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

Overcome Multichannel Customer Service Challenges

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Connecting with customers over multiple channels is nice, but it's not enough. Customers should not only be able to use multiple channels, but they should also be able to easily traverse them without any of their data being lost. And organizations must be able to glean valuable insight from each channel to better serve customers no matter which communication channel they use.

But while being able to connect with customers by phone, email, chat, social media, fax, the Web, a mobile app, and any other channel might seem like a great way to deliver more powerful customer service experiences, it also presents challenges for companies looking to support the broadest range of customer service channels while keeping costs down.

Read on to learn about the latest multichannel strategy tips.

Right contact channel, right time

Making every channel available to every customer all the time can be very costly. For that reason, many industry experts suggest making some channels available selectively, based on the nature of the inquiry, the company's service operations, and even the value of the customer. Simple inquiries, such as how to change a password, can be supported with Web self-service or an automated email response, while higher-cost channels, such as the phone, should be reserved for much more complex questions.

"It's not about deploying on all channels, but deploying the right channels that align with your business," says Kate Leggett, a principal analyst at Forrester Research. "Only deploy on the channels that make sense for your business."

Sarah Stealey Reed, content director at the International Customer Management Institute (ICMI), says companies need to be observant. "Watch where your customers are going and what channels they prefer to use for what types of service. And listen. What are they saying to your agents and in your [customer satisfaction] surveys? Customers will tell you where, how, and when they prefer support."

She cautions, though, that it doesn't end there. "As a business, you often know best how to service your customers. It's your responsibility to help guide customers to the channel that is best able to serve them. So be up-front with customers and be prepared to transition them gracefully from one channel to another."

Leggett also suggests working to guide customers to the right channel based on the complexity and time sensitivity of interactions, and then putting escalations in place "to ensure a seamless transition from one channel to the next without losing context."

Greg Pal, vice president of marketing, strategy, and business development in the enterprise division at Nuance Communications, agrees. While he says companies today need to offer support via the phone, email, and mobile applications at the very least, he argues that the type of channels to use also depends heavily on the nature of the business. For financial firms that deal with high-value customers conducting high-value transactions, an interaction with a live agent could almost be considered a necessity, while retail brands catering to teens could be better served with an online and social media presence, he says.

The same can be said for tech firms, as Horizon DataSys, a provider of software to help maintain PCs and installed applications, found out. The company, which is based in Blaine, WA, recently introduced a Web chat module and an interactive community forum to coincide with the rollout of its latest PC recovery software package.

According to the company, the move was in direct response to customer demand for more personalized experiences and expanded ways of interacting with the brand. It now provides a seamless engagement with customers through chats, email, Webinars, phone calls, blogs, and a Web forum.

Cloud-based customer support

Companies can also limit their multichannel expenses by deploying solutions in the cloud.

Research firm Ovum, in a recent multichannel contact center solutions "Decision Matrix" report, identified the software-as-a-service deployment model as one of the key trends affecting customer service today. As contact centers come to need more advanced services that go beyond the basics of automatic call distribution and interactive voice response, new vendors are forcing some of the other firms to differentiate based on features, price, expertise, and services. This has led many of them to the cloud, the firm concluded.

Deploying their contact center technologies in the cloud offers companies access to the latest upgrades and technologies without having to replace their entire systems with every change. Instead of having to deploy a new tool from scratch with every new customer whim, companies can add new channels as they become available in the cloud without having to overhaul their entire contact center operations at every turn along the way.

"Cloud technology permits fast upgrades, flexibility in adding new capabilities, and better scaling options to match customers' needs. Using cloud solutions, enterprises have a smaller initial outlay and more flexibility to [try] new channels with a set of agents. Migration can be staged with less impact on existing tools and staff," Ovum concluded in the report.

Because customers and technologies are constantly changing, companies "want to make sure they can add new channels easily," Leggett points out. "Many companies are moving to the cloud not because it's cheaper—which it is—but because it gives them the agility to swap out and change things quickly."

Furthermore, by shifting the ownership of infrastructure and applications to cloud providers, enterprises are able to free up their internal IT resources. Once core technologies are taken care of and daily maintenance tasks are lessened, staff can focus on improving service to customers.

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