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Meet the New 'Multimodal' Customer Service

2014-02-July-Fortune.jpgOrganizations have been gearing up over the past few years to support the needs of today’s omnichannel customer service enterprise, with the goal of offering a seamless consumer experience through available shopping channels.

Excellent work.

Now it’s time to change. Again.

The customer service game has leveled up with the advent of multimodal service. Where in the past a customer would engage in a linear progression of channel usage and escalation (engaging via a single channel and another separate channel, if needed, to resolve an issue or gain information), today’s multimodal customers have a very different engagement pattern.

Now, they use multiple customer service channels simultaneously (e.g., live chatting while Web browsing). And with multimodal customer service soon to be the new norm, it’s important to understand the implications, challenges and opportunities in servicing today’s consumer.

Multimodal Contact Center Implications

Mobile devices have been a great facilitator of the multimodal era. As they become more advanced and can support multiple channels at the same time (text and voice, Internet access and voice, app and chat, etc.), consumers adept at multitasking have begun to expect the same in their customer service experience. 

In the hands of the contact center agent, the ability to add channels when needed can greatly enhance the explanation, illustration and expedition of customer service processes – to provide relevant context to make the process faster, easier and more rewarding for the customer. For example, a customer dealing with a flight cancellation on the phone with a customer service agent can have a list of available flights emailed or presented in a browser or app for a quick overview of all available options.

But, with the shocking number of channel combinations possible for each and every customer interaction, one might be led to believe that multimodal opens up a whole new level of complexity — something the contact center can ill afford. 

Context is Key

As with any multiple channel approach, it’s up to the contact center to pull everything together to ensure that interactions are complete, consistent and coherent. In the multimodal scenario, it’s context that helps contact centers discern exactly what combination of channels best meets the needs of each customer and his or her concerns. Organizations must understand — in what situation is a channel most appropriate?

Many organizations have built their customer service infrastructure with a web or a call center mentality — approaches that can limit an organization’s vision and its ability to address the full range of customer needs. This is especially so in the new multimodal customer service era. It’s important to think holistically about channels and to adopt a “customer mentality” that is all about optimizing user experience.

The rise of the multimodal customer service model also raises new and important questions around contact center performance metrics. Many organizations are questioning what metrics to track and how to track them when multiple channels are in use concurrently.

We’ve already seen great shifts in performance management in the contact center and for customer service initiatives, as firms move away from interaction based metrics (e.g., first call resolution, average handling time, etc.) and embrace engagement based metrics, such as Net Promoter Score, customer retention, brand affinity and sentiment ratings.

I anticipate the multimodal movement to further evolve customer service metrics and performance management. Companies will devise new measurements that recognize the use of blended channels in customer service, with a focus on whether or not the desired outcome was achieved and how difficult it was to attain said outcome.

Eliminating Limitations, Giving Consumers the Choice

In recent years, organizations have sought to unify channels and “join up” a customer’s experience — to understand the context of interactions across various channels and deliver better service. Multimodal customer service raises the bar for organizations to create experiences that are frictionless — removing interaction inefficiencies for agents and customers. This may seem daunting to organizations that are still struggling to launch individual service channels and to obtain omnichannel customer service status.

But, free from the limitations inherent with each channel, multimodal customer service can enable organizations to make use of the benefits of each channel and provide a layered or additive experience for the customer. Like a Swiss army knife with multiple tools for different jobs, multimodal customer service can give organizations the ability to customize interactions to meet the needs of different customer journeys. It can also give customers the ability to tailor their own experiences by finding the channel mix that fits their needs and preferences. This can help customers get rich, interactive multimedia support when they need or want it.

Making Multimodal Service Manifest

Delivering this type of consumer designed experience can give organizations a powerful competitive advantage. But to make this manifest, they must be able to bring together the channels, processes and context to help ensure agents and customers have complete, consistent and contextual data that can be made actionable.

Will multimodal service result in more satisfied and loyal customers? I believe so. The irony is that, for years, the pundits have debated and prognosticated which service channels will earn the greatest favor with consumers — mobile, social, live chat, etc. It seems that the real answer may be all of the above, when and where each is deemed most appropriate.

About the Author

With extensive industry experience, Steven Thurlow oversees worldwide product strategy for KANA, A Verint® Company. Aside from being instrumental in driving KANA product innovations, Steven engages with many of the company’s key customers, helping organizations create customer experiences that are complete, consistent and contextual.

 
 
 
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