Think Twice Before You Change The Channel On Customers

The importance of maintaining multi-channel customer service options

Think Twice Before You Change The Channel On Customers image iStock 000017565257XSmall1Think Twice Before You Change The Channel On CustomersMany company executives view mobile apps and social media as a new way to market products, but their customers see them as new ways to get service. Unfortunately, many companies lag behind customer expectations and fail to use the power of these new tools.  Your customers want a seamless, cross-channel experience.  It’s frustrating for them when businesses compartmentalize communication channels into different functions or force users into a particular channel.

A Disconnect Between Companies & Customers

Results from a 2012 study of how companies use new communication channels found that most have failed to include them as part of their customer service strategy.  Instead, they continue to rely on older technologies to communicate with customers:

“Customer Service has not been a priority with new communications channels. Only 42 percent of organizations use call centers to communicate with customers and just 6 percent see customer support/service as the main purpose of new communication channels.

Only 48 percent of organizations use social media and networking sites to communicate with customers and only 20 percent use mobile applications, whereas the majority continue to lean on the company website (90 percent) and email (88 percent).”

Meanwhile, customers have a much different view of customer service.  A March 2013 survey from Forrester Research found that people increasingly use social media to communicate with companies.  The study noted however, that “satisfaction remains low” because companies haven’t invested time and effort in these channels.

Donna Hoffman, professor of marketing, at the University of California Riverside, is quoted in the 2012 study.  She explains the disconnect between company executives and their customers this way.  “Executives still believe that media is something they control, that goes from them to the customer.”

That’s a top-down approach that most customers don’t accept.  They’ve grown used to the two-way communication and almost instant feedback available on social media. Customers will visit the Web site to get information, but they also expect personal service and communication – particularly when there’s a problem.

Integrate New Media & Traditional Channels For A Holistic Approach

Smart companies know this.  They’re taking steps to create a holistic approach to customer service that integrates all communication channels into a seamless customer service experience.  Even small, local businesses can do this – and they must.  Word of mouth marketing is so important to small businesses; they should seize every opportunity to engage customers.

Many do just that.  For instance, Johnson Pest Control in Sevierville, TN uses a system that that incorporates a variety of customer touch points. After a customer books an appointment, the system sends that customer an email with a photo of the technician scheduled to make the service call.  This happens while customers are still on the phone with the company: two communication channels are active at the same time.

Other companies have found that customers often select a channel with a particular purpose in mind.  With restaurants, customer behavior differs depending on the device they’re using to access content.  People exhibit a “greater sense of urgency” when using a smartphone or a tablet and are more likely to make a reservation or visit the restaurant that same day.  Sixty-four percent of smart phone users “convert their search into a visit” within an hour.  With this in mind, some restaurants are offering device-specific content and apps.

Far from the top-down approach that top executives expect, these innovative programs give customers more choices and control over their experience with a business.  And that’s the level of service that a younger generation has come to expect.

Shifting Customer Expectations Require Businesses To Shift Focus

Businesses are seeing a generational shift in how customers access customer service, NICE found in their 2012 Customer Channel Preference Survey:

“According to survey results, a quarter to a third (25% to 32%) of Millennials report using the following alternative channels frequently: live chat or virtual assistant on websites, text messaging (SMS), smartphone applications, service kiosks, social networks and online communities sponsored by their providers. Baby Boomers (aged 46-60) tend to confine their interactions to fewer channels, preferring assisted channels, but expanding into text-based media like the web and email.”

However, customers receive service, they expect it to be courteous, correct, and – most important of all – prompt!   In the Forrester Research survey, 71% of respondents said that “the most important thing” a company can do to provide them with good customer service is value their time.

Even those customers who select self-service channels initially move straight to the phone when there’s a problem.  The NICE study reported that 50% of respondents call for help when self-service hasn’t worked because they expect live service to solve their issue.  In most cases, it does:

“More than 70% of respondents said they are successful in getting their issues resolved by speaking to a service rep. In fact, more than 50% said they have a 100% success rate when consulting a live human being.

Thus, the contact center remains the most successful interaction channel.”

Let’s qualify that last statement.  Call centers can be the most successful interaction channel – but only if they give customers a good experience.  At a minimum, you should provide:

  • Well-trained representatives who have access to the customer’s interactions in other channels: emails, live chats, etc.  Customers hate having to repeat the same information multiple times.
  • Informative on hold messages that offer service tips and other information.
  • Manageable wait times.
  • Ready access to live help. Customers across the board, NICE found, are suspicious of Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems and try to bypass them to reach a live representative.  Younger callers are the most impatient: almost a third hang up in frustration.

Customer service is no longer a one-on-one experience.  As many companies have learned the hard way, angry customers often hop straight from the phone to the Web, meaning that one bad customer service call can quickly become a viral sensation.  The phone may seem “so 20th Century,” but it’s still the tool your customers are most likely to use, and the channel where customers have the highest expectations for service.

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