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Customers are using an ever greater number of communication channels to make service inquiries. Companies that opt for multi-channel-management ensure that they keep an eye on all inquiries while quickly providing customers with a reliable answer – regardless of the communication channel, and as quickly as customers expect on the channel they use. Providing consistent and fast answers across all communication channels decisively contributes to a good customer experience, which is becoming ever more important for a company’s business success. Below, we show which aspects of multi-channel-management are particularly important and what companies should consider when choosing contact center or omni-channel software in order to meet the market’s demands for an increasing variety of service channels over the long term.
Multi-channel-management is a technical term used in marketing, sales and customer service. In marketing, multi-channel-management focuses on addressing potential customers by way of a wide variety of offline and online channels – from print ads to online ads and newsletter advertising to influencer marketing. Here, it is important to use the channels that are preferred by the respective target group. A well thought-out channel mix increases the reach of marketing efforts. A detailed explanation can e.g. be found at gruenderszene.
In sales, “multi-channel-management” means that products are sold through various sales channels, e.g. both in a store or at sales partners, as well as in an online store or by phone. In multi-channel sales, it is important to select the right sales channels for the product and the target group so that sales can be optimized through the sales channel mix. For more in-depth analysis, we recommend the article on multi-channel sales at Springer Professional.
Finally, in customer service – the area we intend to go into in greater detail here below – “multi-channel-management” means reliably answering service inquiries from very different communication channels such as telephone, email, letter, fax, social media such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, as well as messenger services such as Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp. A multi-channel strategy defines which contact channels should be available to customers for service requests and how these are prioritized. In addition, in customer service it must be ensured that the same information regarding a specific topic is consistently communicated by service staff – wholly independent of the selected communication channel. Finally, a decision must also be made as to whether service employees should generally manage all communication channels (blended agents) or, in line with their abilities, should be deployed on individual communication channels. Service agents able to support several communication channels in a call center environment are known as multi-skill agents. Multi-channel-management also includes the decision on which criteria are used to assign individual inquiries to service agents – by communication channel, by priority, by skill, by language in the case of multilingual service centers, and much more. The multitude of questions in multi-channel-management makes it clear that, in addition to a purely technical implementation via software solutions, service processes must also be clearly defined.
Customer service is finding itself in the middle of a digital transformation. The number of potential communication channels to a company has significantly increased at the same time as customers are contacting customer service more often. Quick inquiries are especially common via chat and social media channels, as well as via email. However, the failure to satisfactorily answer these inquiries equally fast can end up disappointing the expectations of existing as well as potential customers. The demand for good customer service – and above all for response speed – has increased proportionally with the digital communication options that are available. While answering emails within 24 hours was an industry best practice up until just a few years ago, Customer service barometer 2019, as reported in trade journal Callcenter Profi and Bank Blog reports that some 20% of consumers now expect an answer within three hours.
Thanks to chat and social media, customers’ expectations are increasingly moving in the direction of “real-time“, i.e. an immediate response with no wait time. With multi-channel-management, companies can meet this expectation and prioritize requests from specific contact channels while simultaneously ensuring that no inquiry gets lost. Customers report that one of their biggest annoyances – as is often documented on blogs, Twitter or Facebook and in desperate letters to the editor in daily newspapers or the trade press – is that all too often they fail to get consistent answers when contacting a company via different contact channels. The phone hotline says something different than the customer adviser says via email or the social media team says. In the digital age, this asymmetrical information is plainly visible to everyone, especially on social media channels. At the least, this mystifies customers, and often it gives cause for extreme annoyance. A good customer experience can only be ensured if the customer is given correct information over all contact channels. This is the only way to ensure customer centricity, rather than focusing on the specific features of the communication channel through which inquiries are addressed to the company.
Ultimately, multi-channel-management for customer service means channel convergence: the focus is not on the individual contact channel, but on the most efficient, personalized service process that is used equally for all contact channels according to its individual requirements.
In the customer-service industry, the terms multi-channel-management and omni-channel management are not sharply differentiated from one another, even if the terms suggest this. Put simply, multi-channel-management is the management of multiple contact channels, while omni-channel management refers to the management of all (currently available) contact channels – including the telephone. Still, very few companies actually offer their customers all contact channels. For reasons of efficiency, companies primarily limit themselves to the channels that are most in demand among the respective target group. Phone and email still lead the pack among the most frequently used channels in use today. However, according to Servicebarometer 2019 chat is also catching up strongly, notching up a full 24% in the representative survey. The term omni-channel management is used above all by technology manufacturers to indicate that a solution can de facto cover all contact channels – regardless of whether or not a company is already using all communication channels.
An omni-channel system also makes it much easier for a customer service representative to change the contact channel within the service process, e.g. when data protection considerations require the representative to switch from open social media communication to one-to-one communication via email. In addition, the software solution should be able to depict various processes and routing options so that service managers can fully concentrate on strategic multi-channel-management without needing to wonder about what the respective solution is capable of in the first place. Leading enterprise solutions such as ReplyOne can be flexibly adapted to processes within a company.
In addition, not all “intelligent” customer service solutions are actually based on artificial intelligence. With the enormous growth in computing power in recent years, software scripts have made it possible to perform automated processes, as well as complex searches in fractions of a second. Many automation tools, including a whole range of chatbots in customer service, are based on this principle. The quality of the results depends largely on how many keywords and scenarios the developers anticipated and how much computing power is available. Such solutions are not really sustainable since they do not “learn”.
Indeed, precise parameters as well as targeted training are both required in order for artificial intelligence to really provide desired results. In plain language, this means that AI always has to “go to school” to achieve good results. This applies all the more in the customer service environment.
In the „Customer Experience Benchmarking Report 2019“ study, Dimension Data currently assumes an average of seven service channels. Consequently, contact centers – especially when it comes to automation via AI – do not need stand-alone solutions for individual channels, but rather a flexible omni-channel platform that automates a wide range of communication channels and that can achieve a good customer experience across all contact channels.
Pay attention to whether the software imposes certain service processes on you, and whether you’re able to map your individual processes in the software. The more flexibility you have when defining the processes, the more customized you can implement your customer experience strategy as part of your multi-channel-management. A professional multi-channel or omni-channel-system should e.g. have different routing options, automatically extract information from queries and compare it with the CRM system, as well as be able to write back information, include query options in the workflow, and much more.
Scalability and multi-client capability
Check if the software solution can keep pace with your company’s growth. Great software is useless to you if only a few service employees can simultaneously work on the system. But a solution that can easily be scaled up to several thousand employees gives you long-term investment security, with no need to look for a new system in a few years. Ensuring that your multi-channel or omni-channel-system is multi-client capable means you can also easily manage customer service for several corporate brands via one installation.
For the user interface, a central interface for all channels is recommended. If this is based on a familiar, learned interface such as an office mail program, as is the case with ReplyOne, this significantly simplifies training for the service staff. A user-friendly interface with good system performance ensures a high level of acceptance among customer service representatives. Recording both written correspondence and telephone calls on a central screen ensures the consistent and uniform documentation of customer communication. In a well-structured omni-channel system, training time for employees should be no more than 4 hours, with the majority of the training spent stepping through specific use cases.
AI for hybrid customer service
Make sure that the AI technology of the multi-channel or omni-channel system enables “hybrid” customer service, in which routine inquiries are handled automatically by the AI, while complex inquiries are answered by qualified service employees who are supported by the AI as best as possible when providing answers. Solutions such as ReplyOne support service employees e.g. by automatically routing quality-checked answer suggestions or providing access to text documents in knowledge management. The more accurate the suggestions, the higher the employees’ eventual work efficiency – regardless of the chosen communication channel. An omni-channel solution that intelligently combines man and machine means you can simultaneously achieve cost reduction potential for all service channels without compromising the customer experience.
When choosing a system, contact center managers should take a very close look at which companies are already using the solution and which additional systems have been integrated with it. Professional providers are also willing to arrange discussions or even a visit to a reference customer. This enables contact center managers to compare their expectations and see the solution live in action. Particularly in the case of AI-based multi-channel or omni-channel systems, you should inquire whether the touted solution is actually available and is successfully being used, or whether the solution is still merely a potential technology that the company would like to implement together with you. References or user reports are a strong indicator that the solution does not have to be painstakingly developed and adapted at your expense, but rather that it can deliver the desired ROI within a short period of time – ideally within one year.
The goal of multi-channel management is to ensure a very good Customer Experience on all service channels. AI-based omni-channel software solutions for customer service significantly facilitate multi-channel management and the implementation of an individualized customer service strategy. They increase transparency and offer cost-cutting potential while simultaneously improving the customer experience across all communication channels.
If you would like to find out how companies implement sophisticated multi-channel customer service management using ReplyOne, read one of our user reports.
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