Published on the 12/02/2016 | Written by Carl Price
Contact centre operators have been shifting to multi-channel communication methods for more than a decade, writes Carl Price – but the shift has proven challenging…
Hampered by legacy, on-premise systems and faced with increasing demands from customers for flexibility, many operators are yet to realise the benefits they had initially foreseen. The challenges can be even more acute for smaller operators. Faced with limited budgets and staff numbers, they can struggle to introduce new channels and ensure a consistent customer experience across them.
Increasingly, customers want to use multiple communication channels during a single interaction or transaction. They may start by using a web site, but then shift to email or chat to have specific questions answered. For companies to be able to provide consistently good customer service, they must have the systems in place that allow interactions to flow seamlessly between multiple channels.
Recent research conducted by Interactive Intelligence found that more than 50 per cent of small-to-mid-sized contact centre operators aim to have their interaction channels fully integrated by 2016. The key question they have, however, is how they will reach that goal?
There are six key challenges organisations faced when implementing a multi-channel contact centre. Those challenges, and how to overcome them, are:
1. Restrictive capital budgets
Virtually all organisations wrestle with the challenge of limited budgets. Finding the funds needed to introduce new communications channels can be difficult and could mean shifting money away from other areas.
A cost-effective alternative is to embrace cloud-based platforms. Rather than investing in new on-premise equipment, organisations can take advantage of externally hosted resources. These can be linked to existing in-house systems to create a more flexible platform capable of supporting multiple customer communication channels.
2. Lack of in-house expertise
As new communication channels are added to the mix, the skills required of contact centre staff will change. Where once it would have been sufficient to be adept at handling voice calls, keyboard skills and awareness of social media can quickly become requirements.
Organisations need to evaluate the skill level of existing agents and offer training where required. It might also be a case of looking externally for other skilled staff and adding them to the mix.
3. The limits of legacy infrastructure
Legacy contact centre infrastructures that have evolved over a period of time can struggle to deal with new communication channels. Many comprise multiple silos of data which cannot be readily accessed and shared. As a result, agents can find it difficult to obtain a clear picture of a customer when communicating with them using multiple channels.
To overcome this, organisations can take a phased approach to the introduction of new channels. As each is deployed, attention should focus on ensuring customer data is still readily available. If a customer starts with an email conversation and then shifts to chat and the web, the agent handling the interaction will then be able to see all elements of the relationship and provide a high quality of service.
4. Customer unwillingness to embrace new contact channels
Despite the spread of communication channels such as chat, text and social, many customers are still reluctant to take advantage of these new alternatives. This reluctance appears particularly prevalent in the utilities and government sectors where people still tend to prefer voice interactions.
To overcome this, organisations should consult with the customers to determine what channels they might consider and the benefits this could deliver to them. Trials can then be undertaken and feedback sought to ensure those benefits are being realised. Once a new channel is working for a select group it can then be rolled out to the entire customer base.
5. Limiting organisational silos
Contact centres that have grown over time due to company acquisition or rapid growth often have organisational or structural silos that limit efficient operation.
To overcome this cross-function teams focused on the customer experience should be established to find ways to change the structure and improve its effectiveness.
6. Multi-channel not a strategic priority
Finally, it can be a struggle to implement an effective multi-channel contact centre if doing so is not a strategic priority for the organisation as a whole. Centre managers must work with senior managers to ensure the contact centre is seen as being of strategic value rather than simply a cost centre.
By overcoming these key challenges, multi-channel contact centres can become a critical and effective part of the organisation. By allowing customers to interact seamlessly across multiple channels, they will be able to both improve internal efficiencies and boost customer satisfaction.
Carl Price is APAC head of marketing at Interactive Intelligence.