4 Blending Methods for the Omnichannel Contact Center

You’re defining a modern, omnichannel customer experience and you realize you need to bring omnichannel to your agents to deliver that experience. It’s time to figure out the next step.

The men in my family are long-distance runners, so I have learned more than I wanted to know about running shoes. There are trail shoes, regular trainers, different amounts of support, flats for racing…. It turns out that you need shoes specific to the running you’ll do. Likewise, there are multiple ways to blend media for your agents. Which model you choose depends on the type of running you’ll do.

In this blog, we look at the options and considerations for choosing a blending technique.

Method 1: Omnichannel Time Boxing

In time boxing, you schedule specific times of day for agents to handle particular media. Within the time box, an agent will only handle one media type.

This is the classic method because it’s the simplest. If you continue to live in a siloed-channel world, the time box method is your only option. By the way, if you’re manually moving agents around based on a real-time view of your work volume, that’s not time boxing — that’s just painful.

To setup time-boxed blending:

  • Forecast staff requirements from volume, arrival patterns and service levels for each media.
  • Apply workforce management (WFM) scheduling to identify specific agent schedules divided by media channel.
  • Ensure agents adhere to the schedule by either manually shifting at the right time or using routing logic that routes automatically based on agent schedules.
  • Routing logic delivers work to agents who are available for the media type.

To work, time-boxed blending requires knowledge of the work volume by interval and a strong WFM practice to staff accordingly.

Method 2: Omnichannel Interleaving

Interleaving media — deciding on an interaction-by-interaction basis what work to deliver to an available agent — is what most of us think of when we say, “blended agents.”  It’s the most flexible method for handling variety and spikes during the day.

Interleaving requires a universal queue with one view of agent availability and logic that routes the next interaction, regardless of media. By sharing agents across media, you have larger agent groups that powers efficiency. Moreover, letting routing automatically shift what to deliver based on your routing rules makes you more responsive to spikes.

Interleaving raises the consideration of media priority. In a perfect world, media’s only role is as part of the skill matching to find a resource because you’re serving the customer’s intent — not the media they’re using. To illustrate, consider which interaction is more important:

  • An email from a high-value client
  • A very loyal customer waiting on the phone
  • A prospect on the website who’s just requested a chat

There’s no wrong choice, except for the one that only considers the media. Yes, I’m saying that voice is not always the top priority. Thoughtfully decide priorities and don’t fall victim to traditional habits.

Interleaving media lets you make the most use of your omnichannel staff. It can increase agent occupancy and handle shifts in volume automatically, but it requires that you consider how you prioritize work.

Method 3: Multitasking

Chat, messaging and social interactions lend themselves to multitasking agents — agents who have more than one live interaction assigned to them at a time. Multitasking fills the gap of an agent waiting for the customer to respond to the last message.

The concept of capacity powers multitasking, specifically how many interactions and of what type can be assigned to an agent before the agent is considered busy.

Here are some special considerations for multitasking:

  • Ensure multitasking agents don’t affect customer experience. Monitor their response time and the quality of their interactions, using both surveys and quality management. The rule of thumb is to have two to three simultaneous interactions per agent as a starting point.
  • Measure effort clearly. Focus time is the time an agent actually spent on an interaction. A longer-than-expected focus time could flag a problem with the context shift between interactions.
  • Beware of the concurrency trap. If you try to blend real-time asynchronous (chat) with synchronous (voice) interactions using multitasking, your agents likely won’t ever be available for voice. This is a mind-bending problem that I won’t go into here, but think hard before you blend these two types of work.

Multitasking fills the hidden occupancy gap for asynchronous interactions. But be careful that you don’t create delays in your customer experience.

Method 4: Multimodal

Human beings are inherently multimodal because we tend to convey information verbally and receive information visually. Therefore, powering your agents to use multiple media at the same time with a customer can mean the least customer effort and most effective communication. Consider these examples:

  • Text a confirmation number for a sale made on the phone
  • Pull up a current email referenced by a customer’s text
  • Add voice when a chat conversation becomes complicated

The enabler for multimodal is the agent’s desktop. First, provide a single pane of glass so agents can move seamlessly between media. Second, ensure business processes and references are consistent across all media.

Multimodal blending fits our natural communication styles — meeting your customer where they are. Providing omnichannel tools for your agents makes this model cost effective and measurable.

Find the Shoe That Fits
Time boxing, interleaving, multitasking and multimodal methods all have a place in your toolbox. And they all have risks you need to manage. Like my family’s running shoes, your reasons for blending and the capabilities of your infrastructure drive the blending techniques you use. And you’ll probably have more than one.

To learn more about omnichannel platforms and blending, check out the infographic, “Which omnichannel engagement center solution is right for you?” And learn how to take the first step to build your omnichannel CX blueprint.