This content is part of the Essential Guide: Guide to customer experience management best practices, technologies

Reaching new heights in omnichannel customer service

Contact center agents can better approximate an omnichannel customer experience with the right tools, such as a single user interface for customer information.

For companies today, omnichannel customer service has become a must-have. Companies need to be able to reach customers...

wherever they happen to be -- whether that’s on a mobile phone, on a company website or on social media. These communication channels have proliferated, which has made the task more challenging, but no less important.

The goal of omnichannel customer service is to give customers access to seamless, high-quality service, regardless of their communication channel. For companies to achieve this kind of customer experience, however, they need new tools that consolidate information, particularly for agents, so they can have a 360-degree view of customers.

Today's customers rely on emerging channels for communication, and, as a result, they have come to expect a pain-free omnichannel experience. A couple of years ago, mobile media time surpassed laptop media time. For the first time ever, Web self-service surpassed voice channels as the most widely-used channel for customer service. Plus, with smartphone usage in the U.S. nearing 80%, mobile customer service has become the new standard. No matter which industry you are in, your organization needs to plan for how customers will interact with your brand from their channel of choice.

While customer expectations continue to rise, so do those of employees. For today’s top organizations, it is clear that employee experience matters, and more companies are investing in internal improvements. In a recent Bluewolf report about Salesforce, based on survey data gathered from more than 1,500 Salesforce customers, 1/3 of companies cited an employee-facing initiative as one of their top objectives of 2016. We're seeing a renewed effort in the employee experience within all departments, from mobile-enabled sales teams to the empowered, data-driven marketer. For customer service, the biggest improvement in the agent experience is the hub for the case management process: the agent console.

If you work in customer service, ask yourself how many systems agents have to use to manage an individual case. If the answer is more than one, it's time to rethink your process. Logging into multiple systems to access information makes it more difficult for agents to do their jobs quickly and efficiently; yet consolidating multiple systems into a single system is a tall order. But just as successful, and much easier to implement, is a single user interface.

A single UI is a must for a successful omnichannel customer experience

The primary goal of any omnichannel service organization should be to establish a consistent and single user interface.

To be a successful omnichannel service provider, anyone from service, sales or marketing should be able to record and see customer interactions on a unified contact record, regardless of the customer's original contact channel. The key is to create a consistent experience -- for both the agent and the customer. From a customer's standpoint, nothing is more frustrating than having to repeat your problem to multiple service agents as your case is routed to the appropriate agent.

A single user interface (UI) is key to a successful omnichannel contact center. The top organizations take an outward-in approach, bringing all customer service information, from various systems and various channels, into a single agent console. Agents benefit by becoming more efficient; they no longer waste valuable time logging into and toggling between different systems, and new agent onboarding gets faster because new agents have to be trained on only one system. Ultimately, it speeds up the case management process, making the agent and customer experience easier, faster and more satisfying.

In my work at Bluewolf, our clients have seen great improvements in their omnichannel service management by using Salesforce Service Cloud. The new Lightning Service Console, announced at Dreamforce 2015, allows agents to manage all customers' interactions -- from chat, social media, email, among others -- in a single user interface. The tabbed environment also lets agents look at many different groupings of records, even from different systems, on one screen.

Relying on Service Cloud tools such as Case Feed or Omni-Channel will help your organization manage multiple channels in a single location. Case Feed allows agents to view all interactions related to an individual case in a single view; Omni-Channel enables managers to automatically assign cases to agents based on an agent's listed expertise, priority of cases, or agent's presence or ability, reducing the amount of time cases are sitting idle in a queue.

The primary goal of any omnichannel service organization should be to establish a consistent and single user interface. No matter the channel or type of case, agents should almost never have to log in to a different system or request information from an internal group to complete a case. Marketing, sales and service should have full visibility into one another's interactions with the customer, creating a cohesive agent and customer experience.

Don’t let omnichannel become an omnipresent problem

While Service Cloud makes it easier to integrate all types of customer information into a single system or console, data monitoring still needs to be a priority. The top omnichannel service providers invest in an automated process that continuously checks data quality and alerts managers to potential problems. This enables customer service managers to run reports and receive notifications about errors directly, instead of relying on IT to do so and report back.

Deploying self-service tools allows managers to customize data management in two ways. First, they can customize their own rules for data quality management, such as flagging case entries without a phone number. Second, they can incorporate human tasks into the workflow, such as pausing automation to review, correct and approve data quality exceptions throughout the process.

You do not have to start your data quality monitoring system from scratch. Depending on the complexity of your needs, the Salesforce AppExchange offers services, from free data quality analysis dashboards to full-featured master data management solutions, like Informatica, which integrate with Service Cloud. Once robust data management structures are in place, service agents can trust in the accuracy of customer data and can take steps toward offering customers proactive, more personalized service across all channels.

If you're wondering what to prioritize, always put the projects that will have the most positive impact on the agent and customer experience at the top of the list. Some will be simple, quick wins, some will be complex and completed in phases, and some won't be discovered until the next set of projects are completed -- but any project that drives toward cleaner data, a single user interface and a 360-view of the customer is a step in the right direction. Soon, your service center will begin to realize the promise of omnichannel customer service -- happy consumers and satisfied agents.

About the author
Bob Furniss is the customer care practice director for Bluewolf Consulting. For more than 35 years, he has focused on customer experience. As a leader of enterprise contact centers -- and then as a consultant for more than 20 years -- he's had the opportunity to help companies create service roadmaps, develop change strategies, implement customer relationship management applications, and engage more effectively via new digital and social channels.

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