Companies Need a Presence on Channels They Don’t Own

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While nearly 70 percent of consumers begin with non-company-owned channels to resolve customer service issues, 67 percent of consumers ultimately end up on company-owned channels to resolve their issues, according to a ­report by CEB, now part of Gartner.

There are a number of reasons for this trend, according to Peter Slease, principal executive adviser at CEB. For one, many customers today like to take a do-it-yourself approach to resolving their issues to save money or time, or simply for the satisfaction of accomplishing something on their own. Additionally, he says, many companies “run their websites as marketing and sales tools,” and finding the customer service page can “feel like a pretty big hassle.” 

The real reason for most consumers, though, is not being able to completely resolve issues on their own without input from the company. 

“Ultimately, what customers figure out is, ‘I can’t get all the way to my destination without some kind of interaction with the company. I may get four out of five steps there…but I can’t get that fifth step; I can’t get all the way there,’” he explains. 

The reasons are numerous, he says, pointing out that in some cases, the ­issue could be very specific. In others, it might require authentication or some bit of detail that isn’t going to be publicly available.

Now that this pattern has been established, the real challenge for service leaders will be to figure out what to do in those non-­company-owned channels, Slease says. The first step is identifying which channels customers are using before visiting company-­owned ones; companies should ask customers what they’ve tried before reaching out to the service organization. “A question like that after you’ve resolved the issue can give you insight…into where customers are going before they interact with you,” he says.

Once they have identified which non-­company-owned channels customers are using, companies can prioritize accordingly, Slease says. If, for example, a large number of customers are going to a discussion forum, the company could establish a presence there to find out what brought the customer there and then intervene at an appropriate time.

But because so many of those types of channels exist, companies need to prioritize them. 

Companies “do have a responsibility to have some presence in those places,” but it is very likely that they “don’t have the bandwidth to scatter like the wind and go out to every single one of those places [where their customers are],” Slease says. 

The report also found that nearly 50 percent of consumers receive inconsistent information during the typical DIY journey to resolve their issues. Combatting misinformation is perhaps the greatest imperative for companies in an environment where customers use various channels to address their problems.

Companies need to do two things to handle misinformation, according to Slease. First, they need to “arm frontline staff members to engage with customers when they’re landing with the company and have misinformation,” he says. More specifically, he says that frontline staff members should be coached to listen for cues from the customer, such as “’I just read on XYZ’ or ‘I heard that…’.” Those agents should also be instructed on how to respond to those cues “in such a way that it doesn’t feel like ‘Shame on you, you shouldn’t have gone there,’ but rather, ‘I hear what you’re telling me about that, [but] the truth is this.’” The response should also include an invitation to try the company first next time so that the customer can avoid having to go through that process again.

The second thing companies should do to handle misinformation goes back to prioritizing non-company-owned channels. “If companies tried to correct all of the misinformation that was out there, that could be an arduous task,” Slease says. “Instead they should prioritize based on where they know their customers are going and correct that ­information.” 

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