Customer Service


Making Customers the Object of Devotion

The proliferation of customer service channels can be both a blessing and a curse. It can be a blessing in that companies now have more ways than ever to address customer needs and resolve customer issues, potentially leading to increased customer satisfaction, loyalty and retention. It can also open the door to increased customer profitability through improved cross-sell and up-sell effectiveness.

At the same time, the proliferation of customer service channels can be a curse. The reason, in large part, is that customer expectations have reached the point when companies that fail to deliver on the promise of seamless multichannel customer interactions are likely to experience negative business outcomes, including a decline in customer loyalty and an erosion of overall brand reputation.

To avoid such outcomes, companies need to architect customer service channels according to the benefits for which they’re best suited. They then need to direct customers to channels that may be the best fit, given their situation and what they’re trying to accomplish.

That means using predictive analytics to anticipate their needs, based on recent purchase history, open ticket items, etc., and then dynamically generating content that addresses those needs. Much of this can be automated using an integrated cross-channel customer service system.

Channel Selection

Keep in mind that some channels are simply better suited to handling certain types of interactions than other channels. Accessing basic account information or information inquiries — such as wanting to find out about a product’s features or get instructions on how to operate it — can be easily supported with Web self-service or automated email response.

The same is true for such routine tasks as placing an order, completing a transaction, renewing a policy and transferring money. For more complex tasks that require back-and-forth discussion — technical troubleshooting, for example, or doing battle over charges on an invoice — a high-touch, real-time channel will likely provide the optimal approach.

Also, certain customer segments may be more prone to wanting to use one channel or a specific combination of channels, compared to another customer segment. Older people, for example, may be less inclined than younger people to use a Web chat function, which isn’t to say there aren’t a lot of technology-savvy octogenarians in the world. Still, many people are creatures of habit and are more apt to stay with those channels with which they’re already accustomed.

Various other factors can influence channel selection. Urgent requests and communications, such as the need to report fraudulent activity on a credit card, may be best managed through real-time channels like phone or live chat. Privacy and security may be an important consideration if the conversation involves the need to transmit information such as Social Security Numbers or medical test results.

Of course, economics also plays a role. Maintaining a call center with live agents is vastly more expensive than maintaining a website that houses relevant content in the form of question-and-answer pairs.

Costs for services provided through high-touch channels such as the phone can be reduced by more than 95 percent using self-service alternatives and by more than 60 percent using email, studies suggest. The cost-per-interaction of a CSR can average US$6 or more, while IVR touchscreen response and automated speech response tend to average 25 cents.

Eighty-nine percent of Top Performers view the ability to reduce customer service costs as a top reason to invest in multichannel customer service, according to Gleanster research.

While there exists a strong incentive to migrate customers from high-cost channels to low-cost channels, doing so can’t come at the cost of customer satisfaction. Ultimately, over the course of their relationship with a company, customers are likely to use a range of channels, each of which becomes a reinforcing component of the overall customer experience.

Channel Prioritization

Timing is everything when it comes to customer problem resolution. For that reason, contact centers have long utilized such metrics as “average hold time” and “average handle time” as metrics for measuring performance improvement.

Top Performers track the average number of interactions required to resolve a given incident type. They build scorecards on a product-by-product or problem-type basis, merging disparate metrics into a single system to create a clear understanding of how their performance compares to their industry peers. They then correlate those metrics to customer satisfaction, brand advocacy and other key performance indicators.

To improve first-call problem resolution time, which, according to Gleanster, ranks as the most popular metric (used by 94 percent of Top Performers), companies need to use skills-based routing to forward the call to the agent best equipped to handle it. CSRs should either possess the knowledge themselves, or be able to gain immediate access to a knowledge repository that contains the right information.

Success also means funneling customer inquiries into a single queue and managing them by priority. Today, preferential treatment is generally given to customer support inquiries that come in via a live channel as opposed to, say, the email channel.

Companies would be well-advised to prioritize instead according to such factors as the lifetime value of the customer relationship. If a high-value customer just sent an email, perhaps the next available agent should respond to the request rather than engage with a lower-value customer who has been waiting on hold for a couple of minutes.

Being able to combine all incoming customer queries into a unified queue, regardless of channel, and then order them based on criteria that makes business sense is a key benefit of a cross-channel customer service strategy. The strategy is being enabled today by integrated cross-channel customer service technology platforms. A good example is FrontRange Solutions software, which is used by more than 130,000 companies.

Customers, Not Channels

Customers want to interact with companies based on who they are and what they seek to accomplish. To respond to this diversity of needs and situations, companies need to create multiple points of presence, fully integrated to deliver a seamless customer experience. They need to treat every customer as a unique individual instead of treating all customers alike and then discriminating among them based on the channel they use.

Indeed, in a quiet moment of introspection, a company might pose these questions to itself: “What is the object of my devotion? Am I devoted to my channel or to my customer?” At times, it seems, companies are beholden to their channels but agnostic when it comes to their customers.

Yes, it’s important to enable new channels of customer service, but not if doing so means losing the customer in the process of helping to resolve a problem or accomplish a task. Using an integrated cross-channel customer service system, companies are able to put customers in their rightful place at the center of the universe.

Jeff Zabin is a bestselling business author, industry analyst and research director at Gleanster. He can be reached at [email protected].

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