Multimodal: A New Mindset for Customer Service

Multimodal? New? Wait, that term has been floating around the contact center industry for years… Yep, that’s right. The challenge is, it means different things to different people and is often seen from a dated and/or narrow lens. Some think of it as adding mobility to the customer service mix. Others use it interchangeably with multichannel and/or omnichannel.

If we take a step back and think about multimodal in the context of customer service in the digital revolution, it means so much more. It’s one of our trends in our new eBook, 5 Tech Trends Redefining the Customer Experience.

Here is a working definition I’d like to propose for multimodal customer service in the 21st century: providing short, targeted bytes of information to customers – in the form of content and/or personal interaction – incorporating an optimal combination of communication modes (aural, gestural, linguistic, spatial, visual) and channels (chat, video, voice, email, social, mobile, Web) to effectively resolve a specific customer service need in the shortest amount of time possible within a single/the same interaction.


The need for speed

According to Forrester research, 73 percent (of online, U.S. adults) say valuing their time is the most important thing a company can do to provide them with good service.1 Most of us can relate – time is often our scarcest resource. This is where “…in the shortest amount of time possible,” becomes important in the definition.

Targeted multimodal CONTENT

Creating short, targeted bytes of content using an optimal mix of modes of communication is key to meeting the need for speed. It dramatically reduces comprehension time and, thus, speeds progress. Think about how we consume news stories. How our kids and grandkids learn science and math. How we approach fix-it projects at home. The simultaneous use of words, images, sounds and video makes it much easier to understand the subject and get to the desired outcome. Heck, even a non-handy guy like myself can watch a YouTube video in a couple of minutes and figure out how to fix stuff. This is exactly the kind of content we need to arm customers and agents with to speed resolution and enhance the experience.

Targeted multimodal PERSONAL INTERACTION

While open access to useful content will help customers better service themselves, there will always be a need for folks to interact with an actual human. These personal interactions must also be reduced to short, targeted bytes of information, and use an optimal mix of communication modes across available channels to resolve the customer’s issue as quickly as possible. This includes being able to effortlessly transition between modes of communication within the same interaction. And, importantly, content can also be used to enhance a personal interaction.

A buddy to omnichannel

Multimodal customer service, as defined, helps deliver a more effective omnichannel experience. Omnichannel for contact centers involves blending all customer communication channels using consistent routing rules, unified reporting and real-time visibility into omnichannel performance. Multimodal content and personal interaction brings life to these channels to help meet customer needs quickly and intuitively.

To learn more about how to create the omnichannel experience, check out our eBook, Omnichannel Is No Longer Optional.

How to proceed

Here are five steps you can take to get started:

  1. Brainstorm ideas: Pull a tiger team together to start thinking about ways to speed customer progress via effective use of communication modes and channels.
  2. Test theories: Identify use cases that short, targeted multimodal content and personal interaction tactics can be developed for and tested against.
  3. Create strategy and plan: Expand the team to include additional stakeholders to develop a comprehensive multimodal customer service strategy and plan.
  4. Execute plan: Begin executing on plan, including the development of a modern resource center to hold newly created multimodal content.
  5. Evaluate and refine: Define metrics to evaluate effectiveness, and refine content and personal interaction strategies to improve performance.

So go ahead. Be a change agent and help your company develop a new multimodal mindset for customer service. I’d love to hear how it goes, so please reply to this post or email me to share your experiences and insight. And don’t forget to download our new eBook, 5 Tech Trends Redefining the Customer Experience.



1Forrester, “Trends 2016: The Future of Customer Service,” 2016

Jason Alley

Jason Alley

Jason Alley is a senior solutions marketing manager for Interactive Intelligence. Since his employment in 2010, Jason has helped Interactive Intelligence develop market requirements and go-to-market strategies for contact center, customer experience, and cloud solutions. Prior to Interactive, he spent ten years consulting with large enterprise contact centers and suppliers for Vanguard Communications, and a company he later founded, SmartContact Consulting. Jason spent the first seven years of his career in sales, marketing, and product management roles working for Aspect, Hipbone, Nortel, and others. Jason received his bachelor’s degree in business economics from UCLA.