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How to create a successful multi-channel experience for your customers

What’s stopping the multi-channel experience from really working for customers – and how to fix it.

Q1. How do I ensure an easy-to-navigate multichannel customer journey?

Much of the push recently has been to deliver more channels to the customer in order to give them more choice. Which is great. But the underlying intent has actually been to reduce costs for the organisation. As an industry, we tend to jump straight to ‘cost-out’. Yes, costs will get driven out, but that should be a happy, intended consequence, not the primary driver. The focus should always be on the customer, their needs, and providing them with a seamless, multichannel service.

It’s possible to look around and see where lots of channels have been brought together with no real thought about their design. Thinking about it in terms of customer journey mapping is all well and good, but at Capita we’re moving beyond that now to the next stage.

Mapping suggests you’re a cartographer attempting to recreate the landscape you’re seeing. But we don’t want to just reflect the customer journey, we want to influence and enhance it. When we are designing these customer journeys we think about the attributes that customers look for; the attributes that will deliver an experience they actually want.

If we would like them to use webchat or SMS or self-serve or whatever, we don’t only think about the transaction itself, but how that channel makes the customer feel? Does it feel easy, secure, helpful; does it give them reassurance at every stage?

Q2. Should I focus on the most recent, upcoming channels as much as traditional routes?

Novel is good; people like novel channels. Web chat, chatbots, AI, they’re all in that space. But being novel isn’t enough; they also need to be useful. As we build on that, as we learn how to make them useful, in their own particular ways, that’s when you’ll see those channels start to take off.

When we look at the channels we think customers want to contact us by, and then we ask them what channels they would actually like to contact us by… there is often a massive disparity.

For example, if you ask customers their preferences for a served or self-served channel, many will say served for some transactions, yet some in the industry are pushing for universal self-served. And sometimes that’s absolutely the right choice, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a big gap to fill.

It’s partly about educating customers – in a very non-patronising way – that these channels are here, and they can help. But also, if they’re not working for you, then we have other ways you can contact us.

That’s essential because once you leave customers feeling trapped, when the technology herds them in only one direction, that’s what leads to frustration.

Q3. Should I continue to invest in Voice as a channel?

Despite Voice eroding as a channel, it is still by far the most dominant. There are variations across industries and clients, but more than 50% of contacts are still handled by voice, with the next biggest channel being email. There’s still a clear desire for customers to ‘say what they want to say’, and then hope someone will interpret that and take the appropriate action without the customer having to handle the action as well the intent a la self-service.

Customers still want to speak to agents. When you look at the levels we’re seeing in terms of channel split, the reasons can be different. How many people speak to an agent because they want to deal with a human being, and how many speak to an agent because they’ve just become so frustrated they feel it’s the only way they can get the answers they want?

Often the desire to speak to a person is because the customer knows that an agent will help them navigate the processes better than they can. It’s almost like having a personal assistant, because we’ve made it feel too hard for the consumer to work out what they need to do on their own.

Q4. Should I focus on served or self-served?

A lot depends on your definition of self-serve. If you no longer send out an instruction book with your products but direct customers to an online manual with frequently asked questions, some organisations would categorise that as self-serve. But is it? I don’t think so. It’s really hard to get a meaningful starting base line.

What we can say with certainty, when we look around our customer service teams, is that many of those have not shrunk by the amount we would have expected if the predictions for self-serve were true.

Certainly, customers are self-serving, and many really like it, but maybe the pie has just got bigger and there are more questions that people ask us now.

When people say ‘everything’s gone self-service now and customers are no longer contacting us’ I look around and see tens of thousands of people in contact centres and say, well what are these people doing then?

Q5. What are the big challenges facing the customer journey in the next few years and how should contact centres deal with them?

One of the biggest challenges facing the customer journey is that the volumes are getting harder to deal with – the difference between the peaks and troughs are getting larger. For some companies, the difference between peak demand and average demand now is huge– eg, retailers dealing with Black Friday, mobile providers handling iPhone or Samsung launches, natural disasters like floods which affect utility companies.

Meanwhile a lot of the infill work, the things we might have done between the peaks, has rightly been offshored, but that’s emphasised the difference even further. It’s difficult to staff efficiently now.

Look at companies like Apple. If you go into their stores with a problem, they might do a quick bit of triage to establish what’s wrong, then book you in for an appointment later that afternoon when they have the time, resources, people, and tools to fix it.

If we could flatten our peaks and manipulate demand in the same way, fitting in a call at the time it suits the contact centre, that would make it much more cost efficient – and save the customer from hanging on the phone for half an hour.

We need an easy way to flip the journey from an inbound contact to an outbound or scheduled contact in a way that works for the business and the customer. The technology already exists  to predict demand in call centres to within a good degree of accuracy.

With proper use of Big Data we ought to be able to predict when and why customers might call us. That’s when you put a proactive contact in place. Importantly that can all be done automatically, without any agent intervention, through SMS or chatbots, and it’s the sort of thing customers feel happy about using chatbots and similar technology for.

The technology is already here, it’s just that we’re not very good as an industry at arranging that technology for the maximum benefit of the customer.

Photo of Simon Hunt

Simon Hunt

Director, products & solutions, Capita Customer Management

Simon has 20 years' experience in the contact industry, leading large scale operations in banking and working on strategic customer propositions for a range of leading brands. He's an acknowledged technical expert in improving customer satisfaction, removing waste and operational cost-to-serve. He has designed and implemented the divisional improvement tool kit (a blend of operational rigour, Lean and Six Sigma), the customer insight approach and Quality Management Framework. In his current role he oversees the development of solutions (technical and non-technical) to address core business problems clients are facing.

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