Traditionally, customers reach out to the help desk through email and voice. But recently, the customers have grown to start engaging in various other channels such as SMS, live chats, social media and the expectation is that organizations should serve the customers in all the channels possible – the goal is to be present where the customers are. This is what the term “Omnichannel” refers to.
I want to think of the Omnichannel Engagement hub as an Interstate Passenger Rail Station. Passengers could come to Rail Station through various channels (taxis, buses, local trains etc.,) and each passenger is routed to a different city/state based on where they want to go and the priority/urgency.
There is 1 theme that drives the Omnichannel Engagement hub – Offering the best customer service possible. All the functionality that the Omnichannel Engagement hub provides is to contribute to this 1 theme – no matter when the customer reaches out to help desk, from where the customer reaches out, understanding the conversation sentiment, supervisor monitoring the conversation, augmenting Bots etc.,
There are quite a few products in the market that provides the omnichannel capabilities, out of which Live Assist for Dynamics 365 by Cafex stood out for the ease of configuration and how it ties to Microsoft Dynamics ecosystem. Live Assist for Dynamics 365 even enjoys the privilege of placing itself directly within the Dynamics 365 Administration Center, so that the admin can integrate the Live Assist for Dynamics 365 with just a couple of clicks.
The Omnichannel Engagement hub is Microsoft’s vision of how the customer service desk must operate.
Channels are the ways through which the customers reach out to the help desk.
By far the most popular channel these days is Chat. This could be a chat with the human agent or the virtual agent.
Omnichannel Engagement Hub provides you the capability to quickly add the chat capability to any website and allows the admin to configure how the agents will be notified about the incoming chat based on the skills, agent status and operating hours and capacity. The admin also has an ability to configure a pre-chat form to gather the customer’s name, quick description of the problem and so on.
If the organization has already invested in Bots developed on Microsoft Bot Framework, then the bots can be configured to augment the service desk team. The bots, based on the routing rules can hand off the conversation to the human agent to optimally resolve the customer requests. As you would expect, the human agent gets the full conversation transcript if they choose to accept the hand off from the bot.
SMS channel allows the help desk to connect to the customers by using text messages.
The channel supports both the Inbound and Inbound messages with long code and short code numbers. The SMS channel integration is currently enabled by TeleSign provider. It is interesting that the SMS channel also integrates with the chatbot so that the bots can respond to the requests coming out from the customer through SMS. Similar to the Chat channel, the bots have an ability to hand off the conversation to the human agent based on the configured rules.
Both the Chat and SMS conversation transcript is stored in the CDS for later review or if you want to fire off the transcript to the customer for their book keeping purposes.
Recently Omnichannel introduced the Facebook channel enabling the customers to reach out to the agents through Facebook Messenger channel. This is really the harbinger of the direction the omnichannel is going to take – enabling the customer to reach out to the help desk through social channels which is quite popular these days.
There are other channels through which your help desk might be engaged with customers – voice, social media, forums, website etc., You may leverage in Microsoft Flow as part of your workflow to bring in any data generated as part of internal or external applications. These are typically handled by the CDS Entity Records and can be automatically distributed to the best available agents.
What about the channels that aren’t part of the Omnichannel? What if we need a softphone integration with the Omnichannel? The Omnichannel ships with the Channel Integration Framework that enables your team to integrate softphone capabilities and any other custom channel that you wish.
Work Distribution Management
At the end of the day, all the requests that come through from the customers – Chat, SMS, Entity Records must be routed to the appropriate agents in a way that is prioritized, honoring agents’ availability and capacity. The work distribution/routing engine that is provided by the omnichannel is powerful and flexible to handle the incoming customer requests and agent assignment.
There could be omnichannel queues set up for billing, order entry or technical support. Based on the nature of the request, the routing rules will dispatch the request to the appropriate omnichannel queues where the agents that are members of that particular queues will be assigned based on the agent’s presence.
My personal favorite use case of the work distribution engine is to route the requests to the Bot to gather preliminary information from the customer and then hand off to the actual agent for actual request processing. This way the customer is instantly attended by the bot, while the agent is busy handling other customers or complex tasks.
If you have heard of Virtual Agent for Customer Service, the bot escalation process can be seamlessly integrated with the Omnichannel Engagement hub to enable the scenario where the bot augments the human help desk.
Agents are the on the front on all the channels with the customer. It is important to empower and provide them with a consistent experience irrespective of the channels so that their productivity is maintained.
Contextual Customer Summary view
Omnichannel allows you to configure a Pre chat survey that asks a few questions (typically Name, Problem Description etc.,) to the customer before the agent joins the conversation. The Omnichannel searches the Account and Contact record and automatically identifies the customer based on the Pre chat survey response and provides a full customer summary to the agent. Also, one can configure the workstream engine to route the incoming chat to the appropriate agent queues based on the pre chat responses. This enables the agent to serve the customer instantly and efficiently.
Typically, when the agent chooses to accept the task, the “Session” is initiated. If the agent chooses to multi task, they can simultaneously work on various Sessions without losing the context of each session. This is very essential and basic feature of any contact center to keep the agents productivity high.
This is the fancy word for the chat window that the agent uses. But, it is much more than the chat window. It has capabilities to transfer the conversation to another agent, allows the agent to consult with another agent, search the knowledge base, link the conversation with a record, use templatized message or quick replies, or internally message the other agents including supervisors.
Imagine you have a checklist that defines what you should do when a customer reaches out for a question, or to report a problem, or to follow up on a case. This kind of checklist is immensely useful to ensure consistency among the agents and sometimes to even train agents on the fly. This functionality is typically called as “Agent Script” and commonly available on any contact center applications and as you would expect, the Omnichannel provides us with the necessary tools to configure the agent scripts.
Supervisor is an important persona to validate the agents’ interactions with the customers, provide them relevant feedback, control the quality of information transacted with the customers, help the agents deliver superior and consistent experience to the customers.
Monitor Real-time Sentiment
The Agent’s Chat/communication panel allows them to monitor the sentiment real time. When the agent picks the chat, the sentiment is by default “Neutral” and there are 7 sentiment intensities from Very Negative to Very Positive.
Monitor the Conversation
Supervisor has an ability to monitor the conversations along with realtime sentiment analysis and internally chat with the agent to guide them through the conversation and if necessary, join the conversation with the customer in case of escalations or sometimes just to avoid the conversation getting escalated.
Supervisor also has access to the dashboards that provide insight on chat and sentiments. The Chat insight dashboard provides industry standard KPIs such as Average handle time, Escalation rate, Abandon rate, Average Wait Time and the Sentiment insight dashboard provides information such as Average Sentiment Score, Postie Sentiment vs Negative Sentiment, Sentiment by various Queues etc.,
All the dashboards are powered by Power BI to understand the agent training requirements and also to provide better customer service.
Does it replace Unified Service Desk?
If you are already familiar with the Unified Service Desk (USD), you may wonder that the Omnichannel Engagement hub’s use cases are similar to that of the USD and if the USD is going to be replaced by Omnichannel? The answer is “No”. The Unified Service Desk still is still relevant to the organizations that has contact centers with complex business flows and UI automations to integrate with their desktop (legacy) business applications, whereas the Omnichannel does not integrate with the desktop based applications as it tends to work very well with simpler automations and contact centers that are low to medium volume and less complicated in nature.
The navigation rules, UII framework to automate complex processes and desktop apps integration capabilities are still a high value for many large contact center based organizations that has stringent Contact Center SLAs.
But the good news is the Omnichannel can work hand in hand with the Unified Service Desk to reap the best of both the worlds.
If you want your developers or power users to roll up their sleeve, Omnichannel lends itself to adding multiple useful custom features.
Configure Customer Summary
The customer summary form is auto populated with the details of the customer associated with the incoming chat. This form typically contains customer data, their pre chat survey responses, past cases etc., One summary form may not fit all the businesses, so, this form can be customized to suit the needs of the customer service desk.
Transcript relevance search
All the conversation transcripts are stored within CDS entities and the relevance search can be configured allowing agents to search for details within the transcript. Unlike the traditional search, relevance search leverages the power of Azure Search to index the data delivering high performance and can include inflectional words like perform, performing, performed. You can find more about relevance search here.
It is not realistic for the agent to monitor the customers’ activity on the website and proactively engage in the conversation without being non-creepy. Some mechanism that can monitor the customer’s activity and engage them if necessary could be immensely useful – like a sales person politely checking with you when you spend a lot of time in a store and look confused.
Proactive Chat can be setup to trigger if the customer spends a lot of time a particular page – knowledge base etc., or customer visits a particular page a lot of times. Proactive chat could popup a message saying “Hi! Just checking in to see if I can help answer any questions you may have.”
Smart Assist Bot
Smart Assist is a custom bot that uses Natural Language parsing service to monitor the conversation realtime between the agent and the customer to suggest knowledge base, cross sell or help create a record. Think of this as a personal assistant to the agent while interacting with the customer.
If you are using Dynamics 365 Portals with the Omnichannel, as expected the Omnichannel detects if the customer is already logged in and provides the information to the agent as part of the Customer Summary screen. But, Omnichannel is extendable to add the authentication token to validate the logged in customer if the website is not powered by Dynamics 365 Portals.
Install & Subscription
In order to install Omnichannel solution to your instance, you need to have an active subscription to the “Chat for Dynamics 365”, which is a paid add-on enabled on the Office 365 admin center. Note that having an active subscription to “Chat for Dynamics 365” is a prerequisite to enable the SMS channel.
Why am I excited?
Most of the customers’ help desk fall under the range of simple to medium volume contact centers and Omnichannel is going to offer them the capability to manage their helpdesk.
As the Omnichannel is built on CDS platform, it inherits all the extensibility enabling powerful customizations if the business warrants it.
The Omnichannel also plays nicely with the Low Code products such as PowerApps, PowerBI, Flow and Virtual Agent for Customer Service that also provides full bot transcript to the human agent in case of escalations.
Imagine one solution that potentially is channel agnostic as far as the customer is concerned – social media, phone, SMS, chat, 3rd party apps, IoT (yes, IoT can be a customer) that is off the shelf, but highly extensible, some through developers some through the business users without engaging themselves in the source code that can intelligently route the requests to human or virtual agents based on their skill, availability and capacity while allowing the supervisor to monitor with realtime sentiment analysis and engage when necessary, all powered by the promise of Common Data Service platform. How can I not be excited?