How Many Channels Make An Omni-Channel Omelette?

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Martin Hill Wilson 1st February 2016 3 minute read

How Many Channels Make An Omni-Channel Omelette?

Or you might prefer the language of ‘omni-channel’ if you are keen to make the point that it must all fuse together into a seamless capability. To summarise key points:

  1. Large scale service interactions via non voice channels are still new(ish). Therefore no brand yet has a track record in true omni-channel management
  2. However we can now expect text and video channels to grow rapidly due to wholesale changes in customer behaviour
  3. Organisations will have to balance the instinct to control costs against this emerging customer expectation. Channel deflection can work, but it’s a slippery slope and customers will always find a way through to the assistance they need
  4. ‘Omni-channel’ means more than just offering a choice of channels. It implies the ability to design, deliver and manage consistent service levels and experiences over any combination of channels used in a particular customer journey

I could continue. But the central point I want to get across is already made. This is not more of the same. It’s a fundamentally different leadership challenge. Adding channels to cater for choice adds cost. Unless of course, this is counter balanced with an ongoing determination to reduce service demand by fixing stuff and reducing repeat interactions by simplifying customer journeys. There is a price to join this particular party!

The Journey To Omni-Channel Will Change Your Organisation (for the better)

This is no longer the world of cost optimisation by squeezing average handle time and sourcing cheaper labour. That route will most likely frustrate customers and consequently increase service costs. The new equation needs as much ‘work smarter’ as ‘work harder’. However getting ‘smarter’ requires reflection time outside the busyness of everyday customer service leadership.

For instance, large complex organisations that are starting to respond to the challenges of digital engagement quickly discover they need to evolve from a compliance culture into a customer culture. This means they need to speed up their responsiveness as the arrival of real time data disrupts decision making timeframes. In behavioural terms, this challenges the norms of everyday corporate life. Can we transform a habit of adherence into an appetite for innovation?

This is the context within which effective multi-channel strategy is developed. In other words, becoming great at delivering multi-channel customer experiences is about evoking the right culture. Ideally, before investing in a spanking new digital infrastructure.

The best brands have discovered this transition is most powerfully fuelled by real time customer insight. It allows the organisation to discover that most common truth – there is a significant gap between the customers’ agenda and priorities and their own. How long it then takes for the penny to drop at leadership level all depends. But I’ll wager that Ryan Air’s conversion to customer centricity had something to do with their recent 66% hike in profits.

Once the organisation gets into the groove of seeing things from the customers’ perspective, the so-called ‘outside-in perspective, the enabling work for great multi-channel experiences can begin.  To identify which customer journeys need smoothing out or simplifying. Reducing effort is a powerful lens. Both customer and organisation win when engagement is made easier. Experientially and commercially.

Digital Customer Service Needs More Than A Few Extra Channels

To re-iterate, all this begins with listening and acting on what customers are saying. Without the insight which an effective voice of the customer (VoC) programme provides, decisions on which channels should be invested in remains expensive guesswork.

Therefore the smartest way to pick new channels is to map the way customers interact with your organisation and plot their typical use of channels. This probably varies by generation. It may also vary according to the situation the customer finds themselves in. (e.g. without internet connection or a phone signal)

Mapping customer journeys and then finding out how customers prefer to interact is one side of the equation. Importantly this will teach you about the nature of the tasks that the customer is undertaking and the challenges for them which are often obscured when viewed from an ivory tower.

For instance, I recently heard an excellent example of getting close enough to see the real issues. Oxfam’s CEO had joined his army of fund raisers and hit the streets to raise cash. He then discovered an amazing opportunity.

Oxfam policy decreed that direct debit details were needed if you wanted to donate. This did not chime with many who just wanted to make a one off anonymous contribution. So a key source of donation was being turned away. I’m sure you can guess what Oxfam’s CEO did on returning to corporate HQ.

Understanding what the customer is trying to achieve helps us to choose the best channel mix.  For instance is the task essentially a simple, repeatable one? In which case, self service with its advantages of being a 24x7 option is likely to be popular if executed in a way that is experienced as simple and effective.

Otherwise does the task need live assistance? Is voice best if the situation is dynamic and topic is emotive? Would live video help make a purchasing decision easier? Is the reassurance of having a transcript of the interaction a reason that customers might prefer chat?

Each channel has unique strengths. Learning how to effectively match them to the customer task is how an optimised channel mix is developed.

In summary, becoming great at multi-channel is not just a challenge of buying the right technology. It’s about understanding customer priorities and then matching those to the most suitable means of engagement in an age in which choice is assumed yet cost to serve still matters as a corporate priority.

What do you think? What are the challenges as we move from managing a dominant voice channel with a few text channel added on to a fully functional omni-channel capability?

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