Where We Are Really At In Omni-Channel

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This post and those that follow over the summer will explore what this means. The ongoing conversation will be primarily suited for large organisations here in the UK. However all sources of intelligent debate will be equally welcome. So please join in when inspired!

I’m going to cover three main topics:

  • Multi-channel customer experience
  • Social customer service
  • Customer hubs

In fact, they are all part of a single narrative that contributes towards becoming a digital organisation.

Of course as far as that agenda is concerned, most have already left the station and a few have reached initial milestones. However no-one is at the point of simply toying with the last few pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, enjoying the clarity that comes when everything is all but slotted together.

So there is still much to discuss.

I’m lucky to be able to tap into numerous networks in my line of work. They provide me with access to the real work going on inside organisations. These stories counterbalance the highly leveraged rhetoric used to attract us in the form of latest business book best sellers and conference agendas that drip with zeitgeist topics.

Instead of those glossy versions of the road ahead, we discover it’s tough to change as an individual. Even tougher when it’s a team. And it’s often glacially slow when the whole organisation needs aligning around new ideas and behaviours.

Those blessed with CXOs who totally get it, resource it and drive it remain the lucky ones.

Of course future generations might look back on this as a strange scarcity. Or maybe they will find such leaders still a source of exceptional inspiration. Today, we might blame the head hunters for being too slow recruiting the right profiles. Or maybe it is the executive boards; too wary of inviting new blood into their ranks. Who knows?

How Customers Left Brands In The Dust

Multi-channel is dead centre within a massive change impacting every aspect of how we do business. Call it digital for shorthand if you like, but it’s much more profound that plumbing in a cloud infrastructure and letting APIs join the online dots.

In this post we will start with customers and what they have done so far. Then we will explore the necessary organisational response.

So back to the question of multi-channel adoption, how are customers doing? After years of faithful marriage to phone based interactions, consumers have become slightly stir crazy judging by their uptake of all things digital.

There are many landmark points of transition going on right now that show this appetite:

  • According to eMarketer, 2015 will be the year when UK adults spend more time every day (2 hours 26 minutes) with their mobile devices than traditional desktop or laptop computers (2 hours 13 minutes)
  • Forrester notes this is the year when more US consumers are using self-service systems and FAQ pages on company websites than are calling the contact centre. This makes web based self help the current top digital channel.76% of consumers reported using help/FAQ pages online, while 73% had phoned an organization
  • Self service is not just being driven by younger, supposedly more tech-savvy consumers. The two groups that had the greatest growth in usage were those aged between 59-69, and the over 70s. As a side note this suggests that useful segmentation needs to be built around stages of digital competency rather than stages of life.

Consumers have become mobile, autonomous and it seems impatient. As a result, the time that consumers are willing to wait to get answers or have their problems solved has gone into freefall.

Forrester research reveals 41% of consumers expected an answer to their email within 6 hours. Yes how many organisations still target 48 hours and believe that is good enough! I personally know of one B2B software vendor who reduced 40% of voice traffic once he had made email sufficiently responsive with a 2 hour SLA.

Eptica’s latest annual study finds similar behaviour amongst UK consumers. (2015 Eptica Multichannel Customer Experience Study)

  • 39% of consumers said they’d spend just 5 minutes looking for information on a website before giving up
  • 60% will hold for 5 minutes on the phone before hanging up
  • 56% expect an email to be answered within 4 hours
  • 44% want a response to their tweets within an hour

These new service expectations are currently killing organisations.

For instance the Eptica study shows that across 100 of the UK’s leading companies, (the ones we are focussed on in this series of posts) less than half (48%) of all questions are successfully answered on email, web and Twitter.

Maybe this explains why phone channel volumes still remain stubbornly high despite many a ‘Digital First’ edict?

Beyond the issue of effectiveness, this average score masks a further issue. There is a growing gap in service capabilities between the best and worst companies.

For instance 90% of banks had deployed web self-service and managed to answer an average 91% of questions successfully. Great result! Contrast this with just 40% of insurers using web self-service. They could only provide answers to 4 out of 10 questions on average.

Given the accelerating pace of change, this could be a fatal lapse. How often do you see laggards come from behind to win a race?

Finally there seems to be a mindset (or investment gap) that tries to ignore the implications of the multi-channel genie.

Channel choice based on personal preference and ‘the situation I find myself in’ has crystallised into a core consumer expectation. Yet organisations still prefer to believe in notions of channel shift and selective competencies.

For instance, Banking ranked top for answering questions via the web, yet joint bottom for email. Telecoms scored an average of 20% on email, but 60% on Twitter in the Eptica study.

Maybe it really is an issue of investment. Apparently even though 26% of companies claiming they had web chat, just 9% had it operational when they were surveyed during the Eptica survey!

Being Multi-Channel Is Part Of Learning To Be A Digital Organisation

So what’s to be made of all this?

Maybe there are enough captive customers who really cannot vote with their feet and so have to make do with what is on offer. In those sectors any temporary shame from social media criticism is judged a short term headache.

But many sectors are quite the opposite.

In fact, digital disruption has lowered many barriers to entry. Google has just begun its long anticipated march into Insurance with a pilot in the aggregator market in San Francisco.

Music and other forms of digital entertainment have a real battle re-monetising their value proposition. And we all like to believe in the stats around customers claiming to be prepared to pay more for superior service.

So in this part of the business universe why is there such a delta between expectation and performance? Are we really behaving in line with the supposed fact that we are in the ‘Age Of The Customer?

Or is this just a great tag line from the Linkedin Influencer community?

Why have we been so slow off the mark as businesses? The deeply ironic point about all this, of course, is that customers and employees are one and the same person. Albeit motivated to react at quite different speeds.  But shouldn’t we at least understand the required changes when in our employee mode?

My own answer is that multi-channel is in fact a new phase for everyone. In spite of the massive hyped attention that multi-channel aka omni-channel continues to receive, no-one has deep expertise. History shows that the rise of anything other than the voice channel is a very recent trend.

ContactBabel has the data to prove it. Their annual surveys of UK contact centres show that the drop in voice traffic over a decade between 2003 and 2013 was from 91% to 73%.

The only other channel that had gained any significant volume was email with 15%. Web chat and social were still blips on the radar, although certain sectors and brands of course were proving the exception to that rule as online behaviour took root.

By the time of the 2014 report, voice still held 70% share with the so called ‘digital channels’ showing rapid growth from a small share within the channel mix.

To me this strongly suggests that expertise in any non voice channel is recent and that no-one has yet managed to extend that into a complete multi-channel competency.

That said, I can think of an example.

I heard at Capita’s customer event in January one of the best early adopter brags in a while. The ex VP of customer service who had run Lands End online business for many years opened his speech by saying “I started going multi-channel in 1999”.  Aced my claim to have started in contact centre in 1980s I thought.

Over To You

So this is the first taster of a debate around multi-channel that I’m running in partnership with the customer management team at Capita.

I would love to hear your own insights into where we have got to in multi-channel and the challenges you see. Let’s drop the gungho phase for a second and go for a paddle in Gartner’s ‘Trough Of Disillusionment‘. We might all learn something.

This month we are holding a masterclass in London on effective multi-channel design as a way of accelerating best practice. If you can’t make that there are others over the summer. Here’s me ad libbing to give a flavour of what we are going to be discussing.

The second article in this series “How Many Channels Make An Omni-Channel Omelette?” can be found here.

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