Omni-Channel Capabilities in the Contact Center

27 Feb 2014

The topic of this week's Industry Buzz podcast is omni-channel capabilities in the contact center. The UCStrategies team welcomes guest Karina Howell, Solutions Marketing Manager for Contact Center at Interactive Intelligence. Don Van Doren is the moderator, and is joined by UCStrategies Experts Blair Pleasant, Steve Leaden, Jon Arnold, Art Rosenberg, Marty Parker, Roberta J. Fox, and Dave Michels.

Refer to the transcript below for time codes for each speaker.

Don Van Doren: Hello everyone, and welcome to this week's podcast. Today's topic is omni-channel capabilities in the Contact Center. We've all heard a lot about multi-channel functionality for years, so the question I've got is this just old wine in new bottles, or something really different and new? We're going to explore those ideas and what some of the implications are for how people implement these systems.

Joining the UCStrategies Experts this week is Karina Howell. Karina is a Solutions Marketing Manager for Contact Center at Interactive Intelligence. There she is responsible for marketing strategy, product direction for the entire core contact center platform at Interaction Intelligence, and that includes a lot of the inbound voice routing, multi-channel issues, IVR, business intelligence, packaged integrations... You're really busy, aren't you, Karina? Welcome.

Karina Howell: Thank you.

Don Van Doren (1:02): So, let's get started. Karina, let me ask you first. Talk to me a little bit about this term "omni-channel." It's relatively recent, and how is that different from multi-channel?

Karina Howell (1:14): My take on this - and this is how we handle it at Interactive Intelligence - is that omni-channel, in essence, is multi-channel done right. As you all know, multi-channel has been around for well over a decade, since 1999, when I started in the industry in the height of the dotcom era. And was coined to refer to handling email and voice and chat within the contact center.

Now, certain vendors were always able to blend the channel seamlessly with voice, including us at Interactive Intelligence. Now when you start adding social, mobile and SMS came into the mix there in the middle, the term omni-channel was developed because one, it's been quite some time that multi-channel's been around - the customers definitely expect that it be done right. This means you have a universal routing, queuing and reporting engine, that the agents have access to the universal customer records, that service is consistent and continuous and meets the standards not only within every channel but the customer is recognized across every channel.

Don Van Doren (2:27): Okay. That's very helpful. A good start for us on this. What I'd like to go to, though, is what are the drivers that are causing organizations to look at non-voice channels and how best to add them? Blair, you had some thoughts about that, maybe you could help us out.

Blair Pleasant (2:42): Yes. Thanks, Don. There are two different things, really. One is customer demand. Customers today want more options especially younger consumers who, you know, never pick up the phone. Also, I think people are becoming or have been dissatisfied with the voice channel and want to use the channel that's most convenient for them at the time.

One statistic I saw showed that 21 percent of online shoppers prefer live chat and 63 percent of online shoppers more likely would return to a website that offers live chat. Also, as a consumer, I want to use a channel that I want, which may be mobile and increasingly social.

Then, from the other perspective, there's also the cost factor. It costs a lot less to do email, web chat, self-service. The cost per agent is way less for those channels especially since agents can handle multiple interactions at one time. So companies more and more are turning to those channels and actually trying to push them more.

Then, the smartphone is probably the biggest push for - or the driver - for multi-channel. More and more people have smart phones and all the different channels are available using the smartphone. You can do phone, email, web chat, voice calls, SMS. So customers have more choices and options and they want to use the channel that they're most comfortable with or the one that will give them the fastest response. So, I think it's all of those things put together.

Don Van Doren (4:41): Great, Blair. Thank you. Steve Leaden, you've had an awful lot of enterprise customers, too. What are you seeing in this space?

Steve Leaden (4:11): You know, it's an interesting topic, Don. It's also an interesting time to be looking at the contact center. We're actually engaged with two clients right now, both in healthcare, and actually one of the two has actually combined healthcare and university. The interesting topic of the day is the fact that the users - the user community itself - is actually coming up to the IT department and saying, "we're looking for multi-channel." So, we're not only looking for more traditional add-on features, such as IVR and Workforce Management, beyond basic routing and reporting. But we're also looking now for a way to communicate with our patients and with our clients, i.e. students, via SMS text messaging and mobility and other venues.

In fact, with mobility growing at some dramatic rates, I think it was Frost & Sullivan, I think recently quoted something around - I don't have the statistic in front of me, but close to the entire U.S. population will be that of smartphones within the next three years. And almost half of that will be tablets.

So, people will be communicating via smartphones and via tablets much more so and expecting, by the way, something in the order of an SLA that you and I are used to in Contact Center, i.e. the traditional 80-20 or 90-10 rule of 80 percent of the calls within 20 seconds or 90 percent within 10, depending what your environment is like.

And yet to this day when we do talk to users about well, what's your SLA for an email response? Some of them say maybe half a day; some of them say 72 hours. It's not quite under 20 seconds that you and I are used to.

So, I think to Karina's point here, it's very interesting how if we're using multiple channels here, especially in an omni-channel kind of all-in-one tool kit, we can begin to introduce these SLAs as part of the architecture and measure a text, chat i.e. call in the same manner that we've been doing a voice call for decades now. Back to you, Don.

Don Van Doren (6:20): Thanks, Steve. Jon Arnold, you have sort of an interesting perspective on this in terms of how some of these other channels make it easier to glean intelligence. Talk to us about that.

Jon Arnold (6:31): Thanks, Don. Yes, and this is a very interesting aspect of the topic here today, and I thought I'd add a couple of things about this in terms of voice versus non-voice channels. I think one of the key points here is that voice, by its nature, even though it's the most effective and preferred mode of communication in the contact center, is the idea that it's actually the most expensive. And for that reason, I think contact centers are looking to kind of minimize it as much as they can, simply because it takes up a lot of time and cost to service the customer that way.

The idea though is that, because VoIP has such value, where you can get more benefit is from speech analytics. Because one of the things that's missing from the voice piece is the idea that it's hard to actually get intelligence from the conversation, because it happens in real time and much of the conversation is live and unstructured, so it makes it difficult to actually glean intelligence from the call as you would from the other form of conversation that is captured in data form and is easily searched and archived. So I think that's a challenge that vendors like Interactive are going to be addressing through speech analytics, and once that becomes more commonplace I think this will be another way to add value to the voice piece of the contact center environment.

But as channels go, it's the most expensive to use. So this makes it more valuable, and worthwhile doing for the contact center. I think that would help change the mix a little bit in terms of the shift from voice to non-voice mode, but clearly voice will always have a place in the contact center, and I think we'll see more of that coming with these types of speech analytics and big data-related applications.

Don Van Doren (8:24): Thanks very much, Jon. Art Rosenberg, you had some thoughts about outbound.

Art Rosenberg (8:29): Yes. Especially with mobility, people now are much more accessible. It's not a one-way street for inbound and then that's it; that's when you have your connection. Now we have the opportunity with automated business processes to notify - customer service providers can do that - and let them know about important timely information. And I'm not thinking so much about telemarketing, which could be abused, but certainly in healthcare to be notified that we detect a problem with your wearable device; your heart rate has gone up; get yourself into the emergency room, or something like this.

Outbound notifications come into play not just inbound. The contact center never was just inbound, but now it's all coming together in terms of the modality of contact. So the notifications can be sent in a variety of ways to the smartphones because you know you can get to them; you don't have to wait until somebody gets home and then you could call them, or send them something on their desktop.

Outbound activity is going to be a trigger for a lot of inbound because when you send an outbound notification it could indicate what you should be doing and how you should be doing it, whether you go to a website, whether you contact a particular person or you respond however they want you to respond.

So, it's closing the loop between outbound and inbound. And in outbound you have the same issue of what mode do you want to notify them with? Is it going to be a phone call? Is it going to be a message? Is it going to be just a buzz in your ear, whatever, something to let you know, hopefully, in relative real-time. Hey, we got something for you and you can go and follow up on that.

Don Van Doren (10:27): Perfect. Thanks, Art. Let's go in a different direction now. What kind of adoption are we seeing of all these different channel types that people are introducing? Karina, what's been the experience there at Interactive Intelligence?

Karina Howell (10:39): Just this morning I pulled some data from our base of premise-based customers, and 40 percent have purchase licenses to blend channels: voice, email and chat. And for CaaS, this number's even higher.

Now we've been at this for a long time with these channels and blending. There's also some great data that came out from Dimension Data, a survey of 811 contact centers. Just looking at channel by channel, email - 87 percent doing email in one way, shape or form. SMS - 40 percent.

Most significant, and we're really seeing this at Interactive Intelligence, demand for web chat is surging - 29 percent already have web chat in their contact center; 21 percent are planning to adopt. The driver for this, of course, younger generations; also, massive growth of mobile devices all over the world.

Don Van Doren (11:38): Very interesting. Those statistics are really telling, I think, for how this is starting to shift. Blair? What comments do you have on this one?

Blair Pleasant (11:48): Yeah, and I'm looking at totally different statistics. This is a study done by Contact Babble and they're showing SMS is only 7 percent - no, 0.7 percent. Social 1.6 percent of all the interactions. Email is about 12 percent of all interactions. And telephone is way... 70 percent of all interactions. So even though some companies may be offering it, it's just not as ubiquitous as we'd like to see. And the numbers I've seen are that multi-channel is still only about 10 percent of all the interactions or only 10 percent of contact centers really offer real multi-channel.

So I think there are some discrepancies about what's really going on out there in the market. I know as a customer, obviously we're seeing a lot more web chat and it's being offered by a lot more companies but not necessarily being done in the right way, which, I think Michael's going to talk about.

Some of the options are out there but it may not be as obvious to people and it may not be as easy to access. So I think companies need to do a better job of promoting some of these other channels, especially social, which, you know, I can talk about for a full hour.

Don Van Doren (13:00): Yes, I know. Well, that's a really interesting point. And I think we are seeing some discrepancies in terms of where this is. I wonder is some of the issue based on the industry segments? I mean, are we seeing some greater interest in some segments over others? Marty, what's you sense on that?

Marty Parker (13:18): Well Don, I think that it absolutely will be - it will be differentiated by industry segment. So first, I'll make a couple comments that are always true when you're seeing a significant change like we're seeing in communications patterns in the industry.

The first is it will always appear that the old method continues to dominate for some long time. So yes, it will always look like voice is still the biggest deal right until it drops off a cliff. What we are seeing is that communications and work flows can be automated. And Interactive Intelligence, not to take us off the topic, but to relate to the topic, has some very nice business process automation tools.

When you look in those business process automation tools, one of the things they do first is get rid of expensive human communications. You know, the expense in the contact center as we know is not the technology, it's the people. And therefore, you want to automate the processes as much as you can. The web has done that for us. Mobile apps do that for us. And so as my fellow experts have suggested, you want the contact when you get to that point in the business process or the sales transaction or the information search.... you want the contact to be in context. So, if I'm into a web chat, for example, if I'm into searching for a problem solution on a help page and I can't find it, I may go to web chat but I may have to get to live conversation, as has been suggested. I may need to be able to escalate.

What I believe will happen is even though the early indications are all about consumers, I think there's more business-to-business omni-channel work going on than we may perceive. If I'm trying to drive my supply chain most efficiently, that supply chain, in large part, is going to be working from terminals inside business applications and so forth.

So they may be quite ready to interact with me through text or IM, federated instant messaging or through web chat or through click-to-communicate to go live. That may lead to document sharing. It may lead to video so we're going to see a lot of work going on inside the business processes on a B-to-B basis.

I think in the B-to-C category it's exactly what a number of others have said. However, I think that will be driven by the demographics of the population. So for example, I've heard Steve suggesting that there would be interest within healthcare. I got it. But it may be that that's often going to be automated and then it's only the exception that needs to be brought into an omni-channel environment.

But I think that consumer marketing of products, of entertainment, of content, those are all places where we're going to want multi-channel because the demographic will go across populations. People of all ages sit in front of their TV and some are going to want to interact by phone and others will be happy doing it through an on-screen wave of their hand through the panel through their connect terminal.

So I think we'll see a variety in the consumer space and yet I would not overlook manufacturing as a place where it's going to happen as well. So, those are my thoughts, Don. It'll vary by the demographics and by the process automation.

Don Van Doren (17:05): Very interesting. Roberta, what are you seeing within your space of customers and clients?

Roberta J. Fox (17:12): Well, your question about the segments is interesting. I agree with both Steve and Marty and Blair that the utility telecom, financial and regional governments seem to want to do the omni-channel or multi-channel. They seem to be looking at it for three major reasons, to extend hours of coverage, to add flexible staff with new media types, while reducing their cost per transaction across consumer and customer.

I agree with the folks about the interest in healthcare, but it seems to be the industry sector that wants to do it the most and we as patients want to do it the most. But it seems to be lagging due to concerns about information management security.

The last point that I thought was interesting that my fellow experts hadn't brought up is they were looking originally to reduce cost and to give different channels. I think the thing that's coming up - and Blair, this is near and dear to your heart - particularly when you start adding social media, by having the omni-channels you can have a consistent message that's professional across all the different channels. So, it's not at the whim of the agent and their wording and their grammar.

I think that's an interesting spin to be able to say, you know, for the high risk like healthcare, hey, omni-channel can mean I can have a script or I can have something automated to make sure I'm following the processes.

Don Van Doren (18:39): Thanks very much, Roberta. Very interesting comments. Let's go to benefits. What are some of the benefits of adopting these various non-voice channels? And do they vary much from one channel to another? Karina, what are we seeing at Interactive Intelligence about all this?

Karina Howell (18:56): Well, the number one benefit that I would say driving adoption across all sectors and channels is simply meeting customer expectations and gaining the benefits of satisfaction and loyalty. So it's not that customers are going to immediately defect when they're not able to communicate via their channel of choice, but over time they will accept another offer.

And then, of course, certain new channels, such as social and mobile currently are able to create that wow factor to be a plus, a differentiator at this point. Whereas, not meeting expectations for email at this point is going to be simply a disappointment that will not be forgotten.

Now, at the same time, contact centers would not be blending if you didn't have opportunities for cost containment. And the good news is that there are improved metrics for gauging agent productivity for email and for web chat and the like. So, that's great.

You know, voice really is still king. Blair brought this up. If you don't have your voice channel right, it's very difficult to get your other channels right. So, we recommend implementing channels one by one, getting those straight. And then you achieve these benefits of loyalty and of course, when you get your loyalty down, you've got the increased sales potential, especially with web chat.

Don Van Doren (20:26): Very interesting. Very good. Roberta, any comments about what you have seen about adoption and some of the benefits?

Roberta J. Fox (20:33): I would add on top of what Karina said, I said earlier the extended hours, the remote staff; they may be able to use them. I think that leveraging the common information across the different platforms. And I think also whether that information going out is voice or scripts or recordings or videos. And then I think the last thing is that the whole flexible work structure and distributed multi-content is the benefits of multi-channel and flexible information.

Don Van Doren (21:03): Okay, good. Good point. Okay. Let's go to another place.

What have you seen in all of this omni-channel work that we've been doing that we would recommend that our vendors tell their customers about how to develop their strategies, whether the right implementation approach is, whether the right management approach is? What are some of those kinds of issues that we think we ought to make sure we convey to the vendor community and the channels? Roberta, you have thoughts on that, I know.

Roberta J. Fox (21:36): Well, this is an area that is near and dear to my heart. And I deal with it every day and our clients - and I'm sure that Steve and Marty do as well. I think the expectation of the vendor community in the channels is changing. It's not just about features and functions and an old metrics and old ways of measuring this.

The clients are expecting the vendor and the community to help develop the roadmap, make sure my strategy and my vision is correct, and to take a consultative approach rather than a product approach. So, they're really expecting them to bring even social media expertise, provide leadership and guidance, not just pushing products.

So it's a very, very different expectation, much more higher level and more thorough and much more business knowledge as well. The vendors that are winning the business are the ones that are doing that so even though one company may have better products than another, if they're not bringing that business in-site and customer service they're not getting their wallets.

Those are my thoughts.

Don Van Doren (22:39): Interesting. Good point. Marty, you had some thoughts on this one, too.

Marty Parker (22:43): Don, I would add to this that there isn't a lot of time for the vendors to lollygag on this one. It may seem to the major contact center vendors that they have plenty of time to deal with this. But I would recommend to them that they realize that things like web chat are being built into business applications in the vertical industries.

And companies are starting to respond to their customers through these alternative channels out of sight of the contact center all together. So I compliment Interactive Intelligence, Karina, for what you've done by being proactive in the omni-channel approach.

And I hope that your channel partners are talking with their customers to go out and capture and harvest and even examine the business applications that are in those companies to make sure that there aren't a bunch of silos being built up off of the business application side, or off the web developer side, in these alternative channels.

Don Van Doren 23:50): Very interesting, Marty. I'd like to just add something on to that as well. I think that you know, what we find when we're looking at some of the customers out there, is that many of them shy away from some of these new implementation approaches, new channel approaches. And they do it for old reasons. They're operational problems. Gee, you know, our people aren't really dressing properly for video conferencing... And there are difficult issues in terms of how do we capture all the channel information from different channels and get it all within a contact history record. There are challenges to make sure that the branding is consistent from one particular channel to another.

Well, these are things that need to be addressed. And I think too often customers have neglected to do that. They just basically said it's too complicated. And maybe that's the reason why some of the statistics Blair was seeing are showing some of the challenges in getting this happening.

And just as Marty said, the risk is that this might bypass the channel - bypass the traditional channels of the contact center. And so I think that it's very critical that companies step up to this problem and really meet the challenges.

Dave Michaels, you always have some thoughts about these things. What are sort of your observations about all this and about where the opportunities and benefits may lie?

Dave Michaels (25:24): Well, thanks Don. It's been a really very interesting conversation. And one thing that resonated with me was something Karina said with the "voice is king" statement. And I agree with that in the sense that that's where the volumes are and that's where the discipline and methodologies are. I disagree with it in that's where the mindset is. And I look at my own patterns and what I've been doing and how I interact with companies. And I increasingly am gravitating toward other channels when I'm given the choice. And I'm often not given the choice. And I think, you know, most of the UCStrategies team knows I work some pretty unusual hours and so I often can't call customer service during my office hours.

But even, you know, this morning I had to make a change on a travel confirmation and I opted specifically to go through the web interface and do that because I get the confirmation. I can see that the change was made. And I'm in control of it as opposed to going through the various voice queues and whatnot.

And I think more and more people are doing that. They're trying to use chat. They're trying to use the web and other tools to do their own self-service. And that's great until you have a problem. And it's very frustrating when you've already started this process and getting into it and you can't conclude it.

And so I think the multi-channel is more than just another choice or another option. I think it's really about a transition that's occurring in the market and the mindset. And that customers are going to increasingly insist and demand this.

And so the question is, how do you take that discipline that's been developed over the voice - and that when I say discipline it's the processes, it's the metrics, it's the management, it's making sure things don't get dropped. It's all that stuff under the web side and other channels. And I think that's the real opportunity that needs to be seized. And I'm really excited about it and how traditional companies are moving into multi-channel. I think it's very important and a good thing for everybody.

Don Van Doren (27:38): Great, Dave. I think it's a really important comment, just in terms of what companies, what the vendors need to do in terms of promoting this. And you're right. We're seeing new generations of customers and some old folks like us that are rapidly adopting that kind of an approach just because it fits our work style or our lifestyle much more effectively.

Dave Michels (28:03): Just a quick point to kind of summarize how much I feel about the self-service modes. I don't trust the hotels anymore with the wakeup calls. I don't trust the guy on duty that's going to write it down right and get it. I love it when it's an automated system that reads back the time.

And so it's that same thing with all my transactions. I want that self-service and sometimes you need help.

Don Van Doren (28:22): Very interesting. Well, this has been great. Good discussion all around. Karina, thank you very much for joining us from Interactive Intelligence. We appreciate your thoughts and comments and adding to this podcast today.

And thanks everyone. See you next week.


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