Customer Engagement in the Age of Omnichannel: What’s Really Driving Change?

Three experts at Nexus 2016 discuss the impact that omnichannel is having on the nearshore, and if contact centers south of the border are prepared to implement it to serve and benefit their core US client base.

Today’s relationship with customers is more complex than ever, with the rapid influx of new engagement channels creating a mix of challenges for nearshore customer service providers. While voice is not yet a thing of the past, channels such as email, chat, social media and video are fast becoming more popular with end-users, and the industry has no choice but to react to this trend.

To overcome these hurdles, providers are moving towards an omnichannel approach. Sometimes confused with multichannel, true omnichannel is represented by the ability to track and migrate a customer engagement across all channels of communication. Multichannel, on the other hand, may include those same channels, but operating independently of one another, so the customer journey is not linked in the same way as with omnichannel.

But what impact is omnichannel having on the nearshore, and can contact centers south of the border prepared to implement it in a way that will benefit their core US client base?

Tackling this topic at the Nearshore Nexus 2016 event in San Francisco were Robert Dechant, CEO at IBEX Global; Cindie Smith, an independent customer experience consultant; and Ian Jacobs, Senior Analyst at Forrester Research, who moderated the Nearshore Customer Engagement in the Age of Omnichannel panel.

Voice satisfaction and the omnichannel revolution

Ian Jacobs, Senior Analyst at Forrester Research: “the contact center industry is not a stagnant area, it is a rapidly changing one.”

It may come as a surprise that the omnichannel revolution is actually driving an increase in voice seats in contact centers, according to Jacobs. “This is not actually related just to digital, but as customers start to do more self-service for simple issues, the more difficult and more complex cases are the ones that come into the call centers,” he said. “This creates a perverse effect of having to increase the investment in voice in order to meet the demand of digital. You’d think it would work the opposite way but it doesn’t.”

Forrester Research asked US consumers what customer service channels they used in the last 12 months and voice still came out on top, but the other channels are catching up pretty quickly: email was cited by 68%, chat by 58%, forums and communities by half of the respondents, and Twitter was 37%.

Clearly, satisfaction is still high with voice, but more consumers are experimenting with these channels and brands and outsourcers are becoming more experienced with how to handle them. These experiences include everything from the tricky process of forecasting chat volume, to determining how to engage in a satisfying way with customers.

“Omnichannel is about consumer benefit,” Jacobs continued. “In fact, 77% of consumers say that the number one most important thing companies can do to provide good customer service is to value and respect their time. That fact should be at the heart of your strategy when designing an omnichannel approach.”

Nearshore benefits and challenges

On the subject of nearshore, the first resonant statement came from Cindie Smith, who stated that the nearshore labor pool makes it a better fit for the US market than offshore destinations. “Most workers in the nearshore have high respect for their jobs and they understand the American behavior and sociology at a level that is elsewhere unmatched,” she said. “It’s not really cost; you can’t measure cost, you have to measure value and you should capitalize on cultural fit. In omnichannel support, the more informal, sarcastic and humorous approach is appreciated much more by Americans, particularly in industries with a youthful target audience, such as gaming.”

Comparatively, Robert Dechant is of the opinion that the nearshore market is not one homogeneous entity, and that each approach has its own strengths and weaknesses. “If you’re operating in the non-voice, omnichannel space, then having same-culture, native English agents trumps everything,” said Dechant. “However, if you look at young people in any nearshore market, voice has become a secondary means of communication, as they are forever utilizing text, WhatsApp, Facebook and other channels instead. The potential power of that for providers is off the charts, because it is a key into their lives.”

Dechant continued by stating that the nearshore doesn’t really have a competitive edge in omnichannel over Philippines or India, but it does have is the ability to provide lots of young, educated people. “The trade-off of quality versus cost value has really dropped when compared to how outsourcing was views fifteen years ago,” he explained. “But the extra capabilities that nearshore companies need to develop to be more effective in the omnichannel are speed of typing and things like more effective grammar. These can help the markets get the competitive advantage.”

Smartphone apps and the one-to-one approach

Bob and Cindie
Robert Dechant, CEO at IBEX Global and Cindie Smith, an independent customer experience consultant.

All panelists agree that the pace of change if phenomenal, citing video, SMS, online communities, social media and messaging apps as being key catalysts for the current generation of immediacy. “Apps have become the first part of the communication supply chain, but platforms like Twitter represent the “one-to-many” channel of service, where many consumers can see the issue and get involved with it,” said Smith. “One of the ways to bring it back to the “one-to-one” approach is through apps,”

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According to Jacobs, while apps have proven to be a worthwhile approach, many brands have internal silos that embed the customer service inside the app, meaning that customer service teams don’t have much say in their evolution or development. “Secondly, consumers rarely download company apps unless they can practically live inside them, the examples being social media, lifestyle, and travel brands that can penetrate the majority of phones,” said Jacobs, who closed the point with a hypothesis: “If you could offer a stellar customer service experience inside an app and offer an added benefits to the customer for using it, then it becomes worth downloading.”

Innovative technologies and data management

It’s not just the unicorn companies (startups valued at over $1 billion) that are looking at cool new technologies. In the past few months there has been a flood of players that have introduced pilot programs to perform customer support and customer service over Facebook Messenger, including airlines like KLM and some small commerce providers. “Unifying the customer experience is the big challenge, and you need very robust technology in order to provide end-to-end omnichannel support,” said Smith. “Robust, cloud-based CRMs give the ability to build aggregate data across all channels.”

The process of collecting and storing this data comes with its own set of challenges. If a customer buys a product on your site, do you store it for a few days, or pay to store it forever? If companies begin to store every nugget of information about every customer, a data warehouse will need to come into play. But when used correctly, that data can become a major asset. “Customer service personnel would benefit greatly from the knowledge that a customer dropped something into a shopping cart, but didn’t finalize the sale,” explained Jacobs. “CRMs don’t register the absence of an activity, but this data is vital for any outsourcing companies with an interest in cross-selling to increase their profits.”

The combination of these emerging channels and the ability to effectively combine them into a seamless omnichannel approach is completely reshaping the customer service profession on the nearshore. As Jacobs appropriately stated, “the contact center industry is not a stagnant area, it is a rapidly changing one”, so outsourcing companies should look at developing their nearshore capabilities to better prepare themselves for the incoming omnichannel tidal wave.

For more highlights from the Nearshore Customer Engagement in the Age of Omnichannel panel, check out our live video from Nexus 2016. 

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