• September 1, 2013
  • By Leonard Klie, Editor, CRM magazine and SmartCustomerService.com

Which Interaction Channels Are Most Popular?

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Companies today are using multiple channels to interact with customers and are taking steps to amplify the voice of the customer (VoC) within their organizations, according to research released in mid-June by the Society of Consumer Affairs Professionals (SOCAP). But which interaction channels are gaining the most traction?

According to the research, more than half of firms use at least six interaction channels, which are evenly distributed between real-time interactions and deferred transactions.

SOCAP President and CEO Matthew D'Uva sees this as a reflection of companies' desire to keep pace with their customers.

More than 84 percent of respondents offer self-service options to customers, up 20 percent since 2011.

And when it comes to customer service channels supported in contact centers, inbound phone systems continue to be the most common, at 95.1 percent, followed, in order, by email (92.7 percent), white mail (87.8 percent), social media (82.9 percent), and fax (61 percent). Other channels include interactive voice response systems (53.7 percent) and chat (22 percent).

Additionally, two thirds of companies offer interactive Web channels, where customers can post questions and get responses or use keyword searches or other interactive tools to help them find information quickly.

D'Uva maintains the choice of channels is driven by both generational preferences and the types of products or services sold. "Phoning and letter writing may still be more in the comfort zone of older consumers," he says.

However, as more companies market their products and services over the Internet, digital interactions will continue to rise, he maintains. These companies "would interact almost exclusively with their post-sales customers over the Web," he states.

Digital channels, such as email and social media, "are becoming less of an option and more of a must for customer care today," D'Uva says.

And, when it comes to social media, companies often don't have to do a lot directly. "We are starting to see companies make deft use of social media, stepping back and allowing their friends and fans to provide consumers with the types of answers, explanations, and how-to[s] that prior to the proliferation of social media channels might have only been available from the product or service providers," D'Uva maintains.

The benefit of these digital channels, he says, is that companies can track them and gather customer contact, transaction, and preference data.

Mobile technologies are also changing the landscape, with almost 70 percent of organizations claiming to have changed how they do business due to mobile technology. More than half report an increase in mobile phone apps and integrated Web sites, and a third have smartphone apps specifically for customer service.

And while multichannel interactions are common for customer care, the ownership of multichannel integration is shared between consumer affairs and marketing at most companies, with customer care coming in third, according to the research.

This has changed little since 2011, suggesting that as multichannel integration has increased, the need to integrate the data has not followed suit, D'Uva says.

Equally disturbing, the research points out, is that while more than 95 percent of companies have expressed at least a moderate interest in collecting voice of the customer feedback to improve products or services, only about 17 percent are actually measuring or tracking returns on their VoC investments. Of those that do, 76 percent use post-sales opportunities to interact with customers, and approximately 70 percent use customer satisfaction in some capacity to measure the overall customer experience.

And then it's important to use that data to form benchmarks. "With the proliferation of customer service channels through social media, contact centers, and other sources, and the need to differentiate brands through improved customer experience, performance benchmarking information becomes more important than ever before," says Cliff Moore, chairman and founder of Customer Operations Performance Center, a contact center management consulting company that cosponsored the research.

While the research certainly suggests that digital interactions are on the rise, D'Uva warns organizations not to overextend themselves in any one channel. "Companies must be careful not to get too far ahead of their customers in terms of technology adoption," he says. "We saw this happen with chat. Several years ago, many companies embraced Web site chat and made the investments necessary to support it only to see their customers stick to the phone and desire to speak with a real person. Now the customer comfort level with chat is growing and they are embracing it."

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