The Omni-Channel Contact Center

Why an omni-channel customer service strategy will separate pretenders from contenders in 2016 and beyond.

Omni-Channel Is More Than a Buzzword

Modern contact centers unite every service channel a customer could use to interact with a business including voice, web, email, social media, and mobile. They effectively leverage all customer data to provide a consistent experience regardless of channel. They prioritize the ability to provide a completely seamless, cross-channel experience by:

  • Understanding that their performance directly correlates with a customer’s brand experience and overall retention
  • Preparing for emerging technologies and training agents on multiple channels
  • Measuring cross-channel customer service KPIs for better resource management

In short, they’re evolving and adjusting in response to customers across every channel. Why?

Because companies with the strongest omni-channel engagement strategies retain an average of 89% of their customers, as compared to 33% for companies with weak omni-channel strategies.1

Strong Bar Graph

Because when a customer is in need of service, the method by which they decide to seek assistance will vary based on the context of their particular need. Keyword there: THEY decide. Because brands that do not embrace an omni-channel customer engagement strategy and platform ultimately risk a fragmented customer experience, unsatisfied and disloyal customers, and decreased brand value.

Because those companies that marry an intuitive user experience with seamless integration between mobile apps, FAQs, real-time social support, virtual agents, IVR, and self-service options – along with live interaction with a customer service agent – will thrive in the future.2

companies that marry an intuitive user experience with seamless integration will thrive in the future

The Role of Contact Centers in Shaping the Customer Experience

Service teams must address a pivotal shift in the way customers expect to interact with brands in today’s digital,multi-channel world. An opportunity exists for those companies that understand the business value of excellent customer service – 75% of customers return as a result of great service.4

Distinguishing Between Multi-Channel and Omni-Channel Contact Centers

“Omni-channel customer service provides a real-time perspective of customer interactions, regardless of channel. Multi-channel is a siloed approach where contact and interaction details reside wholly or in part in the channel silo. As a result, front line staff can’t access the most current or accurate information. They are therefore at a disadvantage when interacting with customers.” – Colin Taylor (@colinsataylor), CEO & Chief Chaos Officer at The Taylor Reach Group

Two decades ago, the most progressive contact centers were effectively blending a couple channels – typically voice and email. Today, it is commonplace for firms to queue and route inquiries by type – phone, email, social media, and chat all being managed in separate locations.5 This makes it easy to run reports to understand how resources are being used and optimized across individual channels but extraordinarily difficult to understand how communications are improving overall.

Multi-channel contact centers are able to support communication across more than two – usually disparate – channels. Omni-channel contact centers, on the other hand, are able to create a consistent customer experience regardless of device or communication channel. In an April 2016 webinar, Ian Jacobs, Sr. Analyst at Forrester, described how “omnichannel customer support” goes beyond just offering multiple channels, but knitting those channels together in the right way.6 Omni-channel also embraces the variation and unpredictability that customers exhibit as they move through the resolution of their service needs. With an omni-channel approach, companies can pass context between channels. This is often accomplished using a tool that can actually understand context based on a previous or current interaction with a customer and adapt a contextually relevant response on whatever channel is being used.6 Omni-channel definition

Omni-channel customer service eclipses a multichannel strategy in both complexity and execution. An omni-channel solution will likely leverage a universal queue or automatic, skills-based call distribution, so the most appropriate agent receives inquiries best suited for their skill set. Omni-channel also implies an overall and embedded awareness of where each individual customer is in their journey and how they’ve interacted in the past.


People Prefer Mobile Self-Service to Voice for Resolution of Service Needs

It would be difficult to contend that mobile devices do not impact almost every aspect of our lives – for better or worse. Indeed, our phones serve as an extension of who we are, how we consume information, and how we connect to the world.

In fact, the average US citizen has 37 mobile apps installed and spends five hours per day on their phone.7 The implications of this frequent smartphone consumption are important for consumer-oriented, commercial businesses with an app that incorporates SMS/MMS functionality to contact customer service.

Consumers want service on their terms, with minimal wait time. Waiting on stand-by or on-hold for an available agent is frustrating for 80% of consumers, according to OneReach.8  Additionally, 64% of consumers with texting capabilities would prefer to use texting over voice as a customer service channel.8

Texting is among the best methods to nullify these issues, and though it’s only one component of an omni-channel strategy, it’s perhaps the most important integration right now.

The importance of integrating text is evident, for instance, in the taxicab service industry. Drivers can succinctly inform ride requestors of their location. Ride requestors can reply to confirm their location, inform drivers of other details, or ask a question.

Then, if that same customer calls the service center later to resolve an issue, agents in an omni-channel center would be able to see a transcript and notations related to all previous interactions. This kind of seamless approach will ultimately make for a more complete and satisfactory customer experience.

Millennials, in particular, are partial to companies that enable and excel at customer service using texting. In fact, 77% of 18-34-year-old consumers are likely to have a positive perception of a company that offers text customer service. More 18-34-year-olds (71%) think text would be a convenient customer service option than any other age group.8

It’s clear that mobile service is becoming a preferred communication method. Answering simple customer service inquiries is more easily accomplished using straight-forward self-service options such as text. Complex issues such as emergencies, product assembly, account setup, appointment scheduling, or billing procedures can and should be handled via phone.

The Onslaught of Consumer Demand Makes Omni-Channel Service Easier on Agents

“Customers want a frictionless, easy, and immediate journey on channels of their choice. They want a connected omni-channel journey across channels.”9

Consumers are connecting with contact centers using more channels than ever before, and the expectation for excellent customer service is soaring. In fact, by 2020, the demand for an omni-channel customer experience will be amplified by the need for near perfect execution.10 Additionally, we can’t forget that many customers contacting agents for service or help are already in an aggravated state of mind. These factors all place extreme pressure and demand on contact center teams to produce. It’s no secret that customer service agents don’t have it easy. On a daily basis, agents are dealing with dozens of consumers who are experiencing a multitude of product or service issues – and they need to be prepared for almost every scenario imaginable.

Compound that with the omni-channel demand – agents must now be multi-skilled across multiple channels. But contact centers generally are not empowering agents – as of 2014, only 30% of contact center decision-makers train all their agents to support multiple channels while 18% say they train agents only on a single channel.5

Additionally, only 39% of agents use computer telephony integration (CTI) to display customer data.5 Agents are generally not well-equipped to supply the demand for omni-channel communications. This is reflected within the service itself. Accenture found that 89% of customers get frustrated because they need to repeat their issues to multiple representatives, and 87% say brands should put more effort into executing a consistent experience.11 By training agent pools to be well-versed in every digital channel, organizations can start to combat these discrepancies in service.

Additionally, only 39% of agents use computer telephony integration (CTI) to display customer data.5 Agents are generally not well-equipped to supply the demand for omni-channel communications.

This is reflected within the service itself. Accenture found that 89% of customers get frustrated because they need to repeat their issues to multiple representatives, and 87% say brands should put more effort into executing a consistent experience.11 By training agent pools to be well-versed in every digital channel, organizations can start to combat these discrepancies in service.

Omni-Channel Contact Centers Will Support Integration With Technological Disruptors of the Future

Omni-channel, cloud-native contact centers are scalable, agile, and robust enough to be modified to integrate with new technologies at the rate they are developed.

They are customer centric, while simultaneously providing a 360-degree view of callers for service agents, helpdesk managers, and even outbound sales representatives.

The most advanced contact centers work like large rivers with tributaries from various pools where customer data are collected. When new service channels pop up, developers and backend architects can integrate them into the omnichannel environment. Then, no matter which channel customers use, agents will be able to see all relevant historical information collected across every channel.

It’s hard to predict the new kinds of service channels that may evolve in the future. Wearables, virtual reality gadgets, new mobile devices or applications, and in-store outlets could all become service technologies of the future. The influx of technological disruptors and their rate of adoption today is quick. If wearables suddenly take off, only omnichannel contact centers will be equipped to flawlessly add service capabilities that will be needed.

Consumers Seek Assistance from Contact Centers Based on Context of a Particular Need

Contact centers must recognize that no two customers or inquiries are exactly alike. Customers settle service needs in a variety of different ways, depending on the context of their need and their stage in the purchase cycle. Nonetheless, customers are generally impatient and mostly all seek swift, effective remedies to their questions.

Contact centers should aim to optimize communications to simplify the overall process. With this kind of “all hands on deck” approach, no single channel will be ignored, but you will be able to easily transfer resources where the demand is for particular customers or in response to special campaigns. Still, research provides us with some insight into the communication habits of customers. Gartner expects that by the year 2020, customers will stop relying on voice as the primary mode of communication with businesses and that 85% of interactions will take place without involving a human agent.12

85% of interactions will take place without involving a human agent

Today, 42% of contact centers forecast a reduction in voice contacts, while 87% expect an increase in non-voice interactions.9 Overall, the most popular self-service channels include online forums, virtual agents, and mobile self-service. Whether they’re shopping online, calling about car repair service, scheduling a vacation, checking a peculiar charge on their bank account, or any other kind of need, customer service calls come in all shapes and sizes. Contact center teams must address and prioritize every channel as voice becomes less and less used. But brands are generally not doing a good job at satisfying customers’ needs across all channels.

Let’s consider the mindset and service of an e-commerce shopper. When people take to the Internet to shop, they presumably do so for a greater variety of options, increased accessibility, and better ease of use. But the ability to seek immediate assistance from a physical store associate does not exist – underscoring the importance of providing high-quality online customer support.

In a recent survey of 7,000 online shoppers, two-thirds said they had used multiple devices to shop – but just 7% of these shoppers were satisfied with the experience.4 Additionally, 55% of US adults say they are likely to abandon their online purchase if they cannot find a quick answer to their question.5

Out of 7,000 online shoppers, two-thirds used multiple devices, but only 7% were happy with the experience

If brands that sell online can provide better proactive and reactive omni-channel service, they can better satisfy customers’ needs. For example, enabling a web chat function as soon as customers visit your website can help ensure they get what they need. Notably, 70% of surveyed shoppers expect a company’s website to include a selfservice application.13

Omni-Channel Enables Improved Measurement

An omni-channel strategy allows call center supervisors to gain more comprehensive and in-depth visibility into performance of their team. Instead of viewing performance by channel and across disparate systems, an omni-channel solution will reveal performance success across all channels and every team.

First, you will need to determine exactly which KPIs to measure. Once the benchmarks of success have been outlined, you can use analytics capabilities built-in to your unified communications platform for easy reporting. You will be able to:

  • Measure the origin, hold time, and length of calls across all channels
  • Monitor customer self-service journeys on your website, IVR, and mobile app
  • See how many inquiries came in via social media, chat, and other self-service channels
  • See which specific channels customers are using to contact your service center over time
  • Leverage a universal, integrated queue and retire disparate, channel-specific queues that separate agents

The most successful companies use omni-channel insights to measure, report, analyze, and allocate resources as needed to ensure alignment of agents, technology, and operations. If customer experience is the new battlefield, then having an omni-channel approach to customer service will separate pretenders from contenders in 2016 and beyond.

1. Demery, Paul. “Why an Omnichannel Strategy Matters.” December 31, 2013. Accessed June 27, 2016.


3. Deloitte. March 2013. 2013 Global Contact Center Survey Results. Report. Accessed June 27, 2016.

4. Compare Business Products. 2015.The Future of Contact Centers: The Shape of Things to Come. Accessed June 27, 2016.

5. Leggett, Kate, and Art Schoeller. Contact Centers Must Go Digital or Die. Report. April 3, 2015. Accessed June 27, 2016. Centers Must Go Digital Or Die/-/E-RES122341

6. April 14, 2016. “The Future of Self-Service Support: 5 Ways to Deliver What Your Customers Want.” Webinar. Accessed June 27, 2016.

7. Meeker, Mary. 2016 Internet Trends. Report. June 1, 2016. Accessed June 27, 2016.

8. OneReach. August 2014. The High Demand for Customer Service via Text Message. Report. Accessed June 27, 2016.

9. Dimension Data. 2009-2015. Dimension Data’s 2015 Global Contact Centre Benchmarking Report: Summary Report. Accessed June 27, 2016. Documents/2015 Global Contact Centre Benchmarking Summary Report.pdf

10. PricewaterhouseCoopers LLC. September 2012. Retailing 2020: Winning in a Polarized World. Study. Accessed June 27, 2016.

11. Accenture. 2013. Accenture 2013 Global Consumer Pulse Survey: Global & U.S. Key Findings. Survey. Accessed June 27, 2016. Accenture-Global-Consumer-Pulse-Research-Study-2013-Key-Findings.pdf

12. Gartner Summits. 2011. Accessed June 27, 2016.

13. Van Belleghem, Steven. The Self Service Economy. June 18, t2013.