• December 1, 2012
  • By Leonard Klie, Editor, CRM magazine and SmartCustomerService.com

Piecing Together Multichannel Support

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Crossing the Channel

For companies looking to deploy multiple support channels to address those questions or complaints, the product landscape is rife with pitfalls. Chief among them is the inability to automatically bring insight from each channel into a single knowledge base.

"Many [companies] may have put in the different channels separately. They've organically increased their channel footprints without thinking about how to stitch them together," Leggett says.

In these environments, customers are forced to repeat their account information each time they encounter a new channel. And, understandably, customers find it frustrating to switch from an IVR to an agent who has no insight into their previous interactions with the company or to the information they fed into the automated system a few minutes earlier. It also applies when customer calls are escalated from Tier 1 to Tier 2 support.

"We're seeing more and more channel switches," explains Dena Skrbina, senior director of solutions marketing at Nuance Communications. "When customers switch channels, you need to take their data with them, and then have the reporting and analytics across channels so you can see what they did already and what they did to bring them to that channel."

Lack of integration among channels is widespread. Econsultancy, in its Multichannel Customer Experience Survey, recently found that while 90 percent of companies recognize the importance of providing a consistent multichannel experience, only 4 percent have joined all of their internal systems and processes.

It's not as though cross-channel solutions aren't available. "There are many vendors that offer multichannel as well as cross-channel capabilities," Leggett says. "But there are few companies that have deployed true multichannel applications, and even fewer that have deployed true cross-channel ones."

To get the full benefit of any truly multichannel strategy, "companies need to make sure that every customer contact gets melded with one customer record," Leggett says. "It's not hard from a technology standpoint, but…the number of legacy systems, silos, and organizational challenges make it difficult."

The Channel Mix

Though most companies can't yet deliver fully integrated cross-channel support, there is an underlying sense of urgency to move in this direction as customers often use more than one channel to resolve a single issue. Recent Ovum research found that 74 percent of consumers today use three or more channels when seeking customer service. Of those, 22 percent use five or more.

Further research found that when customers reach out to customer service, they're still using the phone or email most often, a fact that hasn't really changed in the past few years.

The greatest change in the phone channel is more a reflection of the ubiquity of mobile phones. By 2016, more than half of the inbound calls to contact centers are expected to be made on mobile phones, while calls on traditional landline phones will decline sharply.

The rise of the mobile channel is also introducing customers—and, in turn, companies—to other contact channels, including chat and text messaging, says Jim Milton, president and CEO of SoundBite Communications, a provider of customer experience management solutions. He sees great promise in text messaging. "Given the SMS open rate of ninety-eight percent, SMS must be a part of a company's communication strategy," he says.

The same could be said for email and social media, but a lot of companies are making it difficult for customers to access these channels with their mobile devices. When they have mobile applications, few companies provide clickable links that allow customers to call them directly from within the app, Skrbina observes. That forces them to toggle out of the app to make a phone call or send a text message, defeating the purpose of a mobile app in the first place.

It's as much a problem in the mobile space as it is on static Web pages accessed through PCs or laptops. In both types of Web pages, it's rare to see company email addresses listed in the "Contact Us" section. That was the case on 89 percent of the sites that Genesys Telecommunications reviewed in an informal study. Furthermore, more than half of the sites failed to provide links to company Twitter or Facebook pages, and 13 percent do not list phone numbers.

For small and midsized businesses (SMBs), the numbers are worse. Forty-four percent of all SMBs in a study by vSplash, a provider of digital media and commerce solutions to the SMB market, do not list phone numbers on their Web sites, and 78 percent do not list links to their Facebook pages on their sites.

Companies of all sizes must adopt a customer service strategy that understands and integrates social media channels across every customer touchpoint.

As of yet, they have not done that, and it shows in a number of ways. For one, many companies are slow to respond to customer service queries raised on social media sites, if they do at all. This is particularly true among retailers: Only a quarter of the retailers in the Econsultancy survey responded to questions via channels like Facebook and Twitter.

"Response times are critical. Customers expect an answer quickly," says Duke Chung, cofounder and chairman of Parature, a provider of customer service and help desk solutions. "[Social] channels are very public. If you're slow to respond, everyone sees that."

The risk of not responding in a timely fashion is great. By 2014, Gartner predicts that organizations refusing to communicate with customers via social media will face the same level of customer frustration as those that ignore phone calls or email today. The end result could very well be a 15 percent increase in customer churn, Gartner maintains.

That's not a problem for PlayFirst, a developer of mobile games, including the popular Diner Dash series. When the company's popularity soared in a very short time, it quickly realized that it needed a social presence to reach its legions of casual gamers, who are largely accustomed to spending a lot of time online.

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