Customers today communicate with brands on many different channels—each with their own specific qualities and demands. Furthermore, contact center agents typically adapt their communication style to the channel used. For example, an agent will speak with a customer differently on the phone as he or she would via SMS or email. In the same manner, customers also embrace different tones depending on the channel and may even choose a channel for a specific purpose. A frustrated customer, for example, may call a brand directly to resolve an issue, whereas a customer who just wants to check a delivery status may use instant messaging for a quick response. To respond to all customer requests efficiently, contact centers must decide if certain channels should be prioritized and for what specific reasons. In today’s omnichannel world, just how can contact center agents manage each channel so that every customer is satisfied?
Omnichannel contact centers have two kinds of channels: synchronous and asynchronous. On synchronous channels, live conversations take place with a clear start and finish. Customers often expect an immediate response on these channels. The phone and chat channels are two such examples, and instant messaging can function as a synchronous channel if contact centers have agents dedicated to this channel. On these channels, customers generally wish to speak with brands in the same way that they do with friends and family.
Asynchronous channels, on the other hand, do not demand real-time attention. Both agents and customers may communicate on these channels at their own pace. Examples include email, SMS, and postal mail.
One of the main challenges for contact centers is queue management. Contact center agents must consistently manage to offer excellent service on all types of channels without making customers wait in queues for long periods of time. This is especially difficult during activity peaks, whether they be seasonal or due to other circumstances (the current pandemic being another example, such as when customers call airlines to change reservations). However, contact centers can manage synchronous and asynchronous channels with maximum efficiency using specific contact center technologies and strategies. Efficiency begins with giving special attention to managing synchronous channels first, as these channels require immediate attention.
For example, wait queues may be personalized depending on each customer’s individual needs. When a customer calls a company, an IVR, or Interactive Voice Response, menu can be used. IVR systems are telephony menu systems that use touch-tone or speech recognition technology to identify callers, gather relevant information about them, and ultimately direct them to the most qualified agent available through a series of prompts. When a customer makes a call, for example, an automated voice may begin with a welcome greeting that offers important information such as current company events or hours of contact center operations. Then, the customer may be offered several menu options to choose from. The customer might name certain keywords or press “1” or “2” to proceed to the next step. Ultimately, the customer will be directed to the most qualified agent available, allowing for an improved customer experience while ensuring that no specific agents or departments are overwhelmed with contacts from customers they are not trained to assist.
Another essential tool is the ACD, or Automatic Call Distribution. This system uses preset distribution rules to route inbound contacts to the right agent. With ACD, call flows are automatically directed to the internal or external teams in charge of each issue for greater efficiency. This function allows contact centers to adjust the distribution of call flows, optimize call routing, and manage wait queues and activity peaks in real time without any need for additional IT support or infrastructure.
These tools ultimately support call routing, which ensures that inbound calls are eventually directed to agents who can assist customers. Call routing may take place in a random fashion, in which customers are directed to any agent who is available at the moment. Skills-based routing, on the other hand, may direct customers to agents with specific skillsets. For example, an agent may have certain technical skills or product knowledge. During activity peaks, calls may also be routed to other agents and departments to handle overflow. And if no one is available to take a call right away, customers may receive the option of a callback at a later time. As the phone number is registered immediately (within the contact center solution), a callback ticket will be created. The customer may then receive a callback at his or her preferred time or when the next agent becomes available. With all of these tools and strategies, contact centers are ultimately able to maximize efficiency by managing synchronous channels in real time while simultaneously taking care of asynchronous channels at quieter times when customers do not demand immediate attention.
Agents do not speak to customers in the same way on every channel. A phone conversation does not sound the same as an exchange over SMS or instant messaging, for example, as spoken and written language are different in style and tone. So how can agents manage all these channels efficiently? And is it even possible for an agent to manage it all?
Contact centers may decide to prioritize and organize themselves according to channel. For example, they may decide to distinguish synchronous channels from asynchronous channels and manage each set differently. Specific agents may be assigned to synchronous channels, while another set of agents may mostly handle asynchronous channels However, agents working on asynchronous channels may easily switch to synchronous channels during activity peaks when more support is needed. This allows contact centers to ensure that synchronous channels—the ones that require immediate attention— are always managed efficiently in real time while asynchronous channels are managed in a slower but still efficient manner. Another management style involves staffing channels according to agent skills. As phone is the most important contact center channel, all agents should be trained to work on it efficiently. However, agents can be trained to have flexible skills that allow them to manage other channels as well. For example, an agent may also receive additional training for communicating on instant messaging with the proper tone and conveying the right brand image. Agents should be assigned to channels for which they are the most skilled, so that the most competent agents are given the most important channels.
However, contact centers may also choose to route customers based on the complexity of a request. For example, if a customer contacts an agent on an instant messaging channel and the agent lacks the skills to respond effectively to the request, the customer may be switched to a phone call handled by a more competent agent. In this manner, difficult technical questions may be routed immediately to expert agents with the right knowledge.
There are many ways to organize contact centers so that both synchronous and asynchronous channels are managed with maximum efficiency. No matter how your contact center chooses to manage these channels, remember that every channel needs the same attention and service quality in order to guarantee a consistent and seamless customer experience.
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