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The Five Myths of Omni Channel

Omni Channel – Harder than it sounds

Many companies are talking up their Omni-channel strategies and capability. It is certainly getting a lot of attention in the media. However, we’ve noticed that as organisations add more channels to their sales and service mix, there are some avoidable pit falls. Often organisations have added channels incrementally and over a long period. A common strategy is to trial a new mechanism like email, chat or social media in a dedicated team. This team then gradually expands and takes on a life of its own. Thus, we often walk into an organisation and find channel silos. Each of the channels has its own staff, processes and way of working and while the organisation may claim it is now delivering an Omni-channel experience, we think they merely have "lots of channels". We’ve been doing a lot of work to "join up channels". In this paper we’ll identify five myths about Omni-channel and set out solutions that have been successful.

Myth 1: Each channel needs dedicated and specialised skills

We know of one major contact centre that has chat growing fast. The GM of the contact centres told us that he is only hiring people with good typing and writing skills. We found out later that in this operation each of the channels has separate teams and there is no cross-skilling between them. However, the very same centre recognised that customers are jumping around between channels, starting work in one and completing it in another. So they have Omni-channel customers and a channel silo operating model. We’ve seen that often, channels seem to have become the new silos of customer operations but customers aren’t working like that. Unfortunately, this channel silo approach is a recipe for a poor customer experience and it is often very inefficient. In one recent client we saw the chat team creating long waits for chats, while the main call centre had spare capacity. That was a result of the channel silos. People couldn’t move between roles to meet the demand and there was no mechanism to manage cross channel demand.

Our solution

We’ve found ways to make it possible for staff to work across channels. We don’t necessarily agree with the fully blended centre in which an agent takes a chat one minute, then replies to an email and then takes a call. It’s very hard for staff to switch behaviours to do that. However, it is certainly possible for someone to spend a set period of time in each function and be available as a contingency for other functions. That allows us to provide the benefits of flexibility and let people get into the right work mode. This model has produced dramatic impacts such as removing email backlogs and helping protect call centre and chat service levels.

Myth 2: All channels are created equal for all processes

We were working with an email team at a client and saw the lengthy dialogues they had with their customer. Sometimes there had been four or five exchanges between the company and customer and the issue still wasn’t

closed. We observed that it was really hard to "resolve" complex problems via email. Not only did they not get resolved but the end to end duration was weeks rather than minutes. In two weeks in the email team we didn’t see anyone talk to a customer. Not once. Chat and twitter teams can be similar, it’s almost like staff become addicted to their own channel. On the flip side we’ve sat with call teams who can’t or won’t email anything to their customers and been in branches who have no process for email or phone follow up. Unfortunately this behaviour is common. Our observation is that few organisations have designed processes to span channels. Processes tend to be designed solely in one channel. Our solution: We have done a lot of work within channels to bring them together and create Omni-channel processes. That can be as simple as sending an email or SMS at the end of a call, or recognising when to talk to a customer in a chat/twitter or email scenario. We’ve delivered over 25% reduction in process times and higher rates of resolution by creating these cross channel processes. One email team went from a backlog of 1000 emails (three days’ work) to a one hour response time, because we converted the complex emails to calls that were more efficient and of course the customers got faster answers and fulfilment, so they were delighted.

Myth 3: Processes in each channel are different:

Another impact of the development of channels in silos, is that process across channels drift apart. In contrast one of the logical implications of customer’s expecting an "Omni-channel experience", is their expectation that processes will be the same. Sales is an area where we have seen ludicrous differences. Customers can get one price on the web and then a different price if they talk to someone, or a third when they walk into a store. Of course we understand that the costs of an internet sale may be lower and it’s an inducement to use the digital channel. However, customers still find it stupid and annoying. We’ve also seen massive differences in service processes. The web digital channel may need just one ID and password while the call centre asks for 3 or 4 pieces of ID. Customers just don’t get it. Our solution: We use our Best Practice Procedures (BPPs) concept to design consistent processes across channels. The BPP process is an agile process using customer centric design to create customer friendly processes quickly. These BPP’s iron out the differences between channels and as we’ll discuss below, also enable processes that cross channels. After implementation our clients have gained major increases in customer satisfaction, while reducing workload. We love those double wins.

Myth 4: The customer has to control the channel choice

We have written a great deal about customer choice, (see our recent book Your Customer Rules!) and we’re all in favour of giving customers choices.

However, customers don’t have perfect information particularly on which channel will be most effective. They often don’t know that it’s quicker and easier to do things a certain way unless you tell them. Some organisations seem to be interpreting customer driven Omni-channel to mean "we’ll let the customer choose", regardless of the implications. We think that’s a recipe for poor experiences and inefficiency. Most customers are extremely grateful to be told that completing a process in another channel may be more effective. They love being given informed choices particularly where the benefits are explained. This is far better than leaving them in a channel that will deliver a poor experience Our Solution: Another feature of our Best Practice Procedures, is that they can build in these channel choices and create processes that span channels. An example we’ve used many times is in call centres quoting complex rates and prices to customers. We often build in a process such as "I can read those out to you know or email them to you so that you can have them on record". This is a classic "guided" channel choice that saves the customer and company time. Most customers like receiving the email and jump to that channel. Often we get branch or call centre staff to show customers how to use the digital platform. They help the customer have an Omni-channel experience. So it is important for the business to know which channel is best and to help customers work that out.

Myth 5: It costs more

An emerging myth is that Omni-channel strategies cost more. Our evidence suggests that badly structured Omni-channel costs more, however, we’ve shown that done the right way they save a great deal of money. So many of the first four myths we have covered produce these extra costs such as - channel teams that are in silos and sub scale process steps duplicated across channels e.g. repeating identification as customers cross channels - using the wrong channel for the wrong process - letting the customer choose an inappropriate channel - not educating customers on other potential channels for future use.

Our Solution: Our process and structural solutions address all those potential issues. However, we’ve also shown that creating a multi-channel "operations framework", can ensure that the Omni-channel solution is cheaper.

Our Operation Framework includes a daily huddle in which operations management decides where staff will work today, (again there is more flexibility if staff span channels). Over the day our real time management process deploys staff to the area, (and in this case the channel) of greatest need. Using this framework we’ve had many examples where our clients eliminated the need for a dedicated email team, because we were able to show that the email workload could be handled by the call centre at quiet times. We recently set up a real time function that managed calls, email, web-chat and social media from one function and raised the service levels of all four whilst reducing staff. So true Omni-channel operations should be cheaper to run. Key conclusions: We hope this white paper has shown that there are pitfalls in Omni-channel, and also huge opportunities. Our clients are asking us to help them build Omni-channel operating models and we are being very successful in that by looking at process, (our BPP’s) structures and how we manage across the channels. That also means realigning indicators and incentives (the I in our PRISM model) and rethinking resources, training and rostering (the R of PRISM). We’ve proven this works and delivers some true Omni-channel operating models across face to face, call centre, digital, social and chat.

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