Contact centers evolve in cycles. As technology improves, customer expectations change. Forced to adapt, CX leaders rush to implement and integrate the latest tools and update their business strategies accordingly. This leads us to turn inward, focusing more on our own internal systems and processes and, unfortunately, less on the needs of our customers. 

That’s exactly where we are with omnichannel CX, the final phase of the contact center evolution cycle. Most of us have spent a good chunk of the past few years in meetings working out channel integrations, diagramming customer journeys, mapping out touchpoints and working out linear paths to funnel customers from web to chat to phone, or any sequence therein. 

Now those plans are the rules. And we’re just starting to realize that our customers don’t have the rulebooks.

The problem with omnichannel

On last week’s livestream, our lovely guest Michelle Caicedo told a story about reaching out to her phone company regarding a problem with her bill. After contacting them via chat, she soon realized she needed to have a more complex conversation, but when she requested to switch over to a phone call, the agent told her that would require her to call them herself, and then work with another agent to transfer her accordingly and access their conversation.

Maybe the phone company didn’t have the right channel integrations in place. Or maybe this interaction path wasn’t part of their customer journey roadmap. Either way, they were forcing Michelle to play by their rigid set of rules.

Michelle isn’t alone. 75 percent of consumers say they hate repeating themselves to agents, according to a study from UMB, making it their top customer service complaint. The close runner up, at 73 percent? Lack of coordination between departments or cooperating companies. 

The lesson here: The omnichannel model is in place, but customers don’t have a map telling them where they’re supposed to start and which channels are supposed to lead to which. More often than not, they’re simply given some contact points to initially reach out to, and are then expected to figure it out themselves. Best-case scenario, often after several attempts, they start to figure out how to work the opaque system so they can get what they’re trying to do done.

That’s a problem, because our customer’s pain is our pain. After all, 81 percent of consumers are willing to increase their spend with an organization in return for a better experience, per recent research from Capgemini. But according to a contrasting CCW market study, only 12 percent feel brands have taken action to improve their CX.

Channelless means refocusing on customers

If we want to get serious about easing that pain and capitalizing on all that opportunity, then we need to recognize where we are — right at the final pivot point in that cycle of contact center evolution. In other words, it’s time to shift our focus away from our own internal systems and processes, and back to the customer. That’s where the term “channelless” bursts onto the scene, because it’s about focusing on the experience itself, rather than the plumbing. 

Channelless CX means more than just streamlining the existing omnichannel framework or providing better transparency and guardrails. Even if our customers did have visibility into all our rigid rules, why should it be on them to worry about decoding and navigating them? Rather, channelless means breaking free of linear thinking entirely, letting the customer determine their own destiny, and enabling far more natural, seamless and flexible interaction flows across any combination of channels. 

Omnichannel was all about expanding and integrating a complex system of interconnected interaction paths across digital and traditional channels; channelless is about abstracting all that complexity away. It’s about making the system serve the customer’s needs instead of making rules that the customer needs to follow.

The 3 key takeaways

As Michelle astutely pointed out during the livestream, we already do channelless with our friends and family. For example, let’s say you go hiking with your family and post a few pictures to Facebook. Then your sister sees them and sends a group text asking everyone to share all the photos they took on Google Drive. After everyone uploads their pictures, you send a group email with a link to the album to make sure your less-than-tech-savvy parents can access it.

That’s channelless — flexible, organic and without limiting rules. It’s how we already communicate personally and share content today. So why don’t we approach it that way in the contact center? We can.

  1. Make it seamless — Just because channels are integrated doesn’t mean the experience is smooth. Work on moving from rigidly mapped interaction flows to a more flexible framework that allows you to oscillate back and forth between channels as it suits the customer’s needs. 
  2. Make it ubiquitous — Throwing out the omnichannel rulebook doesn’t mean throwing out the channels. We all know by now that customers expect to be supported across all of today’s major digital and traditional channels. Meeting people where they are continues to be tablestakes for brands. 
  3. Make it chanelless — It’s time to think less about journey maps and interaction pathing, and more about the experience itself. Next time you’re standing at a whiteboard, don’t ask, “How should customers flow through our process?” Ask, “Where is our process failing to accommodate customer needs?”

For more insights on this topic, watch the full LinkedIn live stream episode, “The First CX Club Rule Is: You Do Not Talk About CX Club Rules.”

And for discussion of similar topics, tune in for the “Customer Experience in the Cloud” live stream series with Valur Svansson, every Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. CT on the Lifesize LinkedIn page. To watch past episodes on-demand, visit our YouTube channel.