Today’s consumers expect shopping to be easy and convenient regardless of location, channel or device. This is driving the so-called “unified commerce” approach to retail, which allows purchases to be made, fulfilled and returned across brick-and-mortar and online channels.

A new study by CFI Group and Radial confirms this trend. According to the 2016 Holiday Retail Report, 87 percent of online shoppers say having multiple return options makes them more likely to purchase a product online. Retailers need a synchronized omnichannel platform that allows shoppers to return products in-store or ship them back with ease.

The report also acknowledges that the surge in demanding customers makes the holiday season a challenging time for contact center personnel. Contact centers play a critical role in boosting shopper satisfaction by helping make returns easy. However, a second report by CFI Group suggests that retailers aren’t doing all they can to empower contact center agents. The 2016 Contact Center Satisfaction Index, which uses a 100-point scale to rate consumer satisfaction with contact center interactions, shows an overall score of 68. That’s down from 72 in last year’s report and the lowest score in the nine years CFI Group has conducted the study.

The contact center traditionally has been undervalued by business leaders, limiting investments in contact enter technology. The study results suggest that organizations need to rethink their contact centers in order to enhance the customer experience.

This means moving beyond the traditional “call center” to embrace a wide range of communications media. While voice calls remain the most popular means of contacting a company, consumers increasingly want the ability to do business by email or through online chat. Agents should be able to move seamlessly among these communication channels across and within customer interactions.

Thanks to unified communications (UC) technology, organizations can create more versatile contact centers and a more compelling customer experience. UC consolidates multiple communications channels within a single interface and enables a contextual understanding of customer interactions. Customers utilizing the web to research a product can “click to talk” and be connected to an agent who is familiar with that product and looking at the same screen. Supervisors can not only monitor calls, but can initiate online chat sessions with agents to offer advice while the agents are on the phone with customers.

UC also enables the development of the virtual contact center model, in which calls are routed to agents working at home or remote locations. The technology is transparent to the customer. Leveraging a home-based workforce drives down the real estate costs of brick-and-mortar operations, and breaks down geographical boundaries. Organizations can create geographically dispersed contact centers that provide “follow-the-sun” coverage and help assure business continuity.

Technavio has forecast that the global contact center market will experience a compound annual growth rate of almost 11 percent through 2020 as more organizations seek to transform their contact centers to enhance customer service and revenue generation. The research firm notes that cloud computing has gained transaction in contact centers by providing a cost-effective and flexible alternative to traditional on-premises technology. Our next post will focus on cloud-based contact center solutions.