Omnichannel: Tracking the Customer Experience
Illustration by Matt Brooks

Our omnichannel series continues with a look at the impact on the contact center agent’s job and skill sets.

So far, this series has offered key insights from industry experts on the top challenges that contact centers face when transitioning their strategy from multichannel to omnichannel, the important first steps to take on your journey, how to prioritize customer channels, how to track the customer’s experience through multiple channels, which metrics will ensure that all channels are aligned with the omnichannel strategy, and which elements of the contact center QA process will need to be reevaluated to monitor performance across channels.

In this post, our panelists offer their thoughts on how an omnichannel approach will impact customer service staff in terms of their role, skill sets and training.


Chief Marketing Officer & Executive Vice President of Strategy, OpenSpan:

Staffing for an omnichannel operation is dependent on so many factors—from corporate culture, to the technology on the desktop and to the training programs in place. I’ve seen contact center operations tackle omnichannel strategies in so many different ways. Some have blended agents who handle calls, email, chat and mobile. Others have extended mobile and social customer service to a more back-office function.

The mobile and social channels have come to market quickly and most are evolving as quickly as the technology changes. That’s why it’s critical to have insight into desktop intelligence so that you are able to make decisions quickly about staffing, process and technology changes to implement change that positively impacts the business. Understand that employees who are mobile and social geniuses might not be the best phone agents, and have a plan in place to ensure that all employees—regardless of channel—get the right training and proper communications to ensure a consistent service experience is critical.


Vice President, Strategic Marketing, inContact:

A lot of the impact is related to personnel. Are the people on staff qualified to handle the next channel? Are they ready for n+1? If the answer is no, then you are going to have to train them into it. If they cannot be trained into it, you are going to have to hire for it.

For example, consider a company finding agents for BPOS (Business Process Outsourcing Services). As they were adding channels and finding the right agents a pattern was discovered. When they were looking for agents to handle chat they found that those who performed well had indicated in the application process that they text messaged in their own personal life many times a day. So, their chances for success in chat were much higher. This really important piece of information came from reverse engineering—from making the connection.

Have an idea of the role, skill sets and training for each channel. Understand how to evaluate the applicant and what variables best contribute to success. Provide a job preview to make sure it is fair, so people can evaluate their own abilities.

As a former contact center manager myself, if I had to handle WFM and if I had to add a couple of channels to a lot of agents, my head might explode because I am not yet sure what the roll up will be of all the variables. Take average handle time, agent productivity, types of problems, types of businesses you are in, types of interactions, and on and on. All this is very specific to the business and how it runs. There is no silver bullet. Take it a bite at a time and you can head down the road. Enlarge that garden by two feet instead of eight.


Director, Product Management, USAN:

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 is 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.


Vice President, Product Marketing & Solutions, Five9:

An omnichannel approach adds more complexity to the agent’s job. One trend that we’ve been seeing in the industry for a while is the increasing customer preference for self-service. Over the next few years, the percentage of phone calls as overall interactions will start to drop, but the complexity of those interactions will increase—and now we’re adding all of these other channels on top of the agents.

We recently conducted a survey with ICMI on agent performance and how it impacts the customer experience (“Agent Apathy: The Root Cause of Poor Customer Service”). We found that the average agent has to access five different applications in order to handle one interaction. As you can imagine, it can take quite a bit of time for most agents just to track down the information that they need to be able to solve an issue.

What contact centers have to start rethinking is how to provide agents with the tools to simplify their jobs. We believe that it creates a ripple-effect. In our survey, 100% of the contact center leaders that we talked to—over 400—said that the agents’ involvement, morale and engagement has the biggest impact on the customer experience—and yet around 72% said that they are actually blocking agents from providing an excellent experience because they don’t give them the tools and the systems that they need. We have to solve that. Agents are the front line. They’re responsible for representing all of these channels and the entire company, and we need to make their jobs easier.


Vice President, Corporate Marketing, Genesys:

A journey-managed approach elevates the frontline agent position in value, as well as what contact centers need to pay people and the type of talent they need to hire. The frontline agent is currently one of the highest attrition jobs for a reason: It’s someone who sits in a cubicle all day and is closely measured on how much time they’re on the call, how much time they spend between calls doing wrapup work, and whether or not they read the script. Compare that with a journey manager specialist—someone who is adept at multitasking and social media, who has phone and written skills, who can write to the brand voice, and is someone who brings energy and passion to the role. That’s what customers expect. Not the monotone robot, but someone whose personality can come out in interesting ways that are appropriate for the customer and where they are in the journey.

In a journey-managed approach, the enterprise becomes the instrument of customer experience, and not just the contact center. There are people in the back office and specialists with deep product expertise who don’t need to put on a headset and sit in a contact center, but in certain moments of the journey, they might need to collaborate with a customer through a chat application or get on a call to solve a customer issue. Today, the approach is to contain it at a low cost in the front office. The future is a much more blended environment in which frontline staff have access to other functions so they can quickly collaborate to get things done.


Innovation Center Manager, Calabrio:

Customer service staff will need to be aware of customer interactions across all channels, and will be required to absorb much more customer data quickly in order to properly serve the customer. Privacy will be a major concern and staff will need the necessary training on how to address those concerns.

To read the full Q&A panel with more insights on the omnichannel evolution and how it will impact your center, download the article here.