Customer service channel options have increased significantly over the last few years, but choosing the best fit for your business can be difficult. The decision should be balanced between the cost of service and achieving high levels of customer satisfaction. You also must consider which channels are most convenient for your customer base while also ensuring your contact center is properly set up not just to handle new channels, but to handle them well. And at the same time, you need a firm understanding of the cost per interaction across channels and defined service levels for each.
Here we review different customer service channels for businesses to consider.
Regardless of the increasing number of options available, phone calls are still at the forefront within the contact center industry. However, the calls that contact centers receive now are often more complex, as simple issues are increasingly resolved through self-service applications.
One of the main reasons for phone calls retaining popularity is that people often still prefer human interaction for resolving issues. This is probably because the perception is that it will save time. And for more complicated inquiries, this may still be the best bet for getting the answer.
With lives becoming busier, people don’t always have time to spend on hold waiting for calls to be answered. This is why call back functionality and the ability to offer virtual placeholders is essential for good customer service.
The telephone will always be an important channel. It’s also the most expensive. The key here is to have your agents trained to the highest possible level on your products and services; consider a super knowledge base, regular training and sharing FAQs. Advanced scripting tools for agents can also assist, empowering agents to deal with even the most complex issues and transactions.
Email is a more cost-effective channel. On average, it’s five times lower in cost than handling calls; however, it does come under criticism for notoriously long response times. While emails tend to be less urgent inquires, it’s still important to set SLAs and adhere to good response times.
Many customer service operations were not geared up effectively for email handling from the get-go. Failing to blend emails effectively into the workflow meant huge difficulties for routing and prioritizing email alongside other channels. Ideally, your contact center technology should route emails in just the same way as it routes calls.
Keyword spotting within your email routing helps to ensure that, from the outset, the inquiry is sent to the agent or team who is best equipped to handle that particular question or issue. You can combine this with intelligent database lookups for an even more efficient service.
For example, when a company selling phones and tablets is sent an email to sales@yourcompany but the email content contains the word “broken” or “cracked” you could route the email instead to a support team. Or you could even automatically check in the database first to see whether this customer is currently under warranty. If their cover has lapsed, then perhaps it should go to sales so that they can renew their coverage first. You can create and define rules to handle this and many other scenarios.
Don’t forget to set SLAs and make sure you can track performance against targets. A good call center system should be able to alert you when an email has gone over the pre-defined time, putting the email at the top of the queue and automatically sending a holding email to the customer keeping them informed and up-to-date. And you can also use pre-canned email templates to speed up responses to those simple and more frequent questions.
Email is an important channel, with as many as third of customers citing email as their preferred customer service channel. Telephony and email combined account for around 85% of interactions. It’s convenient for customers because they can do it at their leisure and they are not waiting in a queue or hanging around waiting for a response. But that said, it is still vital that emails are responded to in good time and leverage technology to handle emails efficiently.
Customer service through social media channels has been on the increase within the contact center world, although still accounting for a relatively small portion of communications. Depending on what industry your business is in, it’s important to have some degree of customer service presence on social networking sites.
Having the ability to broadcast messages and help customers on social media can promote a positive image to your customers. Social media can also be a more friendly and approachable method of communication, allowing the personality of the business to shine through a bit more than on more formal, traditional channels. And it can be a great way of dealing with quick questions without keeping customers hanging on the phone.
Again, it’s vital that your contact center system routes and prioritizes messages from social media in the same way as other communication channels. Be clear about your social presence, SLAs and what customers can expect if they choose to contact you in this way.
You also need to ensure that your CRM is integrated and that agents have full visibility of all customer interactions across platforms and channels. It can be immensely frustrating for customers that have already contacted you to have to repeat the issue. Look for a system that allows you to channel pivot when appropriate too – this will allow you to automatically swing over from one channel, such as social, taking the inquiry onto a more suitable channel, such as voice, if the issue is getting more involved.
Not everyone has the time or inclination to be on the phone; this is particularly true with millennials. An alternative to a phone call is web chat/live chat via a business website. Agents are on hand to deliver quick responses through the chat box and it can be great for e-commerce as it gives the customer the chance to continue their browsing while having their questions answered quickly and efficiently.
Web chat can be a useful tool for guiding your customers through your website while being able to understand what the customer is looking at or considering. It is also usually possible for an agent to handle chat threads with several customers at the same time, which increases agent productivity and can potentially reduce the number of agents needed to service the web chat workload.
Self-serve Knowledge Base
Being available 24 hours a day is not always viable or practical. Self-service is a valuable tool that businesses can use in a variety of ways. Customers will often have simple inquiries that have been asked countless times before. It’s not cost effective for agents to spend their time on these questions, so always make it as easy as possible for customers to find these answers themselves
Consider your company website and FAQs or an easy to use search facility (that tracks and reports on what people are looking for). Use IVR as a tool to help customers get to the information that they need quickly. But remember that this should support the voice channel and other channels. Not everyone will have the time or inclination to look for this information. Use self-service in conjunction with, rather than instead of, other channels—or customer service can suffer.
While it is only used by a small fraction of contact centers at present, video chat does look set to increase in popularity. Though not as cost-effective as web chat, due largely to the fact that agents can have multiple live chat sessions running at once compared to just one video session, it does create a closer resemblance of the in-store experience, which customers like. There’s also a greater flexibility as video agents can be available outside the standard opening times of a regular store, offering greater convenience to the customer.
What Channel is Right for Your Contact Center?
Some customers prefer to use a particular channel; this might vary depending upon age, gender, the technology that they are using, location, or any number of external factors. Some channels will be less relevant to some businesses and their customer demographic.
Remember – it’s is better to offer customer service on a smaller number of channels and handle these efficiently and competently than to jump into offering every channel available when you are not adequately set up to do this. Consequently, this can lead to poor customer service and decreased brand loyalty.
Ultimately, it’s up to your business to decide which customer service channels you incorporate. Find the right balance for you and your consumers.
For more tips and insights into improving the customer journey, check out our whitepaper “Converting Customer Experience into Revenue.”