When I left business school in the early 1980s, a technology in development for decades was about to become mainstream: the cell phone. Prior to 1973, mobile telephony was limited to phones installed in cars and other vehicles. These devices weighed a couple of pounds, delivered about 30 minutes of talk time and took 10 hours to re-charge. Being the daughter of a life-long Western Electric manager, I read with some skepticism articles in the company magazine discussing cellular technology that would eventually mean everyone would have a mobile phone in their pocket. The promise was of untethered phones that would transparently know where you were – anywhere in the world.
Before mobile telephony hit the proverbial “hockey stick growth” phase, there were decades of research and development, technology breakthroughs, and early adopter success and failure. Apply this concept to customer-driven, omnichannel customer service solutions, and most would agree that we are now approaching the 10 percent adoption mark, and the moment of mass adoption is upon us.
As I was writing this, I was reminded of a recent headline in the Wall Street Journal, “The Phone Call Isn’t Dead. It’s Evolving.” It reported that according to research published by MRI-Simmons in the fall of 2012, 94% of survey respondents had used their mobile phones to have a voice call in the prior week. By the spring of 2019, talking had fallen to the least popular communication method, behind texting, email, posting to social media, and using chat applications. Just 45% of respondents reported having made a voice call with their mobile phones in the prior week.
The Wall Street Journal article highlights the changes in communications styles that the smartphone has brought. And yet, in only a very few cases are those changes mirrored in how companies enable their customer service representatives to interact with customers.
The technologies to enable contact center agents to talk, text, message and/or video simultaneously with a customer exist today. The benefits seem so clear to those of us who use multiple media channels simultaneously or in rapid succession to complete our personal interactions. Instead, by having some agents handle inbound voice interactions, others doing email, and still others – usually in marketing and not the contact center – responding to social media queries, some companies believe they are supporting the media channel needs of their customers.
While not all companies have yet implemented available – mostly cloud-based – omnichannel solutions, I believe the bigger barrier remains operational. This is similar to the many years companies did not implement work-at-home agent programs though the technology to do so was available. Companies didn’t believe they could get the same results with agents they couldn’t see.
Twenty years ago, even five years ago, true omnichannel solutions might cost a company more than a million dollars and over a year to implement. And I would take a team of internal information technology executives or still more dollars for systems integrators.
Cloud-based contact center and communications applications, with open application programming interfaces, have dramatically reduced the cost, time, and technological proficiency required to deploy infinitely better customer care. What in the past was only available to Fortune or Global 100 companies is now within the budget of companies with less than 100 employees.
Envisioning effortless customer experience is not difficult. It is as simple as every company committing to delivering to customers an experience equal to the best they have personally ever had delivered to them. Be part of the digital CX hockey stick moment and bring seamlessly blended digital and voice interactions to your customers in 2020!
Originally published Dec 17, 2019, updated Aug 27, 2020