There’s one undeniable truth to providing a great customer experience: if people must find you, they’re going to find someone new.
Customers want you to use the channels they’re most comfortable with, from phone calls to web chat, SMS, email, and social media. They expect a seamless experience across all of them.
An omnichannel contact center brings all your communication channels together into a single, easy-to-use interface. And customers love it. According to Aberdeen Group, companies that use an omnichannel approach saw a 91% year-over-year increase in customer retention than those without!
In this guide, we’re going to cover everything you need to know about setting up, staffing, and running an omnichannel contact center — from core features to best practices and insider tips.
What is an omnichannel contact center?
An omnichannel contact center is a contact center that allows agents to handle requests and share information across multiple channels, including phone calls, webchat, email, SMS, and social media.
Yet, these contact centers are much more than a place to answer tickets.
A genuine omnichannel approach creates a seamless experience as conversations move across channels by sharing context and providing additional customer data.
That’s a lot to digest. So here’s an example to show you how an omnichannel contact center works in practice.
Let’s say a customer is dealing with a technical issue. They’ve read a few self-service help docs but have hit the point where they need help.
Their first stop is your website’s chat to explain the issue. But after some back and forth, they decide to call in to “talk to a real person.”
An omnichannel customer experience solves this problem. This way, when that customer calls customer support, live agents already have:
- The customer’s history and key data
- A transcript of their previous chat conversations
- A record of relevant touchpoints, such as help docs they read
Rather than force customers to repeat themselves, your agents start with a holistic view of every customer interaction and can pick up right where their colleagues left off.
This sort of unified communication isn’t easy. But it’s what your customers expect.
Research from McKinsey shows that most customers engage with three to five different channels on their way to resolving a request. In addition, 86% of customers expect conversations to move seamlessly between service channels.
Multichannel vs. omnichannel contact centers
You’re probably familiar with handling support requests across multiple service channels. Contact centers have been adding new channels for years, which has led to people describing them as multi-channel because it works across more than one form of communication.
However, a few significant features separate a multichannel approach from an omnichannel one.
In a multichannel contact center, each channel is managed separately and even by different teams. This means your customer interaction history isn’t updated as they transcend from one medium to the next. When a customer moves from a call to chat, they’re essentially starting over.
On the other hand, the omnichannel approach combines all your communication channels, customer history, and data into one tool. Customers can use their preferred channel without repeating themselves. Agents can gracefully handle each topic using a centralized contact center software.
Here's a quick comparison between a multichannel and omnichannel contact center.
|Functionality||Multichannel contact center||Omnichannel contact center|
|Supports multiple channels||✔||✔|
|Seamlessly switch between communication channels||✗||✔|
|CRM integration for relevant customer data||✗||✔|
|Real-time insights on customer activity||✗||✔|
|One team can handle requests across all channels||✗||✔|
Beyond the lack of features, there are a few downsides to a multichannel contact center versus an omnichannel one:
- Multichannel contact centers provide a worse customer experience. Customers must repeat themselves when switching messaging channels. They also don’t get the personalized experience they crave today.
- Multichannel contact centers can be more expensive to run. When customers need to make several requests for one issue, companies need to hire more customer service agents. On the other hand, Omnichannel platforms minimize repeat calls and combat long hold times using the IVR.
- Multichannel contact centers could harm customer engagement. A 2017 survey by American Express indicated that one-third of Americans said they’d switch companies after a single poor experience. What will your existing omnichannel call center cost you?
More channels don’t create a better customer experience. Instead, the more channels you support, the more critical an omnichannel approach becomes.
Five omnichannel strategies to improve customer experience
Embracing an omnichannel strategy means defining a cohesive vision to optimize the customer service experience. This effort results in revisiting tools, workflow automation, and customer touchpoints.
Let’s start by looking at some strategies and best practices as you move to a multichannel environment.
1) Build more personalized experiences
Personalization is at the core of the omnichannel approach. According to Microsoft's research, 72% of people expect your customer service team to know who they are, what they’ve purchased, and insight into their past interactions.
A unified contact center platform streamlines all this information and puts it at your agents’ fingertips. It increases agent productivity and allows you to leverage personalization to that keep customers coming back.
2) Map out common customer journeys
Customers rarely take a linear path when engaging with your company. They might read a self-service knowledge base article or send a tweet before engaging with your support team.
The more you understand your customer journeys — the channels they use and their paths — the more impactful your omnichannel approach can be.
3) Be proactive about data collection
The omnichannel approach is only as good as the data you make available to your agents.
At a minimum, this includes any previous conversations the customer has had across channels. However, you can empower your support team even more by including real-time data and insights from your customer service CRM such as:
- Previously viewed pages
- Abandoned carts
- Survey results
- Upcoming anniversaries or renewals
- Customer value
Aim to unify segmented customer data into a consolidated CRM instead of separate data silos.
4) Monitor changes in customer preferences
If COVID has taught businesses anything, it’s that markets and entire industries can change overnight. Using an omnichannel contact center, you can rapidly adapt to their changing needs.
Examples of this could mean looking for an uptick in social media outreach or declining customer satisfaction on specific channels.
If customers grow frustrated with the limitations of an automated chatbot, offer them an easy way to reach a live agent. This way, a rep takes over for a personalized and seamless experience.
Brands should collect phone numbers in web chat. Doing so allows agents to initiate an outbound call to squash any outstanding concerns. Plus, it provides another means for cloud contact centers to identify and track accounts.
5) Strike a balance between humans and technology
Omnichannel contact centers are powered by some of the best customer support technology. However, support quality still comes down to human interaction. It’s great to see calls getting shorter and reps handling more issues. Yet, none of that matters if your customers are leaving unsatisfied.
Your omnichannel strategy should include vital human elements, such as:
- Be consistent across channels: An omnichannel approach means that response time and quality are channel-agnostic. Treat all channels equally.
- Make 'customer-centric' the core of your strategy: Balance agent effectiveness with customer satisfaction. Speed should never outshine amazing service.
- Integrate before launching a new channel: Plan how any new platform will fit into your existing omnichannel strategy and agent desktops before going live.
Features to look for in an omnichannel contact center
Cloud contact centers simplify complex interactions. When you streamline customer service tools, you’ll help them become more productive and effective.
But where do you start when building out an omnichannel approach?
Here are seven of the must-have features for choosing an omnichannel contact center in 2021:
1) Cloud-based with a unified interface
An omnichannel strategy works when employees can effortlessly move between channels while maintaining customer history and context.
For this to happen, your contact center software needs an easy-to-use, intuitive interface and provides real-time data for each agent.
Here are a few qualities to look for when evaluating an omnichannel contact center’s interface:
- Customer data and conversations in one place: Agents shouldn’t have to jump between screens, tools, or apps to maintain a seamless customer experience. API integrations are imperfect — strive for complete functionality without middleware.
- Cloud-based redundancy: Look for a tool that manages all your data sources and conversations in the cloud. The cloud not only keeps all your CRM organized but allows agents to work from home comfortably.
- Quick access to real-time data: Agents should have access to customer insights, past interactions, and customer satisfaction scores to deliver the best experience possible.
2) Seamless integration between channels
Customer expectations change rapidly. A few years ago, most people wouldn’t use a chatbot to answer their questions; today, 74% of customers prefer them for quick answers.
An omnichannel contact center needs to be scalable and agile enough to integrate with any new channel that comes to the market without downtime or changing workflows.
Here are a few questions to ask when evaluating how your omnichannel contact center will handle integrations:
- What other tools integrate with this contact center? Look for integrations with your customer CRM and every communication channel you use, such as the phone and digital channels like email, SMS, and social media.
- How are integrations displayed in the interface? Look for contact center software that reduces friction by bringing cross-channel conversations together into a single view. Agents shouldn’t need to bounce between screens to keep the conversation moving.
- Is it easy to share data or merge reports across channels? Look for reports that put the customer experience first rather than a specific channel. For example, first response time is preferred to first email response time. It'll help you with forecasting and workforce optimization.
3) Customer insights render personalized experiences
Your customers are unique in how they use your product and seek help. Some customers enjoy using self-service options like a knowledge base. The preferred channel to solve a significant issue is the phone, then email and social media.
The more access agents have to information, the better equipped they’ll be to handle requests.
A CRM like one from Nextiva pulls all your customer data into one place. This capability means that your team can see interaction history, account value, satisfaction during their conversations.
Here are some customer insights your omnichannel contact center should include:
- Customer info: Name, company, alternative contact info, and open or closed tickets can help you personalize the interaction.
- Interaction history: A list of conversations across all channels and a brief rundown of their outcomes.
- Real-time insights: Product pages, help docs, or features they recently used to add context to the issue.
- Account value metrics: Customer value, trending satisfaction, and survey results. Support agents should instantly know they're assisting a high-value account.
4) Intelligent routing of inbound requests
With more channels, proper routing becomes crucial. A seamless customer experience means connecting customers to the right agent the first time around.
Look for a contact center solution that offers intelligent routing features such as:
- Automatic call distribution (ACD): Route inbound calls to the right person or team depending on history, time, or support level.
- Deep CRM integration: Leverage your existing customer data to direct customers to the right agent or department. These surface actionable insights across the entire customer journey.
- Conversational AI: Respond to customers seeking help with answers based on artificial intelligence. Select omnichannel contact center solutions leverage AI and natural language processing to pick up on real-time sentiment.
5) Integrated data across the customer journey
The only way to execute a seamless omnichannel experience is to gather data along each customer touchpoint. As people shift from social media to chat to a phone call, their history should reflect each customer interaction.
Here are a couple of data-focused features your omnichannel contact center should support:
- Insights into the customer journey: See where your customers came from and what channels they used to connect. Examples of these contact methods include a mobile app, email, or SMS.
- Track and analyze your entire pipeline: Understand each step customers take throughout their business relationship. Add or subtract "points" depending on the intent and outcome.
6) Performance management and reporting
An omnichannel contact center can give managers deep insights into the performance of their team. Instead of trying to streamline metrics or reports across several tools, everything is in one place.
Here are a few essential reporting tools that your contact center should include:
- Historical and daily data trends: Contact center leaders should see at a glance where agents and processes need to improve. Most call center solutions offer this out of the box.
- Customizable KPIs and goals: What’s most important to you? Speed of answer? CSAT score? Identify which ones reflect your customer's needs and business drivers.
- Agent dashboards for coaching: Reporting should be empowering and actionable for both call center agents and managers. Adopt team-based wallboards to drive awareness and friendly competition.
7) Enterprise-grade security and reliability
Finally, security and uptime are critical when a single tool handles all your customer data and support channels. For example, Nextiva’s enterprise-grade network has the industry’s highest uptime, which means you can be there for your customers.
Your omnichannel solution is up to the task if it:
- Meets stringent industry standards such as PCI, SOC 2, or HIPAA
- Maintains a status page with updates on past events and planned maintenance
- Undergoes regular security audits and 24/7 monitoring
In the age where data breaches and outages can happen to almost anyone, you can’t afford to go with the bare minimum. You need a proven leader to power your communications.
How to hire and train omnichannel support agents
With more contact methods and context to consider, customer service staff face increasingly complex situations.
Behind every great customer experience is a team that delivers the seamless experience customers rave about.
As industry analyst Brian Cantor writes, “A satisfied, engaged team of agents is the key to a great customer experience.” As you move to an omnichannel model, your team will need training. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:
- Decide on your omnichannel KPIs: Update your contact center KPIs to closely measure your customer experience. For example, you might want to focus on multi-channel issue resolution rather than call volume as a success metric.
- Share your strategy: Educate your team on your company's omnichannel strategy and how it impacts them. It should yield appreciation for the customer journey and how each customer interaction influences customer success. It should also outline efforts made to augment customer data to create a better experience.
- Promote real-time collaboration: Help agents find the resources they need to handle more complex requests. Since each customer touchpoint matters, empower agents to take ownership of customer issues. Leverage your cloud contact center software for messaging internal experts, so customers don’t have to attempt a second or third contact.
Simple changes to how you coach your team can make a sizable impact on your omnichannel strategy. Over time, you'll create a proven customer care playbook that spans every service channel.
The verdict is in: omnichannel is the future of customer support
The days of a single point of contact are gone.
Today's customers expect you to be responsive on their preferred channels. What matters most is to arm call center teams with the means to streamline multiple communication channels.
An omnichannel contact center makes it easy for customer support agents to provide exceptional customer satisfaction regardless of how customers contact them. While it may sound complicated, the results speak for themselves.
You don’t have to take on every digital channel at once. A phased approach lets you gracefully add more inbound contact methods, so you provide a seamless experience.
According to a recent survey by Gladly, 84% of customers say they regularly go out of their way to spend more money with companies that provide great experiences. You can’t afford not to use an omnichannel platform.
Joe Manna is a content marketing manager for Nextiva who obsesses over the Oxford comma, embraces the em dash, and thrives on authoring content that compels people to take action. He is savvy with networking technology, a staunch privacy advocate, and in tune with today's business needs. His expertise helps companies large and small serve more customers.