Using omni- and opti- channel models to put customer experience at the core of the business is fast becoming a basic feature for companies with multi-million customer bases, and the modern communications service providers’ (CSPs) pursuit of optimising their channels should be as strong as that of today’s banks and retailers.
Before the spread of the Internet, the telephone was the only way for companies to actively interact with consumers. However, with the advent of digital technologies, customers now want to use channels such as social media and instant messengers to communicate not only with each other, but also with companies.
“Usage of the multi-channel approach is nowadays quite wide spread by all regional CSPs who are focusing more on the new digital self-care channels like mobile applications and social networks,” says Hassen Hamza, Pre-Sales & Business Development Manager, Middle East & Africa, at Nexign.
Adopting this approach helped CPSs move from the single-channel concept – with a store as the main point of sale and communication with customers – to multi-channel by making all digital channels available to customers. However, the IT systems connected to different channels were often not aligned; in the long run, it was more efficient to address problems using traditional channels – a call center or a store.
The introduction of a new approach, dubbed omni-channel, provided a way-out of this dead end. Considering that “omni” means “everything”, this approach is grounded on the spread of a single way of communication with customers across all channels and fixing gaps in aligning them. The introduction of omni-channel was fueled by the idea that customer experience must become the key focus of operators.
“Some regional CSPs have started offering their subscribers an improved customer journey through adoption of the omni-channel approach. End customers are getting the possibility to interact with CSPs through different channels for a single purpose, and are able to switch between those different channels,” adds Hamza.
Building on the omni-channel approach, CSPs wanted to get more personalisation and a better understanding of their subscribers, and subscribers wished to communicate via a single channel which was the most suitable for them. To address the first and the second task, it was necessary to use “heavy weapons” – artificial intelligence, big data, and predictive analytics.
New systems, new subscriber behaviour
This has laid the groundwork for opti-channel, or the optimum channel. The technology is still being developed and few vendors can offer it. Yet, the future lies with this approach, as users are increasingly using their smartphones for a variety of purposes and CSPs are unlikely to lose this opportunity of becoming the main window for multiple services that customers need.
Hamza cautions however, that many regional network providers are still using legacy IT solutions – especially business support systems (BSS) – that have no digital capabilities, are unable to keep track of the customer journey, and lack the flexibility to handle subscriber interactions across several channels.
“CSPs need to enhance their BSS abilities by the introduction of single databases for subscribers and their corresponding interactions, centralised product and service catalogues, and enhanced Business Intelligence and analytics capabilities. Hence full BSS upgrades are required by most of the regional CSPs in order to properly adopt omni- and opti- channel approaches,” he says.
Adoption of omni- and opti- channel approaches further require a highly qualified and skilled personnel, especially customer facing personnel, who will need to know how to operate the new systems and how to adapt to the changing way of subscriber interactions – and CSPs will need to ensure that the right training is provided.
Another challenge is that subscribers of many of regional CSPs still prefer using legacy communication channels, and do not opt for newer methods. “Proper implementation of omni- and opti- channel approaches and optimised customer experience requires a shift in the subscriber behaviour towards more usage of digital self-care channels. To achieve this CSPs need to gradually restrict usage of legacy channels to limited operations,” explains Hamza.
What do chatbots have to do with all this?
Can it be that just one channel will be the optimum channel serving all purposes? Hamza says this is possible with the growing spread of messengers and expansion of their functionality, including the appearance of chatbots. A chatbot can replace almost all functions of a call center by answering customer queries from within the messenger where possible, or routing customer queries to other appropriate channels.
It is easy to see that both chatbots and omni-channel require the same tools to develop – machine learning, big data, AI solutions. Operators can successfully combine the development of chatbots and omni-channel, and further join these two areas by not just implementing common tools to support them, but also by using chatbots as an optimum channel.
Hamza points out that omni- and opti- channel approaches help put the end customer at the centre of the CSPs activity, with all subscriber information, interactions, data, and behaviour being tracked across all channels to provide a truly integrated digital experience.
This would help CSPs learn which channel could handle customer’s tasks and how this channel improves their business indicators, such as facilitating the promotion of value-added services. CSPs could even learn to predict the emerging situation and give customers what they wanted in advance.
“This opens up the opportunity to provide end customers with products and offers that are developed according to their experiences and behaviours. This can make CSPs one of the most powerful players in the future market where banking, mobile services, retail, and the service market will be closely intertwined,” Hamza concludes.