Once the bastion of customer service, the telephone is now one of many channels customers turn to for service. The phone now shares its customer service spotlight with websites, chat, email, avatars, and mobile apps. Customers navigating this channel mix expect seamless service across all these touchpoints. Companies looking to retain those customers need do deliver on that expectation.
"Customers use different channels on different occasions based on a complex formula of needs, location, time, and what's intuitive at that moment," says Dan Nordale, vice president of marketing and enterprise for Nuance. "Some companies are trying to figure out the right channel for particular transactions, but customers are using different channels. Therefore, companies have to provide choice."
Additionally, an increasing number of customers are seeking Web support first and only calling a company or visiting a store when they don't get their service needs answered online, says Adele Sage, customer experience analyst at Forrester Research. "To an extent, websites have replaced the telephone as a first choice," she says. This may be due in part to four years of decreasing satisfaction with phone-based customer service interactions, as a Forrester survey of nearly 5,000 customers found.
Despite the evident demand by customers for a seamless multichannel service experience, few companies have succeeded in creating it. "Companies tend to be strong at one channel or another," says Max Ball, director of product marketing at Genesys. For example, retail companies often provide a highly personalized customer experience on their website, but when customers try to contact the company over another channel, there is rarely any understanding of what has already happened, he argues. One of the problems lies with lack of interaction between departments. "Typically the Web folks don't work closely with the contact center people and the mobile team was just started up in a silo a few months before," Ball says.
However, as it becomes more common for customers to switch from one channel to another without deliberation, companies must take steps now to offer a seamless experience between channels—or risk losing customers to competitors that do. Here are five do's, and don'ts, to create this optimal service experience:
- DO—Create a customer journey map: Forrester's Sage says that companies should look at how customers are moving from one channel to another and use this information to determine what type of improvements are necessary to make their transitions easier. Additionally, companies should ask customers what they want when it comes to multichannel service. "Assuming is asking for trouble," says Jennifer MacIver Edwards, Thunderhead's vice president for customer and partner marketing. "Speak to customers and [integrate] the information with behavioral analytics."
- DON'T—Give confusing messages across channels: It is essential that companies deliver a cohesive message across all channels. Customers get frustrated when they get one message from call center agents and another online. "Create a central 'source of truth' regarding content. Then, it's easy to add new channels of distribution rather than recreating the wheel for each channel," recommends Tahzoo CEO Brad Heidemann.
- DO—Listen first, then take action: The more companies know about their customers, the higher the likelihood of fulfilling their needs and avoiding churn. According to Ed Shepherdson, senior vice president of enterprise solutions at Coveo, many companies are listening to what their customers are saying but failing to take action. Instead, businesses should analyze customer feedback, and then take action to improve the multichannel customer service experience based on customers' preferences and expectations.
- DON'T—Ask for customers' preferences unless you plan to adhere to them: Once you ask customers for their service preferences, they'll expect to have their service needs met based on those preferences. "Don't make promises that you're not planning to keep. First have the structures in place before asking customers for their preferences," says Susan Connors, vice president of client engagement at Quaero.
- DO—Walk a mile in customers' shoes: In addition to tracking customers' behaviors and gathering feedback on their preferences, companies need to have a proper understanding of the process a customer goes through when contacting them for service. For example, do they have to repeat information? Is it difficult to escalate from the IVR to an agent? "Executives need to think like a customer," says Steve Kraus, senior director of product marketing at Pega.
DON'T—Sit back and wait: Cross-channel customer experience is here to stay, driven by customers who expect it, says Anna Convery, vice president of strategic marketing at NICE. Business leaders should be looking at best practices and determining how they might apply to their organization. "The first thing companies must do to create a seamless experience across all channels is align all their groups to understand what the consistent experience is," Convery says.
- DO—Create a customer interaction hub: Taking a unified approach to managing multichannel customer interactions means housing all customer communications in one place, regardless of the channel they were collected through. Doing so creates a holistic view of the customer service experience. According to Pega's Kraus, Royal Bank of Canada put a process layer on top of its 14 disparate customer service systems to create a composite view of what customers were saying. "This enables always-forward, no-repeat customer service and intelligent, on-target sales, based on full customer insight," says Anand Subramaniam, eGain's vice president of worldwide marketing.
DON'T—Silo customer information: Customers don't differentiate between touchpoints. Whether they are talking to an agent, sending an email, or giving information via IVR, they're talking to one company and expect that company to be listening holistically. This is why one of customers' biggest pet peeves is repeating information they've already given. Like Subramaniam, Angel Director of Corporate Marketing Dave Toliver, recommends pushing customer data into one system to eliminate silos and gain a holistic picture of customer service needs.
- DO—Provide service where customers are looking for it: Today's tech-savvy customers have shown that their preferred methods of communicating with a company vary depending on what they're doing, where they are, and even the time of day. Therefore, companies must provide customer service in all the channels customers expect to access it. "Companies cannot only provide a phone number or a website," says Toliver. However, it's essential to always give customers the option of speaking with an agent, adds Scott Kolman, Speechcycle's senior vice president of marketing. "Don't hide behind self-service or customers will get frustrated and angry by the time they reach an agent," Kolman says.
DON'T—Shy away from social media: An increasing number of customers are using social media to communicate about their service needs. For example, a passenger whose luggage didn't arrive might tweet his frustration, giving the airline an opportunity to communicate with him in a public channel. "Companies that stay away from social media because it's public are missing an opportunity," Toliver says.
Customers value their time and expect prompt service. As customers move from one service channel to another, companies must move with them. This means providing a seamless transition between channels, one in which customers won't have to repeat themselves and won't receive conflicting messages.