Historically, separate technology systems didn’t integrate. Information from one system had to be manually copy-pasted elsewhere if it was to be taken out of its silo.
And this made customer service a clunky affair.
Customers interacting with businesses would have to repeat information if they needed to switch from one contact channel to another. Each channel was its own island.
But in the era of the omnichannel contact centre, this is no longer the case. Here, we explore the death of standalone contact channels and the new generation of customer contact channels that will succeed them.
The rise of standalone contact channels
First, let’s look at the rigid, standalone contact channels of the past.
By the 70s, businesses started to use call centres. Though primarily a sales tool at the time, the telephone was the primary way for customers and businesses to converse outside of a bricks-and-mortar store. And it was also a siloed channel. With CRMs not emerging until the late 1990s, telephone calls were largely lost in the ether once over.
Then email came along. Email at least offered the permanence of threads, so customer service representatives had previous interactions to refer to. But unless the call centre paid for middleware to parse those interactions into a database or CRM, email remained a standalone contact channel.
The rise of the internet also brought more contact channel options. Email became more accessible to more people as the home computer market exploded. Live chat started to grow. Social media, messaging apps and most recently chatbots, joined the list too.
Before long, best practice dictated that businesses offered as many of these contact channels as they could. This became known as a multichannel offering.
Customers wanted the choice of contact channel. But once they chose, that was it. Switching channel meant journey disruption, reintroductions, and repetitions.
Bubbles of experience
Standalone contact channels, as the name implies, don’t integrate with each other. This means that for all the choice that having a multichannel offering provides, service experiences remain siloed.
Every interaction happens in its own bubble. Customers would have to explain their issue all over again if they wanted to swap channel. Once the interaction in question is over, all memory of it is stranded in one of these little bubbles.
The thing is, the customer will remember the experience with your brand. They remember their experiences. They remember each bubble. And they want you to do that too. Even if, that is, they connect through a different contact channel next time.
Standalone contact channels aren’t good enough.
The problems with standalone contact channels
So, why aren’t standalone channels working like they used to?
Different channels are better suited to different support needs. If it’s a non-urgent matter, customers would sooner send an email than queue on the phone. For a fleeting question, the immediacy of live chat software is the best. For in-depth, urgent needs, the case warrants a phone call.
But sometimes a service interaction skirts the border between two channels. And then the customer needs to swap channels. In such a situation, standalone channels can make your customers jump through several hoops for one interaction.
Plus, people are busy. So, for support/service requests that need more than one interaction, using the same channel every time is a nuisance. As is being forced to repeat the issue or wait for the customer service rep to find the information over and over.
In short, standalone contact channels are set up for failure. Omnichannel integration is the new standard.
The shift to omnichannel
Omnichannel means taking every standalone contact channel and blurring the lines between them. And this needs to be the case for the whole customer journey.
Instead of standalone contact channels, customers should be able to swap from chat to call at the click of a button — without losing the conversational flow. They should be able to ask for an email through social media, and then click to chat or call from that email.
So, all your contact channels, all the ways a customer can reach you, get put into one big omnichannel melting pot.
Blurring the lines between your contact channels is all about effective integration.
First, you need to be able to recognise your customers and recall key information about their past interactions with you. This means integrating your contact channels with your CRM.
What changed customer views?
There are a few reasons that standalone contact channels aren’t enough.
One reason is the heightened importance of personalisation. 80% of consumers are more likely to purchase from a brand that provides personalised experiences. 71%, meanwhile, feel frustrated when a shopping experience is impersonal.
Standalone contact channels don’t lend themselves to personalisation to the same extent that they could if integrated.
Omnichannel is all about making customer contact a smooth experience — about recognising them and their unique journey with your company. So, interactions are personalised to their past service experiences.
Another reason is simply an increased awareness of tech and data.
The benefits of integrated contact channels
The biggest benefit to the death of standalone contact channels is the smoother, frictionless experience integrated channels can create. And the better the customer experience, the more likely you are to generate loyalty.
Catering to needs as they arise is also easier with integrated contact channels. And when 33% of customers want their issue resolved in a single interaction, this is an increasingly notable benefit.
Integrated channels let you swap and adapt to differing needs. For instance, you need to share files in real-time, so you choose live chat. But then you need to explain in detail. So, you use omnichannel calling, letting you explain over the phone.
Integrated contact channels also create more flexibility and accessibility for customers. For support interactions that take a long time, customers may need to swap channels while they get on with their daily life. For example, they might start on a phone call, but swap to live chat if they need to enter a noisy area during the support interaction.
The death of standalone contact channels
As technology makes integrations slicker and easier than ever before, it’s time for smoother, more personalised experiences.
So, the death knell is ringing for standalone contact channels. Instead of bubbles of support that burst once completed, customers want a smooth communication flow with your brand.