5 Tips for Digital-First Customer Service

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The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated the importance of digital-first customer service, yet challenges remain for many companies in successfully operating with such a strategy, Forrester Research notes in a recent report.

Forty-one percent of companies still operate their digital channels in silos, the report says.

Kate Leggett, a Forrester vice president and principal analyst for CRM and customer service, identifies the following three reasons that companies struggle with a holistic digital strategy:

1. The high cost of change:Companies that don’t already offer digital-first customer service tend to initially invest in legacy apps and voice solutions. Companies need to go beyond digital self-service, but many balk at the cost of dismantling and migrating to new solutions, staffing, and interoperability.

2. Lack of management leadership and accountability:To move to digital-first customer service, companies need to have organizational alignment for customer buying journeys and measurement of success. Management support for such initiatives has been lackluster, with most focusing on pre-sales engagement without extending into post-sale customer service.

3. Fragmented tech stacks and tooling environments:Organizations use a piecemeal approach to add digital channels rather than a holistic approach. As a result, customer data, content, and experiences are fragmented.

Digital customer service improves experiences and makes agent work easier, Leggett points out. More than half (58 percent) of customers start their customer journey online, but agents using the voice channel often have no record of attempts customers might have already made with self-service.

By going to digital-first customer service, companies gain the following four advantages:

1. Enhanced customer experiences: Digital channels offer channel choice to customers. Customers can also move interactions from channel to channel, which is helpful if they can’t complete the interaction in a single session.

2. Empowered agents:Digital channels provide a full view of customers’ previous digital interactions and current journeys in real time, enabling the agent to understand their context and recommend the right next steps or resolutions.

3. Improved operational excellence: Automation of digital actions reduces time of resolution and costs. According to the report, agents can much better work on multiple interactions at the same time through digital channels than through voice. Additionally, managers can expand the agent talent pool with people who are adept in digital and don’t want to communicate with customers verbally.

4. Increased business agility:Most digital-first customer service solutions use an open architecture, enabling organizations to embed third-party chatbots and connect to external systems so that customers can stay in their preferred channels throughout their journeys. An open architecture also makes it easier to expand customer service to new channels as they come online.

Leggett offers the following tips for organizations looking to digitize their customer service:

1. Engage customers via chat and messaging.One-fifth of U.S. adults online over the age of 55 use chat to access personal information from companies at least once a week. Leggett recommends starting by adding chat to company websites and mobile apps.

2. Interact with customers over expanded channels.Complex inquires and those that require empathy, such as disputes or financial counseling, are best handled via the voice channel, so organizations should deploy digital voice or click-to-call to enable customers to initiate a VoIP call from their laptops or mobile phones.

3. Push customers to be digital-first. Typically, 10 percent to 20 percent of customers opt for digital channels when available. To improve those figures, Leggett recommends testing replacement of customer service phone numbers with digital-only options, then monitoring success metrics to increase the percentage of digital-first customers.

4. Use automation to deflect repetitive, low-value work.Intelligent automation can prioritize inbound messages based on intent and agent skills. Companies should evaluate whether they can use bots rather than human agents for the most common questions.

5. Invest in deflection strategies. The voice channel is more expensive than digital channels. The more interactions that can be deflected to digital, the lower the cost for organizations. 

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