Integration is key to a better view of the customer

This article is taken from the Customer Service 2020 report, which can be downloaded and read in full here.

The phrase omnichannel communication strategy can sound technical and intimidating, but I am a passionate advocate of the human benefits it can bring to us all.

With the wide range of communication channels available today – from online web forms to phone, email, chat and video calls – your customers want to contact you whenever and however they wish. An omnichannel solution allows you to choose whichever channels suit you and your customers best and to integrate them, enabling a seamless experience for the customer and creating a mine of useful data for your business.

These solutions are increasingly popular as the benefits become clearer. But businesses often still lack understanding about how to implement them in a way that provides maximum benefit to users and staff.

Whether your customers are business to business (B2B) or business to consumer (B2C), omnichannel solutions make you more approachable and easier to communicate with; and they help you smooth and shape the customer contact journey.

As well as giving customers choice, they also help your staff pick the best communication method to support a query. For example, they can widen a one-channel discussion seamlessly, perhaps showing the customer on a screen-sharing how to resolve their problem, so they don’t have to contact you again.

But that is just the beginning. The development of data analysis and artificial intelligence is making integrated communications far more powerful – provided you remember to bring the people who use it on the journey with you.

Our experience shows that, across the board, customers prefer finding the answer themselves rather than having to contact a support centre. In the Zendesk suite of solutions, self-service has become so powerful that we treat it as an extra communication channel.

The development of data analysis and artificial intelligence is making integrated communications far more powerful

There are community spaces, and a public channel for customers to help each other. But the system also empowers agents who deal with large volumes of queries to curate their own content.

For example, with Zendesk an agent can chat with a customer, then create an article linked to that case to enable customers with the same problem to self-help in future. Zendesk’s Pathfinder tool then shows them where customers have been on their website looking for information. If they have not found the answer to their query, agents can then include that information in the best place for customers to find it.

Our artificial intelligence Answer Bot integrates with this system and will offer customers a range of articles that can help them resolve the query themselves. The AI also allows agents to understand where different customer requests end up and how to get them there more quickly.

This article is taken from the Customer Service 2020 report, which can be downloaded and read in full here.

Before you implement an omnichannel strategy, start by looking at the type of queries that your customers generate, and how they tend to contact you today. Consider which channels are suitable for your customers – some might not work if you have a specific market niche, for example. Then think about how you want to influence customer behaviour and which mix of channels will help you do that. Zendesk’s suite allows businesses to pick and mix channels according to their needs.

Next, research how people tend to use the channels you want to use, what they expect of them, and what service level agreements you want to set for each channel. Also look at your resources carefully. While omnichannel solutions will create significant efficiencies in the long term, our experience shows that adding channels can initially increase contact volume substantially as customers try out the new options.

Resourcing includes ensuring adequate staffing and workflow and triage methods that will help handle the extra volume.

Choose a solution that allows you to collect data in the best way possible to enable all the benefits mentioned above. But don’t forget the people side – staff buy-in is crucial.

For example, one way we ensured engagement when we implemented Zendesk Chat for our own support staff was to look for subject matter experts – for example, those who have supported a certain channel before – and involve them heavily in product testing and planning.

We used a sandbox (a testing environment) to assess the effect of the system on our people, for example, in routing and workflow. We set up internal channels allowing staff to ask questions. And we rolled it out slowly to ensure staff received thorough training, which was empowering for their personal development.

Implementing an omnichannel strategy will always add some technological complexity. To make the user journey as smooth as possible, companies should invest in workforce management, including scheduling tools, which can forecast and monitor peaks in traffic.

Transparency is important – for example, when rolling out our chat function, if there was a long delay, we would explain why to staff and customers.

If you can identify your agents’ pain points and resolve them, that will also create a smooth interface for customers. When it comes to omnichannel communication, my experience shows that happy staff equals happy customers.

Catherine Hurley is senior manager, customer advocacy at Zendesk

This article is taken from the Customer Service 2020 report, which can be downloaded and read in full here.