Cisco UK & Ireland Blog

Why contact centres need to integrate channels to avoid a Christmas and New Year hangover

December 22, 2015

It’s that time of year – the build up to Christmas followed by intense activity around the January sales – that puts retail and e-commerce business under more strain than ever.

Despite the rise of online shopping and the emergence of mobile commerce, consumers are less satisfied with their experience. A recent piece of research highlighted that despite record UK sales of £1.1 billion on Black Friday, 33% of British consumers were dissatisfied with the service they received.

What these types of research don’t reveal is how consumers actually shop – and what happens afterwards. There is a combination of research on and offline, followed by the actual purchase. Often there is some after-sales care or attention needed (often by a different channel again). And during a particularly busy period, this is where it all sometimes falls down.

Other industries also work with threadbare staff over the Christmas and New Year period, putting strain on their contact centres too.

Ask anyone and they’ll have a war story about how they’ve been let down by poor customer service or at the very least poorly joined up customer experience. Often the Achilles Heel is the contact centre, where there is relatively little integration of channels.

As an example, I was on a website looking at some specialist insurance recently, got involved in a web chat, then needed to speak to someone on the phone. It wasn’t integrated with the call centre, so I had to wait for someone to call me. When they did, the moment was lost and I was busy with something else.

At best, this situation results in an irritated customer. At worst, a lost sale.

We all know that we live in a 24-hour culture, where we have less time to do everything what we want to do and put a value on convenience. While service is still valued, we also accept that self-service is acceptable – even desirable. On top of that, consumers are more informed and have better access to information, such as prices and reviews, than ever before.

The problem is that when new sales and service channels were introduced, many companies rushed it and effectively bolted on new services as a quick fix. Technologies are based on different platforms, often in silos – so databases, for example, can’t talk to each other.

The implications of poorly joined up service

Poor integration means that when a customer can’t complete a transaction in their chosen channel (e.g take my webchat example earlier), they often need to start again from scratch when they switch (e.g. phone). This annoys customers because it wastes their time – there’s no history and they have to repeat themselves. The context of the contact is often missing and that means that there is a lack of personalisation and empathy.

There needs to be consistency in personalisation across channels and be able to switch between them seamlessly. When it works it saves the customer and the company valuable time and energy.

How it could be better?

The objective is to enable customer history and context to be made available to agents across multiple channels, right across the customer journey. Another objective is being able to perform trend analysis at lightning speed on other similar customer journeys and predict the next best action, whether that be upsell/cross sell or resolution.

They’re just two aspects which form part of we call Total Customer Experience. Contact Centres are evolving – my colleague Brian Atkinson wrote about it recently – but we have only just begun to see the potential being realised.

The payoff is hard to over-estimate: a better, more personalised experience resulting in increased customer loyalty, with the added bonus of reduced operating costs for businesses. What’s not to like?

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