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The time for the omnichannel contact center is now

Editor’s note: In this opinion piece, industry analyst Zeus Kerravala shares his thoughts on the omnichannel contact center and Talkdesk’s latest approach.

After years of discussion but low adoption, the use of omnichannel contact centers got a boost this week when contact-center-as-a-service provider Talkdesk launched Talkdesk iQ, an AI-focused tool.

For anyone not familiar with the differences between contact centers, multichannel contact centers allow customers to use a wide range of communications methods, such as voice, chat or email. Omnichannel is similar except the channels are tied together, making it seamless to move from one channel to another.

With multichannel, a customer might start a conversation in a chat and then decide to call. When the call is made, the agent doesn’t know what was said in the chat. With omnichannel, communications modes are bonded together so information can flow between them. This helps agents provide better service and saves the customer from the burden of entering information multiple times.

Talkdesk iQ, announced at Talkdesk’s Opentalk18 customer event in San Francisco, unifies several features, including omnichannel capabilities. With its new release, Talkdesk has expanded the definition of omnichannel beyond traditional email, chat, voice and text to include the following:

  • Social listening enables businesses to listen across all social channels to help contact centers be proactive in responding to urgent posts. The feature uses defined keywords or hashtags to act as triggers. Social posts are automatically routed as inbound contacts, then given priority for resolution.
  • Chatbot builder gives businesses the ability to build a Talkdesk iQ bot to automate customer inquiries and issues. Chatbot builder can identify when a live agent should be brought into the conversation.
  • Reporting provides a deep understanding of the contact center team’s performance with reporting across all interaction channels.

Why the holdup with omnichannel adoption?

Currently, omnichannel is in a strange place. It’s been discussed for about a decade, but adoption is low. I estimate fewer than 10% of contact centers have actual omnichannel capabilities. This begs the question: If it has so much value and customer service is a top priority, why hasn’t adoption been stronger?

One reason is a lack of awareness of the value it can bring. I recently interviewed the contact center manager of an entertainment venue that still has voice-only capabilities. When I asked about other channels, the manager said its audience only wants to communicate via voice, but there was no real research to back that up.

To that point, I caution company leaders never to assume they know what their customers want. Last year I interviewed the IT director at a mobile payment app company. He said the company had bypassed voice as a channel because it was targeting millennials and others who think mobile first and felt voice wouldn’t be a priority. He found out later he was wrong, and voice wound up being a significant channel.

According to my research, more than 80% of customer interactions start via a non-voice channel, and customers use an average of three channels per contact with a company, with voice part of the mix. So, voice is important, but voice only is limiting. Evolving from voice-only to multichannel doesn’t make any sense because it puts the heavy lifting on the customer, and that’s bad for business.

Make the shift to omnichannel

Another reason multichannel has its shortcomings is the transition can be technically challenging and requires a disruption in customer service. The contact center is important to most organizations. But there’s an “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality with the platform. This is where a cloud platform can help because there are no upfront costs, and implementation is as easy as going to a web browser. Training, reporting and other issues still need to be addressed, but those issues exist on premises, too.

One of the benefits of the cloud is innovation and product updates are handled by the CCaaS provider, which allows customers to stay current more easily.

Talkdesk, for instance, announced several new features, and customers have access to those immediately. With an on-premises product, every update requires some disruption while the system is upgraded. This wasn’t overly disruptive when updates came once a year, but in this era of microservices and containers, updates can happen multiple times a day. And the range of channels continues to grow so the definition of omnichannel tomorrow won’t be the same as it is today.

I strongly urge businesses of all sizes to make the shift to omnichannel, as there is great risk in standing still. We are in the digital era and customer service is the top brand differentiator. Making customers input the same information over and over creates frustration and can make a 1-minute conversation take 30 minutes.

Omnichannel meets AI and analytics

Research I conducted last year revealed two-thirds of millennials had changed loyalty to a brand because of a bad customer service experience. This isn’t tied entirely to the contact center, but every time customers need to enter a credit card number twice or explain a problem again, they might just hang up and use someone else.

Another point to consider is omnichannel and AI-based analytics go hand in hand. Every business leader I talk to wants to mine company data to find interesting insights. Omnichannel contact centers provide more data from communications tools that can be analyzed to discover game-changing insights.

While machine learning states “good data leads to good insights,” a voice-only or multichannel system creates silos of data that give a partial view. In that case, you can extend the statement to “partial data leads to partial insights.” Long term, this can create a serious competitive issue where the business will risk falling further behind.

The time for excuses is over. The value proposition of omnichannel is clear — better customer service, more data, improved insights. Cloud services can simplify the transition from legacy contact centers to omnichannel. With that understanding, I ask, what are you waiting for? The time for omnichannel contact centers is now.

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