Creating the Future of Customer Service in a Multi-Channel World

Posted: 28 September 2012

An array of powerful forces is changing customer service today and into the future. Perhaps most importantly, customers’ expectations are soaring. Loyalty is fading, alternatives are easily found, and customers will swiftly change providers if they don’t feel their steep demands are being met.


The dramatic rise of connectivity over recent years has helped to fuel these increasing expectations. People have more information than ever before. They also have access to an extraordinary range of new channels to communicate with companies.


This creates both opportunities and challenges. The broadening of communication channels offers companies far greater insight into their customers and new ways to serve them, often very efficiently. Yet it places greater demands on how they work, requiring flexible, well-integrated technologies as well as effective organisational structures to succeed.


Customer expectations are already high, with 40% of Australians saying companies usually don’t meet their expectations, according to an American Express survey performed earlier this year. There are five ways in which expectations for customer service are increasing even further:


People want immediate response to their questions, concerns and desires. Whatever channel they use, they want to have a solution in the shortest time possible.


Increasingly customers will use mobile interfaces, so they can meet their needs wherever they are. Already 78% of people have used mobile apps for customer service, according to Clickfox, and we can expect an increasing degree of customer service requests to come in over mobile channels.


Customers expect they can choose how they access customer service, not be forced into what is most convenient to the company. Websites that give instructions on how to bypass companies’ standard support channels have become massively popular.


Service needs to be as easy as possible. The first step is to give access to service when, where and how customers want. It also means providing highly useable interfaces and anticipating customer issues in order to provide ready resolution of issues.


The broadest and most important expectation is, very simply, of excellence. Customers expect quick, correct, personalised, helpful, relevant service that leaves them feeling good.


Being able to meet increasing expectations is critical. Just 19% of consumers would continue to deal with a company for significant purchases if they are unhappy with customer service, according to a study by the White House Office of Consumer Affairs. A study reported in Harvard Business Review suggests that is it 6-7 times more expensive to gain a new customer than it is to retain an existing customer, and that ratio is likely to increase.


One of the most prominent outcomes of an intensely connected world is the proliferation of channels. Since the 1990s both businesses and individuals have had to deal with an increasing number of ways to communicate. First email and instant messaging changed business communication, followed more recently by a flurry of social media platforms, with still more options just over the horizon.


Customers hop onto new channels as soon as they seem useful. While companies have been generally slower to respond, they soon (or unfortunately sometimes don’t) recognise both the need and opportunity to be where their customers are.


The challenge is how to manage not just multiple channels for customer interaction, but a continually expanding and evolving array of channels. To succeed in multi-channel customer service requires:


Integrated customer view

Anyone in the organisation who touches customers in any way must be provided with a view of the customer that shows every interaction they have had across all channels and all history. Without that context they cannot provide effective service to the customer.


Integrated processes

Customer service processes must be integrated across all channels, including voice, web, mobile, and social media. This allows customers to pick up their interaction from one channel to the next, following the easiest and most relevant service path for their situation.


Integrated organisations

None of this can happen effectively in a siloed organisation, in which responsibilities for different customer service channels fall in separate parts of the company. There is an ongoing journey for organisations to build the formal structures and informal networks that enabled truly integrated work.


Across the board, there is an increasing gap between the best-performing and least-performing organisations. The world is rapidly growing more complex, yet it is still possible for adaptive and responsive companies not just to keep on top of those changes, but to leverage the shifts to improve their performance. However many more organisations are simply not keeping pace.


The shift to multi-channel customer service is demanding yet inevitable. Those organisations that are able to provide seamless, immediate, convenient, excellent service across proliferating channels will clearly stand out from their competitors. The rest will struggle to keep their customers.


Which side of the divide will your organisation be on?