A generation or two ago, a customer’s options for getting support were fairly limited: go back to the store, call a phone representative or sift through the manual.
Today, the choices have increased exponentially. In addition to the traditional options, customers can now visit a brand’s Facebook page, rip through their knowledge base, chat with a bot, fire off an email or DM on Twitter.
Nowadays, customers are everywhere and if you’re not there to meet their service requests on their own terms and on their own time, then you might just lose him to a competitor.
Seriously, more than half of your customers will split if they have a less-than-satisfactory customer service experience.
The numbers don’t lie: 54% of millennials say they stopped doing business with a company because of poor customer service. 50% of Gen Xers and 52% of baby boomers feel the same way.
And in our hyper-connected world, ‘poor customer service’ doesn’t mean much more than ‘they didn’t answer my Tweet in under an hour.’
Even if that weren’t the case and you could count on customers to come to you for support, you’d still be better off with a more proactive approach.
The most important factor in customer loyalty and retention is limiting the customer’s overall effort. So whenever and wherever your customer might need support, you better be there reading and waiting to give them what they need.
How do you do that?
By establishing a multi-channel support system.
The Basics of Multi-Channel Support
Multi-channel support systems must be:
- Broad – One of the keys to establishing support across multiple channels is providing enough coverage to meet your customers' needs – without spreading yourself too thin. This means taking a comprehensive account of your customers’ digital consumption habits and distributing your customer support resources accordingly.
- Contextually Sensitive – Not every channel makes sense for every business and industry. If you sell medical equipment for seniors, odds are you don’t need much of a Twitter presence... but I could be wrong about that. Make sure the channels that get your best resources are the ones that repay your investment.
- Integrated – As I mentioned in a previous post [link to my post on silos after its published], the “Silo effect” in business can have an incredibly negative impact on the customer experience. There's little more frustrating than having to re-explain your issue every time you engage customer support with a new representative or over a new channel.
- Available – For many companies, customer support is a service offered with specific time parameters: "If you have any trouble, give us a call between 8:15 AM and 2:15 PM (Zulu Time) on alternating Tuesdays”. For a multi-channel support system to work, those time constraints have to take a backseat to customer expectations. By all means, you might keep the phone lines open only during business hours, but don’t expect that to translate to your social media support channels. On Facebook, life is 24/7. If you make a customer wait until morning to answer a message, you may just lose that customer.
- Professional – Every platform or channel will have its own way of communicating. No one expects an agent to communicate in long-form niceties over a Twitter DM session. That said, customer support representatives will need to work harder to deliver high-quality, professional support over otherwise limited and informal communication channels.
Now that we’ve covered a few basics, let’s take a look at the actual channels that make up a multi-channel support system.
Phone / Voice
According to a study from Aspect Research, getting support over phone or voice is far and away the most frustrating customer service experience on offer.
Why is that?
Anecdotal evidence isn’t tough to find here: long wait times, uninformed customer service representatives, dropped calls and disintegrated data all conspire to make phone service a particularly crummy experience.
Be that as it may, don’t write off the call center just yet.
A third of U.S. customers still prefer to talk with someone on the phone about their service questions. Moreover, 36% of those calls come from customers who’ve tried to find their problems online, and failed.
So if you’re going to develop a multi-channel support system, I’m sorry to say you still need to devote some of your resources to fielding calls on the phone.
Email / Help Desk
I’ve lumped email and help desk support into one category because the latter essentially functions as a glorified version of the former. A help desk is just like email, only with the added benefit of routing requests, assigning tickets and tracking analytics.
In general, this type of support has a leg up on the old call center. Because customer conversations aren’t taking place in real-time, support representatives have the freedom to work multiple cases at once and take their time working cases which require additional attention.
This channel's greatest strength, however, is also its greatest weakness.
Without the real-time urgency of another living, breathing person on the telephone — along with the ever-present menace of dead air — support representatives have less of an incentive to act proactively and efficiently.
Ticket backlog is a real issue in email/help-desk channels. But as long as you keep your support representatives motivated, well-equipped and accountable, your help desk will play a vital role in your overall multi-channel system.
Website / Self-Service
70% of customers would much rather use your company’s website to get answers to their questions than call someone on the phone or fire off an email.
In fact, Gartner estimates that by 2020, customers will manage 85% of their engagement with a business without interacting with a single human being.
As more and more customers come to expect and prefer interacting exclusively with a website, the need for brands to focus specifically on their web-based self-service options will only increase.
Here are some of the best ways to help your customers serve themselves:
- Product Documentation – Your website should be a one-stop shop for every bit of technical data or documentation your customers might need. Don’t hide your product manuals behind 17 layers of nonsense;. make them easy to get to. Even better: back them up with video explainers and walkthroughs.
- Knowledge Base – A knowledge base adds to your existing documentation by constituting a warehouse of in-the-field knowledge concerning your product. This can come from case studies, customer support exchanges or user-generated content.
- Self-Service Forum – Using a self-service forum, you have the opportunity to connect your customers to each other and build a stronger, more cohesive community around your brand. Not to mention, self-service forums work wonders for ticket deflection.
Self-service isn’t the only way your customers can find support on your website.
According to research from earlier this year, 38% of businesses have made use of artificial intelligence (AI) to supplement their online customer service efforts. Much of this technology is being deployed in chatbot and virtual agent technology.
While the tools have a long way to go before they can truly compete with a human agent, AI-powered chat solutions offer a slick way for customers to take care of their simple needs.
The key to succeeding with a chatbot is offering multiple off-ramps for more specialized support. This means having the bot direct the user to a self-service forum or having a human agent on standby ready to step in as soon as the conversation gets complicated.
In just the past 2 years, customer support over social media has expanded by an astonishing 250%. As I said above, customers are everywhere, and they expect you to be there, too.
One of the downsides to this widespread diffusion of service and support is that customers have learned to expect near-instantaneous results. According to one study, 80% of customers posting on social media expected a response within 24 hours.
31% of them expected an email reply within one hour.
The stakes have been raised to be sure, but that’s not to say that social media support is all burden and no benefit. According to Convince and Convert, answers to social media complaints tend to increase customer advocacy by as high as 25%.
In this post, we’ve looked at the basics of a multi-channel support system and its benefits. With the sheer number of social platforms out there, developing this type of customer service network can seem daunting at first.
Before you start throwing your resources at every available channel, stop for a moment, breathe and think strategically about where you need to be.
Spend some time listening to your customers (a.k.a. Googling and searching on Facebook and Twitter). See where they’re already looking for support and where you’ve been dropping the ball.
Target those channels first.
Focus less on the number of channels you can implement and more on how well you can serve each one. Do that, and you’ll build a successful multi-channel service system.