The Omni-Channel Contact Center: Q&A with Michael Gregorio

When it comes to tranforming the call center into an omnichannel contact center, there are several basic questions everyone must answer: How do you get there? What are the first steps? Where do you focus your resources? How do you measure it?

As the director of product management at USAN, I was asked to review this topic and more in a Q&A session with Susan Hash of Contact Center Pipeline. Here’s that interview, originally published in June of this year, in its entirety. You can download the entire magazine and article, too, to read what others had to say about the omni-channel contact center challenge.

Contact Center Pipeline: What are the top challenges that contact centers face when transitioning to an omnichannel strategy?

Michael Gregorio: The contact center’s top challenges will be: Product (technology), Process, and People

Most of the products and applications used in contact centers today are largely obsolete because of their outdated programming models, lack of a native cloud and poor abilities in predicting customer journeys.

Contact center point solutions, such as IVR/ACD or consolidated agent desktops, address specific functionality very well. However, they typically do not provide integration points with other business applications, nor do they support interactions across the customer journey. Organizations that use these systems are often faced with multiple data-entry efforts and disconnected sets of customer data, making it difficult to report accurate information and enforce business process.

More important is the general fact that none of these types of systems speak to customer engagement across multiple channels. As organizations face a more connected, more distributed customer base, they must address the changing requirements of a new generation of interaction between contact center agents and consumers while maintaining a consistent brand experience.

Contact Center Pipeline: How can organizations identify—and prioritize—which channels to focus on?

Michael Gregorio: Many organizations believe they need to engage in all channels for the “ultimate omnichannel experience,” and that’s just not the case. It’s about quality over quantity-focusing on the customer relationship rather than the actual channel is key.

There is also an added dimension of-and complexity of-growing channels. Many organizations are scrambling to accommodate them all. Yet, a recent Forrester survey (“Q1 2015 US Top 50 Brands Social Web Track”) found that just 0.22% of the top brands’s Facebook fans interact on that channel. On Twitter, Pinterest, and Goolge+, that interaction rate is below 0.05% and falling fast.

To break through this noise, an organization needs to identify and prioritize where to orchestrate engagement across channels, including the fusion of inbound and outbound communication.  For example, customers rarely use just one channel to complete an interaction, and many end up in the contact center. The majority of inbound calls to the contact center come from customers who first attempted to resolve an issue on a company’s website, while many callers are still on the company’s website as they are speaking to an agent.

Understanding your audience is one thing; knowing where customers will engage at multiple steps in the journey is another critical part of an omnichannel strategy.

Contact Center Pipeline: What is the most important thing for company leaders to understand about developing an omnichannel strategy?

Michael Gregorio: Almost any omnichannel vendor in the market can solve problems of yesteryear, but few solve today’s most pressing challenges.

The goal of an omnichannel strategy is not only to provide reactive service to customers as they move among communication channels while retaining the customers’ context, but also to determine the next best action, information or process to proactively engage with the customer.

This approach is typically referred to as “persistent predictive automation”. It can be thought of as a concierge service where the organization establishes processes to proactively reach out to the customers to assist them when there is information or advice to deliver. A holistic approach like this can often differentiate an organization from the competition.

Contact Center Pipeline: How will an omnichannel approach impact customer service staff in terms of their role, skill sets, training?

Michael Gregorio: I am always surprised when consulting with an organization on omnichannel. Many pull together huge teams to discuss customer engagement strategies, channels, integrations, contact center technologies…and last but not least… the actual call center agent!

Sure, every organization implements tools to reduce call times and increase first call resolution. But the depth of online information to help customers solve their own problems is increasing. That means the questions and problems that customers may have after being in self-service may be too difficult for the average call center agent to answer.

There has never been a greater need for “high-touch” customer service using elite contact center agents. The adoption of more productive channels such as chat, SMS/and social media allows agents to engage in several simultaneous conversations, whereas live-agent voice is typically one-to-one and not the preferred method of today’s generation.

To be successful, organizations will have to step up their human resource and training programs to attract, train, and retain top-performing contact center staff,as customers will make fewer, but more critical, calls. With many products and services becoming commodities, providing an excellent omnichannel customer experience is the only way companies can differentiate themselves.

You can also check out Michael’s most recent interview with Contact Center Pipeline regarding customer-centric quality monitoring.