Voice is still the dominant channel for B2C communication however, based on current trends, it's likely to represent less than 50 per cent of all interactions within the next two years.
Motivated by the desire to improve service levels while also reducing costs, businesses are investing in alternatives such as email, chat and social as they strive to establish omni-channel contact centres to support their operations.
The shift to omni-channel B2C communication has been underway for some years, but the pace of adoption is growing rapidly. Increasing numbers of businesses are realising their customers want a choice in the ways in which they interact with them. The rise of the millennial generation is also causing a spike in the number of people who prefer non-voice communication options.
Digital disrupters leading the way
The trend away from voice is particularly evident among the new crop of businesses dubbed digital disrupters. Companies such as Airbnb, Webjet and Uber have taken the strategy of putting digital channels first.
These companies heavily promote their websites and mobile apps, deftly steering people away from contacting them by voice. Indeed, in many cases it can actually be challenging to find a number to call at all. As a result, less than 10 per cent of customer communication with such firms tends to take place via voice calls.
When two-way communication is required, digital disrupters push their customers to use email, web chat or social channels. This means that many interactions can therefore be handled in non real-time, reducing costs while having minimal impact on service levels.
Digital disruptors are also good at shifting customers between channels. An interaction may begin with a web chat session with the customer then directed to the website to place an order. Alternatively, a customer may start with a mobile app and then receive confirmation of a booking via SMS or email.
Experience is showing that social media channels are often used as a 'cry for help' by customers when they encounter problems that can't be readily resolved. Digital disruptors are adept at monitoring for such posts and quickly making direct contact with the customer offering a solution. The interaction can then be shifted off the social channel and onto email or a voice call.
The path to omni-channel communications
The shift away from voice interactions is also taking place within established businesses. While the overall proportion remains high, at about 70 per cent, the introduction of new channels will see voice usage drop in coming years.
Those businesses looking to reduce the volumes of voice calls coming into their contact centres need to follow a series of steps:
- Outline the value proposition: Outline the company's value proposition to the market and identify how people prefer to interact with it. Determine whether these preferences are changing and how service levels could be improved through the introduction of hew channels
- Define strategy: Some types of interactions are better suited to one channel over another. Orders may be readily placed via a mobile app, information requests via chat and receipts and invoices via email. Examine all transaction types that take place and determine which channel is the best fit for each.
- Deploy CRM: A successful omni-channel infrastructure is underpinned by a robust CRM system. This ensures all customer details are available to agents regardless of the channel being used. Deployment should be completed before the new channels 'go live'.
- Implement new channels: Once the required new channels have been identified, they should be implemented in such a way that communications can seamlessly shift from one to another. A unified underlying platform can help to achieve this.
- Undertake agent training: An omni-channel environment means agents must be adept at handling all communication options. Proper training should be provided to ensure they can shift easily from voice and email to chat and social.
Don't forget face-to-face
While there is considerable investment taking place to establish omni-channel capabilities within many organisations, it's important to remember there remains a strong case for face-to-face interactions.
Many firms recognise that having a bricks-and-mortar presence can improve customer service and work interactively with their digital and voice channels. Companies such as Telstra, Samsung and Apple have invested heavily in large stores where customers can obtain information and interact with products. Often, orders are then placed via digital channels.
Smaller firms also benefit from a combination of digital and face-to-face interactions. They can use the approach to establish their brand and forge longer lasting relationships with customers.
It's clear that voice communication is declining in popularity as a business channel, but it will remain an important part of the overall omni-channel mix for many years to come. Those businesses that invest in both areas will be best place to succeed in the future.
By Tim Hood, Operations Manager, QPC