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Ominchannel is sweeping through the business world. Every company knows it has to give customers the full range of communications channels – and to make sure those channels are linked. Last week’s MEF webinar looked at how this revolution is changing the contact centre.

Call centres are rarely called call centres any more. They are contact centres now. And quite right too, with customers getting in touch by text, email, social media, OTT messaging and live chat.

However more choice brings more potential for frustration. Customers want to hop between channels without having to repeat themselves to agents. In other words, they want omnichannel.

Watch the MEF Webinar in full

This is easier said than done. But it has to be attempted. Customers are driving this change. People like to self-care. They like bots. In most scenarios, they prefer asychronous text to voice. Last week MEF hosted a webinar on the topic. Taking part were:

  • Mathias Muehlfelder, Senior Director of Product Management, Syniverse
  • Tom Barkan, Director of Product Management, Voice & Conversations, Vonage

Here are the highlights…

Omnichannel is not multi-channel

The webinar kicked off by describing the difference between multi-channel and ominchanel. In short, the former merely presents a range of options to the customer. The latter blends them into one converged offering. That way customers can move between channels without having to start from scratch.

“Omnichannel is holistic. You start on one but you can switch at any time,” said Muehlfelder. He stressed how modern work and life patterns make this especially useful. “You can see how activity differs between the day when people are on laptops and night, when they are more likely to be on phones. Omnichannel lets them continue their conversations with brands.”

Up to 80 per cent cost savings are possible

When a company moves over to a true omnichannel service, work becomes more efficient. Call waiting and handling times tumble. According to Muehlfelder, “cost savings can be up to 85 per cent in the very best cases. I think that’s stunning.”

Industry statistics shows that 90 per cent of people would pick SMS over voice. If an agent sends you a link, you can back to it any time and multiple times. That’s a huge advantage”

Voice still dominates, but most people prefer messaging

Voice calling is declining in daily life  And it’s the same with brand comms. “Industry statistics shows that 90 per cent of people would pick SMS over voice,” said Muehlfelder. This is probably because of the asynchronous nature of text. For most queries, customers are content to wait a few minutes for a response. It beats waiting for an agent to pick up. “If an agent sends you a link, you can back to it any time and multiple times. That’s a huge advantage,” said Muehlfelder.

But voice will never be entirely displaced

One great benefit of message-based conversations is that they leave human agents more time to resolve trickier queries. And to resolve them on a voice call. According to Barkan, voice will always be better in some situations. “Some conversations are sensitive… Healthcare is a good example. Maybe you want to talk to a doctor. It’s important to think about escalation: start on a text, but have the ability to easily escalate to voice or even to video if needed.”

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SaaS platforms are critical to the future of omnichannel

Most large companies rely on the big SaaS platforms to manage their sales and marketing functions. Understandably, many of them want to link their omnichannel systems with these platforms. Muehlfelder explained: “We look at what other systems a company has in place. We try to orchestrate the omnichannel set up with the CRM etc. Clients want to make sure that their customer conversations are recorded somewhere.”

Agents will train bots

Bots are critical to the future of the contact centre. They have the potential to slash waiting times. But machine learning has its limits. To do their best ‘work’ bots need to be trained. And the agents should do it. Muehlfelder said: “The best person to train a chat bot is an agent. Someone has to build the trees and the logic. So I think the agents’ job will evolve over time.”

Bots can make routing decisions. They can take account of the different skills of the agents, and the different languages and so on. This is very important – as important as the call information itself.”

Bots biggest contribution could be routing calls

While bots take care of routine calls, human agents can focus on the trickier cases. But finding the right agent for the right query can make a huge difference to waiting times and the time it takes to resolve calls. Here is where bots can make a big impact. “Bots can make routing decisions,” said Barkan. “They can take account of the different skills of the agents, and the different languages and so on. This is very important – as important as the call information itself.”

The challenge is not to overwhelm agents. AI could help.

When customers have multiple channels to choose from, agents are suddenly presented with an array of information. They can handle multiple queries at once. But there’s a risk of overload. Their burden could be eased by automation and by artificial intelligence.

Barkan explained: “The agent can get much more information: details of subscription and call history and so on. They will probably have more to do. But against that, think of all the transcription and call recording in the system. That can save a huge amount of time later.” The next step is AI that can discern even more context – figure out the tone and decide if the customer is angry for example.

It can take just a few days to ‘go omnichannel’

Timescales differ, but moving over to a cloud-based CPaaS platform is the first step towards combining all comms channels into one system. CPaaS uses Rest APIs that every developer should be able to work with. Integration can take just a few days.

RCS will be major factor, but all OTTs need to be considered

The default nature of RCS on handsets should make it a big part of the omnichannel future, agreed the panellists. “It’s the perfect medium for contact centres. It’s natively installed, so I think it will really rock,” said Muehlfelder. Still, the OTT messaging apps look set to maintain their presence too – depending of course on the global location of the customers.

CCs could go virtual, but for now they are still in one place

In the COVID era, working from home is the new normal. Does this spell the end of the call centre building? Could contact centres go virtual? Yes, they could said the experts. But there a few signs of it now. “Most centres I see today are still in one room,” said Muehlfelder. “That said, there’s a desire to go virtual. We had requests from customers to do it.”

Tim Green

Features Editor, MEF Minute


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