithstanding the fact that they have some way to go to, nearly all retailers aspire to creating an Omni channel experience for their customers.

In a June 2013 survey conducted by Retail Systems Research (RSR), 84% of retailers worldwide said that creating a consistent customer experience across channels was very important.

John Gill from Avaya echoed this aspiration at the BT sponsored event.  His view was that customers continually change contact channels to get a service level they are happiest with.  However this choice of channel is not always consistent and customers are quite €œfickle€ in this regard.

It is important to remember that everything starts and finishes with the customer

However "Good generates more" - When you get the service mix right, customers will buy more from you. The key challenge for customer service organisations is the need to integrate channels so that the customer doesn't have to repeat himself when he moves through the different support channels. For example if a customer has already tried to solve a problem by viewing certain self-help pages on the organisation's website, and has interacted with an agent on web chat, then this information should be made available to the contact centre agent when they receive a call from the customer. In other words the perfect scenario would be a 360 degree CRM interaction history delivered to call centre agents as soon as they take the call! Ideally the customer should be able to move seamlessly between channels.  For example if they meet a bottleneck on chat they can press another button to connect with a live agent. Why bother with Omni Channel? The easy answer is that customers expect it.  Just like customers are embracing the omni-channel in the retail environment they are also turning to these channels to get customer service queries handled. Our two expert speakers, Joanna Howard, General Manager, Customer Service Strategy BT and Paul Wickens -  Chief Executive, NICS Enterprise Shared Services had additional insight on this. Joanna's view is that the main reason why customer service organisations need to embrace the omni- channel boils down to "Customer Effort".  In other words make it easy for customers to do business with you - Customers finding it easy to deal with you are 40% less likely to churn. BT have targeted "easy" as a main KPI for customer service:

%easy - %difficult = net easy score

In fact BT have developed an "easy-o-meter" to measure the contact channels that their customers find easiest to use.  Social and chat interactions are on the top of the easy scale. Email and written letters are on the other side of the scale! Sticking with the €œeasy€ theme, BT has leveraged the "one-to-many" benefits of Social Media as a contact channel.  If there is a need to get a message out to a large volume of customers, Social Media can be a lot more efficient than traditional one-to-one communications such as phone. A good example was during the London riots.  BT's 999 phone channel was under pressure with a spike in call volumes.  They sent a tweet to an online audience of 311,000 people asking them to only log emergencies on 999 resulting in normal service being restored to the call channel. Impact on cost? Turning to Paul Wickens, he feels that cost can be a significant driver for implementing the Omni-Channel.  As CEO of Enterprise Shared Services for the Northern Civil Service, Paul has experienced first-hand the challenges of increasing access to online services for citizens.  Providing some examples for the UK, some indicative costs were outlined for each contact channel:

Cost per Contact Type of Contact
£10.53 Face to Face
£ 3.39 Phone
£12.10 Post
£ 0.08 Online
It is estimated that the UK government will save £1.3 billion per year by moving 30% of services online!

As with retail, customer service organisations face several challenges in providing an integrated Omni-channel experience.  However with potential benefits of reduced operational costs and increased revenue from customers as a result of reduced customer effort, can contact centres afford to ignore the Omni Channel in 2014? We would love to hear any Omni-Channel experiences you might have - Please comment below. Opinions presented in this blog post are those of the author and not necessarily those of CCMA. WSI is a digital marketing agency -With over 1,000 offices in 80 countries, they support local businesses with global insights Image reproduced with thanks from