Good customer service can increase the probability of future purchases and boost long-term loyalty. If the service is both easy and useful customers may consider purchasing more products or services and they are much less likely to change providers. Customer experience increasingly serves as a differentiator. Companies who identify the most cost effective communication channels can reduce churn, increase customer loyalty, and generate new revenue opportunities.
These days, in order to fulfill the easy and useful requirement, businesses must bow to the new “digital” customer who expects to be able to interact with the business via a multitude of channels. While phone support is still the most popular, other channels are increasingly being used to let businesses know about problems with their products, services, and, yes, even (or especially) their support. Organizations that ignore this trend will fall behind.
It is important to realize that any multichannel initiative must be built on a foundation of appropriate technology and customer facing processes with the contact center in the central role. A Purdue University survey found close to 90% of customers felt their customer service experience had influenced their decision about repeat business. The survey also found that well over half would leave a company because of a bad experience with a customer service agent; a stark picture of the cost of poor customer service execution.
Access to multiple channels increases the likelihood that customers will request assistance, offer feedback, and complete sales. It also offers a greater chance that customer support will be able to resolve issues since the customer will be using a channel most comfortable to him.
For example, live chat provides the customer with written instructions he can refer to as he works the problem. With web-based self-service, examples and images can enhance troubleshooting efforts (aka agile knowledge). A contextually aware system can offer the appropriate level of assistance and information according to customer input.
Consistency and continuity along with choice are the most desired attributes as shown by customer survey. The best opportunities for improving customer experience come from proactive support, personalization, and cross channel integration. All of these impact the consistency and continuity of service. In fact, 83% of customers want a more proactive approach to self-service where live interaction is quickly offered when it becomes apparent the customer is having difficulties, and before that customer is forced to call or request live contact himself.
To maintain these customer preferences:
- The multichannel support experience must be seamless to the customer. If a transition from one channel to another is necessary, customer support should be able to pick up the threads of the conversation without hesitation. Customers expect that everything that has been discussed will be documented so that he will not have to repeat the story upon calling back or when switching between channels, such as from live chat to phone, or self-service to phone (agile channeling).
- This seamless experience begins with a single view of the customer across all channels. All customer information such as the account profile, order and billing history, and a universal history of interactions must be included in the customer record. Interaction history is extremely useful during problem escalations where the issue is transferred to a different channel or support level. Seamless multichannel service means any transfer should be transparent to the customer.
- Consistency is also important. All information given to the customer, no matter the channel, must match to avoid confusion and frustration. This is where it makes sense to consolidate all channels of support and to use common workflow processes and knowledge bases to assure accurate and timely information is given in every interaction. Customers perceive each contact to be with the company as a whole; inconsistency between different channels will give the impression that the entire company is disorganized and unable to provide superior service.
- A channel is useless if unplanned downtime occurs. Include reliability as a requirement when choosing an application or service for a channel. Another requirement should be scalability. As the customer base grows, each channel and the knowledgebase must be able to scale up to meet the demand both horizontally and vertically without creating silos. Not only does this keep information consistent, it also gives the system the ability to change channel distribution to match traffic.
Other processes that will improve the experience include a standard escalation process, company-wide access to searchable, online databases of customer and service information, and efforts to educate customers in other means of solutions that do not require interaction with the call center.
Other tools often used by customer support to streamline service include:
- Online searchable database of information about issue resolution, escalation procedures, SLA information, and field service scheduling
- Web-based solutions databases with troubleshooting trees, videos, forums, and the ability for field service scheduling
- SMS or email customer updating
- Customer service and support solution or CRM solution
- Web-based self-service
- Knowledge management solution
- SLA management solution
The phone is still the most preferred method of interaction with 55% of customers choosing this contact method, but of those nearly half reported poor experiences. This makes phone support a viable candidate for first improvements. Phone support already exists, it is easily studied, and there are many choices of solutions to help streamline, update, and improve service. In addition, there are any number of training programs for phone support already in place that have proven track records.
When introducing new channels the most efficient method is concentrating on pairs of channels. Implement two channels at a time ensures the cross-channel experience maintains consistency and continuity between those two channels regardless of when channel switches occur during an interaction.
Focusing on pairs of channels can create immediate value, help define appropriate metrics, and help build internal relationships between agents that serve the various channels. It also simplifies channel implementation. Trying to implement all channels at once could be confusing, lengthy, and counterproductive. Implementing one channel at a time risks inconsistency.
Faster, smoother implementations also help generate support from upper management who can more easily see how the customer experience and the bottom line will be impacted by these changes.
The following are some common channel distributions for various inquiry types:
- Self-Service and Auto-Email: best for uncomplicated informational queries, balances, product features, and coverage areas.
- Chat: best for more complicated informational queries, complex products, high value customers, or to reduce shopping cart abandonment.
- Email: best suited for moderately complex queries about back end systems requirements such as requirements for returned merchandise.
Aligning channels with operations ensures that compliance requirements are met. There may be requirements for encrypted data, secure data transmission according to standards, and building audit trails among other things. Keep in mind that not all types of processes work well for all channels. For example, chat generally does not work well with manual processes requiring a wait-time such as research or the need for a specialized agent.
Self-service channels require access to a searchable knowledge base that will provide consistent information from any touch-point. Inconsistent information causes customers to distrust the automated channels, and they then will contact a more expensive, higher touch channel. This increases operational costs and decreases savings for the support center.
If the self-service channel is not operated by customer service, customer service leadership must create a pathway to notify the self-service manager about usage problems so root cause analysis and reduction of calls can be pursued. However, this type of arrangement introduces a bottleneck which will increase the probability of a service failure.
When implementing new service channels, volume may increase as customers find new ways to make contact. Enough agents with the correct skills must be available to handle the new volume. It is also important to identify the level and type of support staff needed for the new channel volume such as subject matter experts (SMEs) and knowledgebase editors.
Customers must also have the ability to perform complete transactions in any appropriate channel. If the customer chooses to change channels during an interaction, she must remain in control of the interaction. For example, if the customer requests an email with a transcription of the voice interaction she just had, there should be a process to accomplish that efficiently and effectively. Tailor the options by segmenting and prioritizing call types to improve the perception of customer control.
Multichannel service is mainstream. Don’t get washed away by clinging to a single channel in the face of customer demand for more.