Overcoming Challenges in Multi-channel Customer Service

“In this age of the customer, the only sustainable competitive advantage is knowledge and engagement with customers.” – Forrester

Companies and customers continue to engage and interact with each other, the way they do so has changed dramatically, and we think become more interesting. Earlier, customers could contact companies through one or two channels – this has now been replaced by multi-channels. Customers expect the same level of service through all the channels, and are largely unaccepting of discrepancies. People are increasingly using mobile devices to access information, and connect with companies – which opens new avenues for companies to reach a wider audience. However, multi-channel customer service is not free of challenges and problems, and it is the responsibility of companies to overcome these challenges in order to afford customers with seamless and consistently good service. The fact is that customers believe that a company and its support would always be available – all they need to do is leave a message and they would receive a response. Customers only consider the fact that if a contact option is available on the website, they must receive a response.

Companies have no option but to overcome any challenges that may stand in the way of providing efficient multi-channel customer service – customers love choices, and a number of channels through which they can connect with a company, affords them with exactly what they want – choices. Customers of today do not want to be ‘talked at’ – they want to talk back and be an equal part of the ‘conversations’ and discussions that happen around companies, brands, and products they use. Providing several channels is not an issue but one of the top challenges in multi-channel customer service is that customers should be able to ‘transition’ from one to the other channel without their data and ‘history’ with the company being lost or going awry. A company should have the ability to collect and collate the data and valuable insights from customers, from each channel, with ease. This would help a company to serve customers increasingly well, irrespective of the channel of communication they use.

There is no doubt that affording customers opportunities to connect through any of the channels is a great way to deliver top class customer experiences, it also presents a company with several challenges, including those of keeping efficiency high and costs low. It is necessary for companies to know how to overcome challenges in multi-channel customer service, in order for them to achieve their own goals and help customers reach theirs. To start with, and most obviously so, is the fact that making all channels available to each customer all the time can prove to be a costly and highly unmanageable affair for a company. Industry experts suggest that channels should be made available selectively based on the kind and value of the customer, the nature of their problem / query, and the feasibility of the company’s service operations. Simple and routine queries would much rather be in the form of easily accessible FAQs, or other web self-service options – not only is this a lot faster and more efficient for customers, it would also be more cost effective for the company, as opposed to agents answering calls – which ideally should be ‘reserved’ for troubleshooting more complex problems. The idea is to deploy channels that would be suitable for your customers, and make business sense for the company.

We have discussed previously too that given the many business priorities, companies are often distracted and fail to do a thorough job of listening to their customers as much and as well as they should. The same applies for multi-channel customer service. It is never a good idea to apply guesswork, or assume that every customer would be happy or have the inclination to use all the channels of communication. It is imperative for companies to ask for feedback and listen carefully when customers ‘speak’. Companies must monitor where customers seem to appear most often, and which channels they prefer to use for which type of service. Customers give information all the time – it takes a smart and discerning company to use that information and provide customers with exactly what and how they want service. Additionally, customers may not always know which channel of communication would be best for them – companies are the experts, and hence it is their job to guide customers to the channel that they would be able to serve customers best. It is a challenge, but companies must be completely honest with customers, and build the capability of helping them transition from one channel to the next without too much effort.

Another of the challenges in multi-channel customer service is that while companies must offer support via phone, email, social media, and mobile applications at least, the fact is that not every channel may suit the needs of a customer, even though she or he may seem insistent on using one particular channel. It is the job of companies to show customers that use of channel depends largely on the nature of business. For example – high-value interactions with top end customers would be best handled via a highly skilled live agent, while brands focused on tweens and teens could easily be handled via social media and other online presence. The idea is to respond to the customer’s demand for more intense personalized experiences, expanding the ways and methods of interacting with a company at their convenience, and providing seamless engagement with customers across all channels.

One of the prime purposes of multi-channel customer service is to reduce the amount of time customers spend explaining their issues or reasons for connecting. Previous interactions should be recorded in a centralized system, visible across channels – this is one of the top challenges of multi-channel customer service. Research shows that one of the top peeves of customers with companies is their call being around to various contact centre representatives, with at least 73% saying they would leave a company for this reason. Companies need to invest in proper technology – such as a call routing system that would ensure a customer’s call would get routed to the relevant department or team. This way not only do customers ‘land’ at the person who would be able to respond appropriately and swiftly, but also it would save time and effort for the representatives of the company. Since customers would not need to wait, they would be happier and more amenable to listening to the solutions provided by the service staff. Additionally, if the service representative is unable to provide a solution instantly, it would be helpful to provide the customer with the option of a call back from the company. The challenge here is that someone actually take responsibility of the customer’s problem and ensure that the call back happens in the timeline provided. The challenge with multi-channel customer service is that a problem could ‘fall through the cracks’ if a customer may have used more than one channel to connect with the company for the same problem. With such inconsistency, at least two out of every three customers would be prone to switch companies.

Given all the above, the greatest challenge for a company in moving to multi-channel customer service comes from ‘inside’ of it. The shift to multi-channel would mean that the existing service staff would need to learn new skills, be prepared to undergo training and coaching, and change their outlook towards service. Very often, companies make the mistake of forcing such change on their employees, who then resist the changes, making the new ‘systems’ extremely difficult to implement and use. It would be prudent instead, to share the idea with the teams, gain their feedback and buy-in, and only then implement the change – the end users must feel a sense of comfort when using the new systems. When the teams are comfortable with the new system, and multi-channel customer service, they are sure to ensure that service and customer handling remains flawless. How does your company fare with regard to overcoming challenges in multi-channel customer service?

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