The rise of the Omni-Customer

The rise of the omni-customer is disrupting how businesses approach digital. They are also leaving behind breadcrumbs for you to follow.

1 CX has gone full circle
2 Rise of the omni-channel
3 Rise of the omni-customer
4 Follow the breadcrumbs
5 Evolve your CX strategy
6 What's possible?
7 Final words
1

CX has gone full circle

Contact centres have gone full circle, back into the hands of the customer

Telephone

The telephone. Despite being part and parcel of everyday life today, it took 80 years from its invention back in 1876 for businesses to leverage the technology. Telecommunications organisations were the first to adopt and gain experience with the telephone as part of their strategy. This was then accelerated thanks to technology advancements in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, enabling a wider scope of organisations to adopt the telephone at scale, pair it with a switchboard and create the first breed of call centres.

You might be unsurprised to learn that the call centre was primarily used for outbound sales or managing inbound calls from customers responding to adverts and other marketing efforts. In fact, the 0800 free number series was a tactic used by businesses to entice customers to place calls, helping to drive the proliferation of inbound traffic. There was also the use of outbound power dial in which gave businesses the ability to target multiple numbers in quick succession, badgering landlines until someone picked up. This activity led to a restriction put in place by the 1991 Telephone Consumer Protection Act in response to customer complaints.

Failure to innovate or adopt changes in line with customer needs has resulted in 88% of the Fortune 500 firms that existed in 1955 having gone – Polaroid, COMPAQ and Blockbusters to name just a few.

Interestingly, rather than stop, organisations only become more creative in how they approached new business. Agents were pushed to provide a more human experience, attempting to remove stigma around the call centre and build a closer relationship with customers – the first example of what we consider the norm today.

The way business was conducted had also changed. Towards the end of 20th century up through to the present day, the lifestyle of the industrial world became one of mass-consumption. Trade had gone from local to global, mass production had kicked in and planned obsolescence became a favoured method of encouraging consumption – the idea of owning something a little newer, a little better, a little sooner than is necessary. Sales were up, and so was the probability of needing help from the organisation you were doing business with.

Then there was the arrival of the internet and subsequent popularity of email. This new channel was one of the first in a long line of domino pieces, causing the transition from call centre to the contact centre.

Email forced organisations to adapt their digital strategy. Not simply to keep up with the times, but to retain the loyalty of their customers by adopting changes in line with the needs of the customer. Those that didn’t fell by the wayside.

The same applies today.

2

The rise of the omni-channel

Earlier we spoke about a long line of dominoes. In the world of contact centres, these dominoes represent the emergence of new channels.

Not every new channel affects business, but businesses should be aware of how customers are engaging with them. They should also be prepared to pivot their digital strategies to accommodate them if they prove popular or influential to business. Some of this comes down to remaining relevant, but it’s mostly about tracking the digital body language of your customers and ensuring you’re moving in the same circles they are.

Over years, technology advancements have increased the frequency of these new channels ten-fold – from InMails to Chatbots, to natural language processing found in in-car and in-home smart devices. The general public have been quick to adopt, with organisations often one step behind. This delay can be caused for a number of reasons:

  • Caution - not wanting to jump too soon in case the channel proves to be irrelevant to your audience
  • Rigidity – your organisation doesn’t have the infrastructure, processes or agility to move at the same pace as your customers
  • Pigeonholed – your strategy is too focused on the now, with no investment in innovation, UX-driven design or understanding your customer experience (CX)
  • Security – you want to move fast but regulations and internal security process slow down progress

Long gone are the days of channelling your customers down the cheaper to serve avenues. Technology has empowered consumers to channel hop any time of the day, on any device of their choosing. This doesn’t mean you turn your back on more traditional methods such as the telephone or email, but what it does mean is that you recognise wider forms of communication and build those into your CX strategy.

This second point is important. Recognising something is different to doing something about it.

Take Kodak as an example. Kodak had the talent, money, and even the foresight to make the transition to the digital world and yet, it neglected to diversify its portfolio or open the enterprise mindset to change. This meant that despite inventing the first digital camera, Kodak chose to protect its existing lucrative film business rather than follow its customers (existing and potential) into the digital world.

This choice meant that rather than emerging out of the digital disruption as market leaders, they simply never re-emerged. We’re hoping this interactive whitepaper helps you escape a similar fate.

Industry need is another incredibly powerful influence when it comes to the introduction of new channels. Take video. Back in Q1 of 2020, this channel was likely considered low priority on the strategic radar. A nice to have rather than business critical.

The landscape looks very different today.

Video is the new use case, given the rise of Teams/Zoom during lockdown and its adoption when visuals are needed to solve product troubleshooting, installation etc.

66% of businesses have used video to communicate with key stakeholders during the global pandemic (Fifty Wheel).

31% of businesses say they will increase investment in online video software, with another 31% saying they will keep their existing budget (Fifty Wheel).

Additional investment into streaming innovation and visual engagement has opened up new avenues for organisations. Among those benefiting are remote workforces, the event industry and telemedicine who have been able to demonstrate the value of video consultations.

Before we jump into the characteristics of the omni-customer, it’s important to distinguish between multi and omni-channel. Multi-channel was the unintended result of organisations buying single channel solutions which then operated in isolation and demanded separate queue management and teams of advisors.

Omni-channel is how these channels talk to one another, bringing all management under one roof and using data to create a seamless* experience as a customer moves between them.

Most businesses will start with multi, setting up separate processes that handle and manage customers on different channels. Our goal is to help you improve your customer experience and reduce your cost to serve – moving you to a omni-channel strategy where possible.

*seamless in the context of this paper means to deliver the same branding, structure, values, and tone across all your channels – whether online or offline.

3

The rise of the Omni-Customer

Impatient. Fickle. Disruptors. Today’s customer has acquired many a nickname, and it’s not hard to see why.

Whether intentional or not, we (the consumer) have begun adopting various methods other than the telephone to interact with businesses. Diversion to online portals, web forms, messaging, email, web chat and smartphone applications – and sometimes more than one of these in a single session.

85% of digital consumers start the purchasing workflow on one device yet finish it on another - Google

The reason for the toing and froing is simple. If customers can’t find the answer on channel one, they hop between channels until they do.

"The behaviour we see in today’s consumers has been further exacerbated by the recent pandemic. It was always going to happen, but COVID has created another catalyst for change and consumers aren’t waiting around for businesses to iron out their digital strategies." John Ing, CX Principle Product Lead at ECS

This behaviour is causing businesses to rethink customer experiences, invest in data & analytics to track customer journeys and accelerate digital strategies that directly affect contact centres. Customers, on the other hand, have a different motive.

9 out of 10 consumers want an omni-channel experience with seamless services between communication methods (UC Today). This in and of itself is accelerating the shift from multi to omni-channel and has seen an extraordinary uptake in platforms capable of servicing more than one channel.

The greater the uptake in omni-channel technology, the greater the reinforcement of omni-customer behaviour. Organisations already achieving an omni-channel experience are also raising expectations of consumers, making it harder for those falling behind.

"Customers only care about one impact – they don’t want to repeat themselves. They simply want the easiest and fastest route to their outcome. If they can get that done in one session and therefore one channel even better!" Martin Hill-Wilson, Customer Service, CX & AI Engagement strategist, author and MD of Brainfood Consulting

Channels have essentially fallen into the hands of the customer and are empowering them with choice. Choice of who to do businesses with, how long to engage with organisations and the ease of ending relationships with those no longer delivering on their promises – using technology and social media channels to help them do so.

What this means for organisations is enormous pressure to meet the customers agenda for choice. Now more than ever, loyalty needs to be earned rather than expected. Prices need to remain competitive, operations transparent, and organisations need to meet expectations they set, as well as the expectations of their relevant industry.

"My view is that the bar on customer experience has been raised through COVID because of new cohorts coming in and because of an increase in digital sophistication. New customers are coming to digital, doing new and more complex things." Mark Evans, MD of Marketing and Digital at Direct Line Group

Whilst it sounds very one-sided in favour of the omni-customer, it’s worth noting that fickleness aside, customers still need businesses. They are just a bit pickier about who they choose to do business with.

Whilst this can be seen as a disrupting characteristic for organisations to contend with, there is market opportunity if organisations are prepared to pivot operations and CX strategies in favour of a digital-first agenda. Doing so will enable them to build resilience into their business continuity plans that can keep pace with the evolving behaviours of their customers.

The challenge is, too few organisations are taking this opportunity to evolve, choosing instead to keep focus on the now.

Whilst mindsets changed, the speed of the digital revolution meant very few had the luxury of being able to look past short-term tactics to put in place solutions that would feed into longer-term strategy. Understandably, many organisations prioritised the enablement of a work from home model at scale and ensuring their business offerings were available online. These choices demanded an accelerated investment into a digital ecosystem, but without long-term strategy built in, how long will it benefit the business?

When it comes to true transformation, it’s not simply the investment that will make the difference. Investing in the right things is fundamental. Failing to prioritise your investments will see you sticking plasters on legacy heritage tech and back pedalling in years to come.

One of the questions to ask yourself is whether you’d rather have a few really good channels, or multiple channels that perform below par?

We recommend a mixture of the two.

Woman on computer

Trying to improve ten channels in one go is counterintuitive. Instead, prioritise the 2-4 channels which your data identifies are driving the most value for your customers or are receiving the most traffic. Scope out the customer journey on each of these channels, documenting differences in tone, branding and experience. From here, build a roadmap that will address these differences and begin creating the seamless experience your customers expect on every channel you offer.

Man on computer

Another focus should be reducing the number of overall interactions on these channels.

As a rule of thumb, customers don’t like to spend their entire lunch breaks in a queue waiting to speak to an agent. They will likely only reach out to an organisation if they can’t solve the problem on their own. With this in mind, it’s super important for you to understand how many of the interactions you receive is value demand and how much of this can be avoided by improving other aspects of your CX.

The goal here should be to eliminate the need of contact, but also to empower your agents with the tools and knowledge they need to recognise opportunities to be proactive.

To help reduce the time and effort for both customer and brand, we recommend you find ways to understand the following:

  • The why - why has the customer reached out? Has the customer reached out as a result of failure? Is this a single action, or is this interaction part of a longer journey?
  • The how - how are customers contacting you? Is this channel flexible with regards to handling customer needs or has the customer experienced friction? How much was self-serve?
  • The what - what was the result and how can we reach this conclusion earlier next time?

Successfully decreasing the number of interactions is not only an effective cost saving exercise, it preemptively removes friction between your organisation and your customers. This in turn makes way for redistribution of investment into innovation or improvements to the customer experience closer to the start of their journey with you.

In fact, we’re seeing more and more businesses stop and think about why customers are reaching out to them in the first instance. This is translating into simplified UX design, more customer-focused products and a reliance on reliable data.

The good news is, omni-customers are famously digital.

According to ofcom, adults spent an average of 4 hours a day online during the height of the first UK national lockdown. Whilst this is an extreme and heavily influenced by context, it exaggerates the point that we are spending more and more time online.

Each online session opens up the opportunity for businesses and analytic tools to track and analyse considerable parts of the day – sometimes drawing data from different sites to create a more comprehensive picture of our journey online.

Completed web chat session leave interaction history and grants businesses the ability to draw on past history to help answer your query. Cookies track user web behaviour across the Internet, with third-party cookies enabling organisations to follow you once you have left their sites. Phone calls are recorded for ‘training purposes’. Emails are kept for records. Likes, shares, clicks on social media – all of these feed into an incredibly detailed pool of data that can be organised, filtered and leveraged.

What does this mean for businesses?

"Customers benefit from relevance if the personalisation is on point. But the history of the often (covert) collection of customer data in exchange for more useful brand engagement (as experienced by the customer) is not always mutually fruitful” Martin Hill-Wilson, Brainfood Consulting

It means that customers leave behind a traceable trail, complete with data points you can tap into to understand why they choose to behave the way they do. As an example, what can a customer’s web activity teach you before they reach out for help via a web form?

Perhaps they were searching for mortgage rates, or they clicked on a particular rug only to discover it was out of stock. Maybe they had been kicked out of a browser whilst trying to make a payment. All of these digital clues can teach you more about why your customer is reaching out, enabling your agents to deliver a more personalised experience.

Our advice?

Continuously gather, organise and learn from these breadcrumbs using data and analytics tools and platforms specifically designed for the modern contact centre.

4

Follow the breadcrumbs

Business has evolved from a scattergun approach to an incredibly targeted and personalised experience. This shift in strategy is a combination of changing customer habits, advancements in technology and the growing use of data, analytics and algorithms – which has been helped along with platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn offering ad targeting solutions at the click of a button.

This next chapter will focus primarily on leveraging data & analytics around your customers for business gain.

While it might seem counterintuitive to prioritise customer needs over business needs, BMW UK Marketing Director Michelle Roberts insists that "CX improvement will help us to deliver growth, especially in the area of personalisation. This means in the future we will know our customers better, be able to prioritise their needs more accurately and engage with them in the way they prefer. This will, in turn, drive efficiencies, meaning we can focus our investment priorities onto other areas in the future.”

Martin Hill-Wilson offer advices, drawing on source CCW consumer research from August 2020 to identify where brands should focus their energies:

"Experience management matters. Especially the goal of keeping customers in recessionary times. Customer research conducted during COVID shows customers have even higher expectations for how organisations care for them, especially those considered vulnerable. They have limited patience before quitting a brand if service experiences fail to satisfy. Actionable insight combined with an agile improvement methodology are essential competencies to weather the pandemic storm.”

This insight should also focus on how customer behaviour has influence over the wider ecosystem. It’s not uncommon for their actions to cause a knock-on effect to neighbouring industries when problems arise.

Take the aviation industry for instance. As COVID-19 began to rear its ugly head, travel shut down. Not only did the travel industry get burnt, insurance, banking, oil & gas, hospitality, and so many more suffered either an unbearable increase or devastating decrease in demand for services.

Whilst nobody could have predicted the severity of the pandemic on the economy, 2020 has unquestionably demonstrated the need for organisations to find a way to capture a complete view of its customers’ journeys. It also brought into stark relief how unprepared organisations were to respond to their customers, prompting a need for improvements to be made to its CX.

CX improvement starts with ensuring you have the right tools to collect both active and passive data around your customers’ journeys. These individual breadcrumbs can evolve into actionable insights that allow you to personalise communications, respond faster and pre-empt issues. But it’s only useful if you use what you collect.

Image of a graph

Active data: Data you need to request from a user.

Passive data: Data that's collected without asking the user for it, via some other means.

Research by SAS shows that 80% of data is ‘dark and unstructured’, meaning it is left to go stale. And when you consider that 2.5 quintillion bytes of data is created daily (DOMO), that’s a lot of wasted potential from insights left to go barren.

These long development cycles are caused by numerous reasons and can prevent organisations from moving beyond multi-channel to omni-channel strategies. This is because without the ability to organise your data or rely on its output, investments can be misplaced, problems can go unnoticed and insights into how your channels can work seamlessly together go untouched.

"Most organisations have stale data due to long development cycles with limited or no retraining, and no means of ensuring data used for model training is current and relevant once models are in production.” Harry Miller, Head of Portfolio, Partners & Strategy for Data & AI at ECS

Some organisations are limited by or have no access to data due to siloes or outdated technology incapable of merging data lakes or lifting actionable insights. Others have the data but choose not to use it. And then there’s the top performers. Those who are using Machine Learning models to integrate and leverage insights from multiple streams of data to create a single point of truth and drive CX initiatives.

Not only can stale data build technical debt and unwarranted costs, it can detract from the ultimate reason why you were collecting the data in the first place – to better understand who your customers are.

Technical debt is a concept coined by Ward Cunningham that reflects the implied cost of additional rework or expense caused by choosing an easy solution now instead of using a better approach that would take longer.

This is where analytics comes in.

Analytics enables businesses to make better decisions by tapping into your data lakes and drawing real-time insights from your customer touchpoints. This is made possible by the introduction of modern platforms and AI/ML services that can process, categorise and present findings based on customer activity.

The cleaner the data, the more accurate the insights.

This is important. Data integrity is the overall accuracy, completeness, and reliability of data. Since your analytics can influence strategic thinking, we recommend investing time ensuring your data is as clean as possible at the source so you can maximise the business gain once it’s been analysed. You can do this by monitoring errors, standardising processes at the point of entry, validating the accuracy of your data and adopting specific tools that remove duplications.

It is also important that your data sources have a way of talking to one another. This is especially true in the age of the omni-customer and is what will distinguish your omni-channel model from a multi-channel one.

"Omni-channel is part of a consistent experience. But simplified journey design, knowledge management, trained and empowered live assistance and so on, also matter.” Martin Hill-Wilson, Brainfood Consulting

Omni-channel models are a great foundation for creating the seamless, consistent experience that your customers have come to expect, since they can empower your agents with the information they need. An example of this is the improvements to knowledge management and real-time, next best action recommendations based on insights personal to the customer and context of the engagement.

Just as the customer has evolved, so has the role of the contact centre agent. This means that as channels have multiplied, the expectations on agents and contact centre models have grown too. This pressure has been intensified with the additional challenge of 100% remote workforces and the lack of suitable infrastructure to support agents working from home.

While the evolution of CX and the omni-channel experience had been forecasted into CIO agendas, the majority of organisations didn’t foresee their entire workforce going remote. This was perhaps one of the most disrupting aspects for businesses and is one that is still affecting organisations today.

The biggest predicament is with such an economic downturn and battle for investment, what do you prioritise and why should you concentrate on CX?

Our advice is to focus on measurable and actionable data. Being able to base business-critical decisions on data rather than aspirational predictions made at the beginning of 2020 will give you the intent you need for change. It will also highlight trends in your customers behaviour, enabling you to pre-empt problems and deliver more successful solutions, faster.

Since customer journeys take place across multiple channels, it is no longer enough to silo your agents into single channels. Both the agent, and in turn your models, need transparency across the whole customer journey. They need to understand where the customer started and where they finish, how far along their journey are they (single action vs follow up), how was the problem solved and where bottlenecks exist - if there are any. All this information enables your agents to anticipate queries and offer solutions in real-time.

This ability to deliver an exceptional brand experience comes down to the tools you give your agents to work with, and the investment you put into their training. Processes that stand in their way or slow them down not only hurts the employee experience, it can detrimentally affect CX.

Again, data can help.

63% of U.S. senior decision-makers listed big data or analytics as the most important emerging technology for enhancing the customer experience. This draws parallels with a 2016 Forbes Insights and SAS study that found 90% of executives worldwide noticed an improvement in their ability to deliver a superior customer experience when using data analytics.

Contact centre models specifically designed to measure, manage and optimise the omni-customer journey can help too, but you’ll need to act fast. You’re not the only one with access to your customers’ breadcrumbs and if you don’t act on them, your competition will.

5

Time to evolve your CX strategy

Two coworkers in an office Woman taking notes in front of laptop

The true impact of COVID was first realised back in Q1 of 2020. Brick and mortar businesses were closed, industries shut down indefinitely and hardware infrastructure prevented organisations from embracing 100% remote working. The risk to health also had an impact on workforce numbers, affecting an organisation’s ability to scale up contact centre solutions to deal with the increase in queries.

There has also been a surge in digital transformation, with organisations moving operations online. According to research from Hitachi Capital Business Finance, almost four in five small businesses (79%) have moved aspects of their business online in order to stay operational during the period of isolation.

With physical doors closed, customers were channelled to digital means of recourse. This applied additional pressure to already oversubscribed agents in underprepared contact centres.

The contact centres that weren’t prepared found themselves battling with spiralling costs to accommodate scaling operations and legacy infrastructure. Others closed their contact centres altogether unable to deal with the demand, while some greatly reduced the number of channels available to customers – directing them to cheaper to serve avenues or automated chatbots that didn’t require agents being on call.

While the pandemic extended a period of grace for businesses to pivot their digital strategies, people still needed a service. This meant that even the more loyal among us began looking towards companies able to fulfil orders. Customers were also interested in working with companies who proved they were available for the whole customer journey and not simply the part where they took their money.

At a time where the nation was feeling unsettled, businesses needed to look beyond their services and offerings to find ways to look after their people – staff and customers alike.

Those who were able to direct IT spend towards upgrading their contact centre models or integrating modernised tools found themselves able to support agents working remotely to deliver an enhanced customer experience. Supporting agents remotely not only eased pressure on operations but also rewarded businesses with increased sales and customer retention.

"In the past, call centres and contact centres were seen as ‘a necessary evil’ to doing business – a cost that needed to be managed and minimised. By 2025, the contact centre will have evolved into an experience centre and it will be viewed within the context of overall business goals.” Teresa Cottam, Chief Analyst at Omnisperience

We began to see the advent of this experience centre during the pandemic.

Human-centred businesses made headlines, whilst the topic of customer experience became the talk of business publications and FTSE 500 boardrooms. Beyond this, organisations going above and beyond to service their customers were rewarded with patience, accommodation and community-spirit. This gave those on the back foot the chance to evolve their CX strategy, reprioritise IT spend and build in the resilience to successfully navigate the uncertainty.

The problem is, not everybody used this period of grace to evolve.

Organisations still leaning on the pandemic as justification for long delays on calls, lack of staff or inadequate customer care are beginning to lose the sympathy of customers. This isn’t helped by those organisations who did use this time to migrate to a more resilient contact centre model and are now performing better and most cost effectively than they were pre-COVID.

Research shows that 39% of CEOs say customer experience is the most effective method of creating a competitive advantage.

And yet, only 36% of organisations have adopted a model appropriate for today’s omni-customer.

The truth is, the pandemic was a force for change. Those not prepared to transform their business model to embrace the omni-customer or the new normal run the risk of getting lost in the digital tsunami currently taking the world by storm.

Isn’t it time you evolved your CX strategy?

6

What's possible?

Short-lived experiments
In today’s business climate, organisations find themselves on one of three paths: an accelerated journey to enterprise-level digital transformation, about to embark on a digital initiative or waiting for their digital transformation journey to start.
And yet, they all share the same goal: having the right experience at the right time to serve their customers on their preferred channel with the right context.

For those who started their digital transformation journey over the last decade, the pandemic gave rise to an acceleration of their efforts. Not simply because they had the advantage of hindsight to know what worked and what didn’t, but also experience exercising new ways of working so they could hit the ground running.

DBS bank, a multi-national banking and financial services corporation, is a case in point.

One of the core ways the bank transformed was to become digital to the core. The bank’s transformational journey saw proprietary hardware and software shift to commoditised hardware and open source systems. This enabled the digitalisation of operations and applications to scale with no loss to productivity.

The addition of rapid prototyping and agile ways of working has meant they were able to establish an internal contract tracing app as early as February 2020 which helped protect DBS Bank's workforce, as well as a digi-doc platform within 14 days of receiving customer concerns around physically visiting a branch to hand in trade documents. DBS Bank have also been able to experiment with 5G-enabled ATM software to enable omni-customers to truly embrace emerging digital channels.

"What you're seeing is a rush to digitize. And our industry definitely has the bandwidth to do that." Jimmy Ng, DBS Bank CIO

For those who embarked on their digital initiative during the pandemic, similar results are possible when collaborating with the right partner.

South East Water is such a story.

Water droplet

Challenged with achieving business continuity for its customers at the beginning of the 2020 national lockdown, South East Water needed a contact centre solution that supported agents working remotely to deliver an enhanced customer experience.

South East Water

Already familiar with AWS and its capabilities, SEW looked for a partner who were able to provide an MVP that could be validated at pace and pushed into production within a couple of weeks. AWS recommended ECS as the premier service delivery partner for Amazon Connect contact centre solutions, and after an initial scoping session, we had an understanding of what SEW required to achieve full-service business continuity.

In less than a week, ECS had designed and proposed a solution that aligned with SEW’s needs. Part of this solution included leveraging Amazon Connect to create a 100% remote outbound contact centre capability within 48hrs at minimal upfront cost and little resourcing from SEW.

Whilst an effective contact centre platform was implemented within such a short timeframe, we continued to work with SEW to deliver a complete solution over three weeks. The result was an entirely scalable (both up and down), consumption-based solution that gave SEW’s agents the tools they needed to work remotely, and their customers a way to get the help they need when they need it.

7

Final words

Ready to deliver an extraordinary customer experience?

If you’re looking to move past stale data and unsatisfactory customer experiences, transform your contact centre platform with a companion that’s been there before and has the track-record to realise your aspirations.

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