Multi-Channel Contact Centers Help Deliver Exceptional Customer Experience

by Matt Rocco 6. April 2012 21:06


Contact centers are constantly focused on narrowing down on a right mix of channels to provide a unified communication platform for great customer experience. They are experiencing the necessity to undergo transition from a conventional center into a more dynamic multi-channel contact center offering customer service through multiple touch-points. With rapidly expanding technological innovations, customers are exploring new touch points to get in contact with businesses. In order to efficiently cater to the growing base of tech-savvy customers, contact centers need an optimized integrated platform that encompasses all types of contact channels to improve their customer-engagement methods while reducing the costs and increasing revenue.

According to Right Now Multi-Channel Contact Center Survey of more than 300 companies, more than half say their average cost per call is $6 or less, more than half state that their average email response time is 12 hours or less, and the majority says their chat agents handle one to three chats simultaneously.¹

Interactions in Multi-Channel Environment

Customers use different channels such as voice, IVR, email, chat, and web to reach contact centers to get their questions answered. According to a recent study by Enghouse Interactive and ContactBabel, the way customers contact call centers has changed significantly.²

  • Phone interactions accounted for 76.2% of entire inbound interactions in 2007. This number falls to 71.6% in 2011.
  • Emails accounted for 6.9% of entire inbound interactions in 2007, and rose to 10.2% in 2011.
  • Live chat accounted for 1.2% of total inbound interactions in 2007, but it showed significant growth settling at 1.8% in 2011.
  • IVR accounted for 6.9% of total inbound interactions in 2007 and increased to 12.2% in 2011.

Live chat showed significant growth prospects with figures jumping from 1.8% in 2011 to 2.5% in early 2012.³ Customers are favoring the online chat channel as it better addresses their needs and queries. The agents can handle multiple chat sessions while offering cost-effectiveness as compared to voice and IVR. Live chat has gained greater acceptance from customers due to its ability to provide real-time responses to queries, ease of use, faster resolution, and convenience. According to the study, the live chat channel will account for 5% of the total inbound interactions to the contact centers by 2015.³

Strategy for Multichannel Handling

As contact centers embrace the multi-channel environment to serve customers, they face the same issues as any other contact center including agent skill sets, workforce management, metrics and reporting. Many contact centers employ multi-skilled routing strategies across multiple sites in order to provide quality customer service. There is the need to have a robust and proven multichannel contact center management strategy in place.

  • One way to handle multichannel contacts is to create dedicated agent pools. Dedicated groups can cater to each channel individually. One group can handle inbound calls, another can handle emails, one can handle web chat, etc.
  • Another method of effective contact handling is Universal Queue wherein contacts are routed to agents as they come. Thus, the agents may handle an email first, then a web chat, then an inbound call. This method facilitates cross-training and leads to management issues as agents have to face difficulties traversing across different channels in a short span of time. In order to overcome all these issues, the skill-block scheduling approach is being adopted. In skill block scheduling, agents have to focus on specific multi-channel contact types over a given period of time.
  • The contact center must determine the service goals based on the types of channels the center is handling. The center can define separate service goals for each channel as a uniform service goal will result in inconsistency.
  • Volume forecasting in a multichannel contact center helps to successfully achieve service goals set by the center. Volume forecasting is done in two steps. First, the contact center derives the arrival forecast from the history of multichannel contacts. Second, the center must create a handle forecast for deferrable work. Creating volume forecasting enables centers to take advantage of agent availability when there is low contact volume and use it to handle various channel types.
  • It is necessary to correctly determine the Average Handle Time (AHT) for contacts based on history. Determining AHT is crucial for creation of exact volume forecast. Determining AHT can be a difficult task for work such as emails because it is deferrable work. Correct AHT can be entered in a Workforce Management System to accurately conduct volume forecasting and build staff plans.
  • Workforce Management System (WMS) plays a crucial role in multichannel contact center operations. It helps to accurately determine service goals and staffing plans, and helps to properly disperse the volume across multiple sites. WMS will also help to create the right schedules taking into account skill-block scheduling. As some advanced WMS allows real-time viewing of multichannel contact handling, it ensures efficient change management as centers can modify staff plans based on changes in call volumes.
  • Metrics are crucial in any contact center. When contact centers are expanding to include various contact types, skill types, and functions, it is necessary to develop new sets of metrics that provide the right insights and deep analysis to help management better gauge the health of the contact center and make proper decisions. The metrics need to help control costs and improve the productivity of agents. New generation metrics can give more detailed agent evaluations, provide greater visibility, insights into investment, and improve morale.

Customer Satisfaction across Multiple Channels

When a customer has the freedom to interact with the contact center in their medium of choice, it gives them an immense sense of satisfaction. The multi-channel environment makes sure that the customers receive the same level of service on any channel and entire customer history and information is seamlessly distributed across all channels. Efficient skill-block scheduling ensures that the right agents are staffed to attain service goals. Properly staffed agents means less stress, higher job satisfaction, and ultimately higher customer satisfaction as happy agents provide excellent customer service. Agents who have exposure to cross-training on multi-channel contact types know how customers interact on different channels. Thus, they can interact with customers properly and provide good customer service.

Recent research by Aberdeen Group shows that best in class service providers with an integrated multichannel environment achieved 86 percent customer retention levels, 38 percent increase in agent productivity, and a 21 percent reduction in total support costs in a 12 month period.⁴

Well-integrated multichannel contact centers help businesses better serve their customers on their preferred channel of choice. Businesses can improve their profitability by reducing costs and generating higher revenue due to online sales.


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