The proliferation of channels used by businesses to engage and interact with customers and other stakeholders has resulted in a much fragmented communications landscape leading to a loss of transparency, a lack of contextual history to assist in query resolution and an overall degraded experience for the customer.

In a highly competitive environment, where customers have the upper hand, it is painfully apparent that a new way of communication is needed if businesses are to meet the expectations of their customers. But, how did we get here in the first place?.

Business communications were far easier and simpler when all we had were landlines, and the only way to get in touch with a business was to phone them. This got you through to the receptionist, who transferred you through to the right department or person. The business for its part was able to get detailed call history reports from the PBX vendor and then use this information to gain insights into usage patterns, and better control their spending.

The challenge began with the introduction of the cellular phone in the mid eighties. A personal communication device pretty much put paid to the tried and tested communications model mentioned above, as employees could now reach out to customers (and other stakeholders such as suppliers or partners) directly from their own device, which often happened to be more convenient.

Today, it’s gotten even more complex, with website chat widgets, instant messengers (such as WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger), chat widgets on websites and even general social media platforms being used by customers to get in touch with brands – and brands in turn adopting these platforms to give their customers more choice.

Loss of customer insight, business IP

But, allowing customers to use the channel of their preference to get in touch with your business is a good thing, right? Providing your customers with a way to get in touch with you using a communications channel of their preference is a good start, but what happens when they have a conversation that spans multiple channels, with a different service agent responsible for each separate channel? Or, in the case of a B2B provider, what happens if a customer calls or WhatsApps their account manager directly rather than logging a ticket with customer support?

While the PBX of old couldn’t offer its users all these modern capabilities, it was quite helpful in that it enabled better governance within the organisation: they knew how many calls were being made and to whom, the volume of customer calls and what the nature of frequent issues were, and how long they took from the time a call was logged to the issue being resolved.

Today, each new communications channel that is added further reduces visibility, making it harder for organisations to maintain oversight of all business communications to ensure that optimal customer service is being delivered, and to be able to audit their processes to identify areas for improvement.

An additional challenge for businesses using disparate channels is that it is not only customer communications that ends up taking place over personal devices, but also the contact details of customers and other stakeholders, such as suppliers, partners and more – and there is the threat of substantial loss of organisational IP when employees leave the business.

Broken telephone

The implications for customer service are even worse; while customers might get the impression that they can communicate with a brand over multiple channels, this lack of oversight means that the history of communication remains split across multiple platforms, likely with different service agents in charge of each.

These breaks in the conversation – or disjointed communications – result in delays as agents try to figure out who the person is, what their query is, whether they have been in touch before and then having to switch to a different application or get in touch with the right agent (as can happen in a multichannel environment) in order to understand what was needed and whether the issue was resolved to the satisfaction of the customer.

All of this means that longer time is taken to resolve issues, and the support or service experience is degraded – ultimately resulting in frustrated customers and even reduced revenue generation and churn.

Seamless, personalised customer experience

By turning to omnichannel communications, organisations can ensure that all channels of communications are synchronised and available for viewing in a single location. This means that regardless of the channel used, agents know beforehand the name of the customer, their previous history of interactions with the business across channels, and if there are any outstanding queries that need to be attended to as a matter of urgency.

Imagine a scenario where a customer calls the contact centre, and tells the agent that they sent an email to support over two hours ago, and is still waiting for a response. Without a single view of all communication channels and up to date context, the agent will have to ask who the customer emailed and then track down the person who was in charge of handling emails during the timeframe in question. And, with the customer having to hold on while this process unfolds.

Now consider a contact centre with an omnichannel communications platform: an angry customer calls in, but this time the agent is able to identify the person, greet them by their name and – empowered by a single view interface with relevant context – know that they have an outstanding query, apologise for the delayed response, and then assist in resolving their issue. Which scenario results in happier customers (and contact centre agents)?

A unified view of all communications also provides organisations with more data on how their customers are interacting with them, and what communication channels are frequently used. This helps businesses better meet these requirements by ensuring that more attention is paid to popular channels, not just in dealing with inbound queries, but also so that outbound campaigns are directed to the customers’ communication channel of choice.

Humans + AI = a winning combination

Having a single view of customer communications means that organisations can start harnessing all this data to look at ways in which they can provide the level of quick, personalised and seamless customer service. They can also turn to advanced analytics, using both human experts and artificial intelligence or machine learning tools in order to better analyse their contact centre performance. These emerging technologies are not aimed at replacing people, but augmenting their capabilities to get the best of both worlds.

This includes finding out what are the obstacles to first call resolution, whether these are due to internal or external factors, and identifying improvements to be made to company processes in order to ensure that customer issues are resolved as soon as possible. Armed with all this data, they will be able to put in place informed strategies designed to retain existing customers, attract new customers and create an environment that helps turn more opportunities into actual sales.

In an age where competition is just a click away, being able to delight customers with seamless and personalised service can be the key to keeping them returning again and again. Ominously, not doing so could result in you losing out on one purchase, but a lifetime customer.