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Delivering a Personalized Experience: The Multichannel Contact Center

Blair Pleasant President and Principal Analyst, COMMfusion LLC

A single agent can handle multiple Web chat sessions and respond to several emails in the time it would take for that same agent to handle a single voice call, reducing costs by up to two-thirds.

Whether your goal is to provide the best customer experience possible, increase sales, or reduce costs, the multichannel contact center delivers. The question is not if you should support multiple interaction channels, but which channels you will deploy and when you will deploy them. By offering customers a variety of ways to reach your business and by using contact center tools that enable more personalized and well-tailored interactions, your company can enhance customer relationships, optimize the customer experience, reduce costs, and make the most of each sales opportunity. Here’s a quick look at the multitude of today’s customer channels and their impact on your business.

Web Chat and Cobrowsing

Web chat (often called text chat) enables a customer to have an interactive session with an agent via text rather than voice. Cobrowsing comes into play when an agent needs to walk a customer through a site and/or direct a customer to specific pages and pertinent information. By assisting a website shopper, an agent can increase the value of a sale by suggesting products and items that the customer may be interested in. Also, imagine a customer who has placed several items in a shopping cart but has not completed the transaction or a customer who has clicked several links on a support page. In such scenarios, a “May I help you?” text message from an agent can help answer questions, resolve issues, etc.

Web Callback

No one likes waiting on hold. With Web callback, customers can avoid the wait by requesting that an agent call them at a specific time. To request a callback, the customer simply presses a “call me” button on the Web page and enters a phone number and a preferred time for the callback. In addition to Web callback or as an alternative, a website can be configured to display the current wait time for live agent assistance, which, for some contact centers, is enough to alleviate wait time fatigue and give customers a sense of control.


Many customers prefer email because there is no need to wait on hold or go through a menu of options and email can be sent anytime during or outside of business hours. Email response teams are often used to respond to the burgeoning stack of email. In most cases, these response teams are separate; they sit in silos outside of the contact center. Without these teams, however, customer emails can fall through the cracks, and all too often, they either do not get a response or the response takes way too long. When their email is ignored, customers typically pick up the phone and call—which, in general, raises your cost of doing business. By integrating email into the contact center, your business can more effectively manage email and, by queuing these messages to trained agents, reply to customers in a reasonable amount of time.


The jury is still out regarding video. In many cases, the answer will be that no value is added; in others, video makes strong business sense. For very high-end purchases, personalization can be the difference between closing the deal and an abandoned cart. For service and support, agents can stream instructional how-to videos and/or demonstrate how to fix a problem. Video is also useful, for example, when a subject matter expert, who can be located anywhere around the globe, answers customer questions via a video kiosk. In cases like these, the ability of the customer and the agent to see one another can definitely make a difference.

Demographics also play a role. More comfortable with video than previous generations, the younger generation will expect video in customer service situations. While video interactions are accessed easily via PC, tablet, smartphone, kiosk, or interactive digital TV, they pose a challenge when a customer does not want to be seen by an agent. The key to video is figuring out when and for whom it is appropriate.

Short Message Service (SMS)/Text

SMS/text is an option that some companies are exploring for customer care, mostly for outbound notifications and proactive customer service such as appointment reminders. Some liken it to Web chat for mobile devices. Using a mobile device, for example, a customer can send a text to a customer support phone number, connect with an agent, and then continue interacting via text messaging.

Social Media

While still in its early days, the incorporation of Facebook and Twitter as customer service channels is on the rise as customers turn to such venues to complain, ask questions, get information, or just to vent.

When my cable TV wasn’t working, for example, I tweeted my provider to ask if service was out in my area. Responding immediately, a representative asked for my zip code and then confirmed that indeed there was a service issue in my area. This increased my faith in my cable company and made me feel that my issues matter to them!

It is clear that most social media initiatives begin in marketing, where they escalate quickly out of control and as a result are brought into customer care centers, where trained agents manage them. The incorporation of social media into customer care presents an opportunity—but it must be controlled and monitored carefully. Businesses should opt to manage social media by incorporating it into their contact center infrastructure, including reporting, skill-based routing, and other capabilities.

Successful integration of social media into the contact center involves:

When my cable TV wasn’t working, I tweeted my provider to ask if service was out in my area. Responding immediately, a representative asked for my zip code and then confirmed that indeed there was a service issue in my area.
  • Monitoring and listening to what your customers are saying.

  • Interacting with and responding to customers.

  • Optimizing the customer experience by engaging with them.

Keep in mind that it is not necessary to respond to every tweet or Facebook post. Just monitor and listen to what’s being said about your company, follow your established policies and procedures about when and how to join a conversation, interact, and respond to comments and questions. Some businesses turn to technology to analyze, categorize, and deliver social media interactions to their contact center. Depending on the volume and type of social media interactions in play, these businesses also deploy advanced applications to ensure that only agents with the appropriate skills respond to and engage with customers.


The prevalence of mobile and smart devices is causing contact center managers to rethink how to take advantage of them as modes of effective customer service. With the advent of more advanced mobile applications, today’s mobile-device-wielding customers can navigate through self-service options by using a menu that can be downloaded to and viewed on their device. Using this application, customers can connect with a live agent or request a callback from an agent who will know who they are and what their recent mobile activity has been.

Eliminating Silos: The Multichannel Contact Center

How often have you heard something like this from a customer?

“I sent your company an email describing issues I am having, but you never got back to me, so I called your company and spoke to an agent who didn’t know anything about me, my problem, or the email I sent! Having to explain my issue all over again really made me angry.”

Probably more often than you’d like.

Situations like these can be avoided with an integrated multichannel contact center in which agents can share customer case history information regardless of the channel. Voice, email, and chat sessions, etc. are handled by a common system; agent desktops are unified; interactions from all channels are queued universally and easily routed; and recording, reporting, and workforce optimization capabilities are leveraged by and across all channels. By breaking down silos, integrated multichannel contact centers enhance customer service, increase agent productivity, and benefit businesses that implement them.

Benefits to business: It is commonly accepted that it costs between $3 and $10 per call to serve a customer by phone, while each email interaction costs between $1 and $3. And thanks to automated, suggested, and scripted replies, less highly skilled (and therefore less highly compensated) agents can manage email effectively. Based on cost per transaction—and the idea that a single agent can handle multiple Web chat sessions and respond to several emails in the time it would take for that same agent to handle a single voice call—email and Web chat can reduce costs by up to two-thirds. Using a multichannel contact center platform also enables companies to dynamically switch agents from one channel to another, as needed.

Maximizing sales—even more important to many businesses than reducing costs—brings Web chat and assisted browsing front and center because these applications help speed customers through the virtual checkout line.

Keeping customers engaged and interested and providing information they need to make a purchasing decision can help increase sales and reinforce loyalty.

Your customers are asking for service on their terms, so if you’re not already providing multichannel support, it’s time to make the move.

Benefits for agents and contact center managers: In addition to optimizing agent utilization and occupancy, allowing agents to switch from one channel to another can reduce agent fatigue and increase retention. A contact center manager at a subscription fulfillment outsourcer told me that she increased agent occupancy from 80 to 93 percent by moving agents from one channel to another based on volume. With a unified customer contact system, contact center managers have a single reporting structure across all channels and therefore more accurate data on which to base decisions.

Benefits for customers: Giving customers non-real-time ways to get problems addressed, such as sending an email rather than calling the contact center and waiting on hold, enables them to use the channel that makes most sense to them based on their current situation.

If, for example, a customer has no problem with completing a purchase by filling in an online form but is uneasy about entering credit card information into that form, the customer can click to chat and give credit card information directly to the agent.

Why Now?

When a competitor’s website is a simple click or swipe away, the difference between a current customer and a former one can depend on the level of customer care provided. And whether a customer is a millennial, Gen Xer, or baby boomer, their needs, demands, and expectations have changed—in part due to the ubiquity of mobile devices and the increased popularity of text messaging. Also, global economic issues have caused companies to reevaluate operations and costs in search of where and how to save money and generate more revenue. By continually reassessing contact center activities, your company can meet customer needs without adding costs.


From a technological standpoint, most companies will need to expand their contact center functionality to effectively handle multiple channels and to integrate queuing, routing, reporting, and other essential contact center capabilities. From a staffing standpoint, companies must train staff (who are accustomed to communicating with customers over the phone) to use new media types—and to use them effectively. Careful evaluation and selection of agents for various channels is essential; someone who can provide excellent email responses may not have appropriate telephone manners, and those who are great on the phone may not have the appropriate writing skills for email and Web chat.

And don’t sacrifice service for efficiency. An Avaya customer told me that she looks at Web chat first as a way to enhance customer retention and loyalty and second as a way to reduce costs. She has the right idea.


To be truly customer focused, companies need to think strategically about customer service and care. As businesses struggle to differentiate themselves and their products, customer service becomes a critical enabler of success. Providing the kind of customer service that today’s fast-paced, mobile society expects requires that businesses adapt to ever-changing market opportunities and customer demands.

By deploying a multichannel contact center platform providing a single queuing and routing engine for all channels, a single integrated view of the customer, and a single reporting system, businesses can enhance customer service and support while reducing costs.

Your customers are asking for service on their terms, so if you’re not already providing multichannel support, it’s time to make the move.

Blair Pleasant is President and Principal Analyst of COMMfusion LLC and a co-founder of UCStrategies. Her primary areas of focus are unified communications and collaboration, contact center, communications-enabled business processes, social media, and unified messaging. This is an excerpt from a paper commissioned by Avaya.