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Challenge Solved! - An Advice Column Only For Contact Center Managers
Sponsored by UlyssesLearning

March 27, 2017

Challenge Solved!          
An Advice Column Only for
Contact Center Managers
March 2017
This month we feature insights from Robert Gofourth, Vice President of Operational Strategy and Performance at BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina.  Read on to learn what Rob has to say on a hot topic in contact centers today.
The question selected from our readers this month is:
Q: Our company has been building its capabilities as an Omni-Channel Customer Service provider, offering our customers more options to receive service - voice, email, SMS/text, web, mobile and social media.  From an operations standpoint, it seems our channels exist in silos and the integration between the channels is challenging.   I’m interested in your thoughts on these questions:  What advice do you have for providing customers a more seamless customer service experience?  What do you think is the best use of the contact center in supporting an omni-channel customer service department?  Also, what can contact centers do to help customers migrate to other channels?
A:(Rob Gofourth, BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina) I think this question is top of mind for most contact center executives out there.  The interesting thing is everyone feels like they are behind.  In reality, we didn’t start hearing about “omni-channel” until about 2012.  So, in the scope of things, it really is a newer notion. 
I think the challenge that we have, particularly with folks close to the contact center industry but not necessarily in the industry, is that there is some confusion between a multi-channel and omni-channel customer experience.  As I mentioned, omni-channel is a newer concept.  Oftentimes, people like to focus on what’s new without having a true or deeper understanding of it.  They may talk about an omni-channel experience but what they really have is a multi-channel experience.  There is a distinct difference between offering customers access to multi-channels – whether it be phone, Email, some SMS texting, or other self-serve options – and offering them a truly seamless omni-channel customer service experience where all the various channels are tied together.
First, I would be very cautious when talking to others in your organization.  Make sure they know the difference between multi- and omni-channels.  If you have an organization that is multi-channel and you tout that you are delivering an omni-channel experience, there is a chance that you may not get the funding you need to be able to deliver a truly omni-channel customer service experience.  Research tells us that one of the greatest benefits of an omni-channel customer experience is that customers feel like you really know them and they expect you to demonstrate that knowledge when they contact you.  This is a tremendous selling point, internally, for funding an omni-channel customer experience strategy.  
Another challenge you mentioned in your question is the perception that your channels are managed in silos.  This is not uncommon.  Again, you need to start with your desired customer experience.  I recommend that your omni-channel strategy is built around your brand and includes a fully integrated marketing and sales strategy.  
Having said that, probably the easiest way to start a true omni-channel is to start with a clean slate, then you can put the right technology in place that best ties to your legacy systems.  However, most of us don’t have that option because we have disparate technologies supporting our multi-channel customer experience.  Frankly, it’s tough to tie them all together.
When you look at creating a seamless customer service experience, you need to have an overall strategy as I mentioned earlier.  As Simon Senik, a popular author, motivational speaker, and marketing expert, said so well – as you develop your strategy you have to “start with why”.   Company and contact center executives have to answer these questions:  Why do you want to implement a seamless omni-channel strategy?  Is it because your clients really want it or is it just because it’s new and sexy and you think that it will be better?  Because if you don’t have these answers to why you are developing an omni-channel operation, you can put yourself in danger of thinking you have omni solutions, when, in reality, you don’t.   This can create a number of aggravating customer experiences.  For example, you may have customers who have been texting or chatting with you and then need to contact you by phone.  When they call in, if you don’t have a true omni-channel operation, the customer has to start all over again with an agent and that becomes a huge source of frustration for them.   
Again, you got to have the right strategy in place.  You need to figure out what channels you want to offer and find solutions in the marketplace that can pull your different channels together so that you do have true omni-channel customer service.  It’s important that we always drive that customer experience in the positive direction.
If you are early in the process of building an omni-channel solution, one recommendation I have is to first tie together your “easier” channels (depending on your technology platform).  For example, it may be easier to tie your traditional call Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system along with some of the more manual or older technologies such as Email.  For many companies these technologies can be integrated fairly easily.  And, if they can’t be integrated, it’s fairly straightforward for agents to look at customer data in the CRM and Email systems to become more educated, giving your customers the experience that you know them.  However, when you start to tie together digital channels, it does become more difficult. 
Finally, to your question regarding what contact centers can do to help customers migrate to other channels in your omni-channel operation, I would prepare your agents to provide customers proactive education.  Proactive education is what we strive for at my company, it’s how we ask our agents to engage the customer, and is the focus of our quality program.  You have to help customers become aware of the different service channels you offer, particularly digital. 
Obviously, customers are most acquainted with using the telephone or Email to receive service from you, but they may not even think of interacting with you using SMS text.  We are seeing trends that more and more people do prefer this kind of communication, particularly if it’s not a complex communication.  In our business, health providers are using this technology a lot to remind folks of appointments.  Drug stores are also sending more SMS texts to let customers know their prescriptions are ready.  Texting can be a big timesaver and customers really like to engage with us that way so it makes sense for agents to proactively educate customers to let them know what omni-channel service options are available.
This month’s featured expert is….
Robert Gofourth, Vice President Operational Strategy and Performance, BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina
Robert has more than 20 years of operations and risk management experience across a variety of industries including insurance, mortgage banking, government enterprise, and outsourcing.  In 2014, Robert accepted the position of Vice President of Operational Strategy and Performance at BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina. Robert is responsible for the overall Quality, Compliance, Analytics, Process, and Informatics programs. 
Robert has been a certified Six Sigma Master Black Belt since 1999. After earning his M.B.A., he applied a combination of process improvement and operational knowledge to drive quality, reduce cost, and improve efficiency to the benefit of several companies. Prior to joining BCBSNC, he was with Citizens Property Insurance Corporation, a government entity acting as the insurer of last resort for the State of Florida. Robert first held the position of Vice President of Operations, improving performance levels which could compete with private enterprise. His final position at Citizens was Vice President of Enterprise Risk Management. As the corporate officer in charge of risk, he utilized his knowledge of process improvement and operations to develop and deploy the company’s risk program which ultimately helped the company in achieving its mission and strategic goals. 
In his current role at BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina, Robert oversees among other things, the quality program for Customer Service.  He has radically changed the program which is driving the customer experience through a true experience and not an interaction.  The program has moved from a traditional checklist to a competency-based form.  This drives a more natural interaction with the caller and drives a more positive interaction between caller and agent.
The ultimate vision Robert has for operations as a whole is to utilize predictive and prescriptive informatics in conjunction with performance data coupled with Key Risk Indicators.  By applying this model, operations can move to the next level through a predictive approach and deliver unsurpassed value to the Enterprise.
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