It may be tempting to offer support through many channels, but do your customers really care? Learn how trimming the number of channels you offer can help improve service levels.
There are many channels you can use to help your customers – email, live chat, social networks and phone to name but a few. There’s a careful balance to be struck between enabling someone to contact you in multiple ways versus providing excellent service through fewer channels.
You might have inherited a wide range of channels from your predecessor, or have been tempted to add more channels over time. However, this doesn’t come at zero cost and can quickly become overwhelming to manage. One too many channels and you can lose quality of service across the board and cause some customers to receive a worse experience, simply because they chose a channel that’s not monitored as closely as others. You might also leave customers baffled by which channel to use to get their question answered, or your team unsure where their priorities should be.
Ultimately, all your customers care about is getting their issues resolved as soon as possible. Ask yourself if your customers really care about how they contact you. Chances are, they won’t even want to in the first place – regardless of the channel – and will look for opportunities to self-serve or search to see if anyone else has experienced the same issue.
By considering the channels you have and then taking steps to determine exactly where your customers are, you can understand where you should focus your limited support resources.
If you ask a customer, ‘What’s your favorite channel?’, some will say, ‘I love chat’, while others will say, ‘I love to Tweet a company and get a response back’. Some customers will say, ‘I like to send off an email or engage with other users in an expert community’. They all have preferences, but we call those minor preferences, not major preferences. Because when you test with the data, what you find is all of those choices come in second to whatever option is easiest. So you could tell the customer, ‘I understand you love chat, but a phone call is the easiest way to get this problem fixed’.
Their choice, their preference for a channel is immediately subordinated by their desire for an easy experience. That’s what opens up the possibility of providing guidance for customers, because customers want that guidance. If companies are coming out saying, ‘Here’s what we recommend’, customers will always go with the recommendation, especially if the recommendation is pitched in the language of ease.
Customers don’t really care about being seamlessly handed off from one channel to the next. If they have an easy path to victory, they’ll take that path every time.
– Matthew Dixon, Chief Product & Research Officer at Tethr, Co-author of The Challenger Sale, The Challenger Customer and The Effortless Experience
Pros and cons of common customer support channels
There are a wealth of different channels available to you. Expectations for each are different, as are the skills to manage them effectively.
In terms of channels with wide distribution, there aren’t many that come close. Your customers will expect to be able to email you, so you’re not likely to be in a position to drop it. Email supplies an excellent record of past discussion, but it’s also easy for email threads to quickly become hard to manage and follow, particularly when several people are copied in. It can also be frustrating for customers when a a lot of back-and-forth is required to resolve an issue.
Helpdesk email providers can solve this with easier collaboration and additional features like data collection, but these can be expensive and overpowered for your needs.
Some might consider phone support to be old-fashioned but for a lot of businesses, customers will still expect to be able to pick up the phone and talk directly to a support agent. This makes for a highly trusted but labor intensive and expensive channel, particularly for small teams.
Matching the speed of phone support but with a lot more convenience for customers who prefer their web browser, chat has been growing massively as a support channel for anyone doing business online. Customers will expect a faster response time than email, so consider whether you have the resources to provide that pace of support.
On-page/In-app messaging widgets
Pop-up support widgets turn your website or app into a support channel. They give your customers the option, while browsing your site or using your app, to submit a question or request via email. It can be tricky to manage customer expectations about response times though.
Some widgets also integrate self-service knowledge base articles directly into the widget, allowing customers to instantly access answers.
No matter who your customers are, you can be sure that they’re active on at least one social network, be it Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or another. This makes it an essential channel to monitor. Nobody wants to leave unhappy customers hanging in public, so if you respond quickly, then everyone can see an issue being resolved in real time.
As a free 24-hour public platform, be aware that customers may turn to a social network like Twitter after not receiving a satisfactory response or level of service from another of your channels. You may choose to take this kind of conversation to a more private channel, but this can sometimes prevent you from turning around a negative situation before an audience.
In the event of service outages and major upgrades, planned or otherwise, your customers will expect to be updated over Twitter and have their questions answered. Your team may also not run the social media accounts and will only be called upon to respond when Marketing or Sales cannot answer a question themselves.
I would definitely say that, over the last few years, consumers are getting more technologically savvy. There’s been more of a switch to social media queries rather than reaching out to the company first and explaining the problem. It’s the same notion that has people jumping on a review platform to say how rubbish a company is. That’s one thing we’re probably going to continue to see as a customer service industry, but it’s about having the right answers in a public sphere when it comes to dealing with complaints and dealing with reviews.
These days, I think a customer sends a message to a company, especially on social media, fully expecting a response within minutes, which actually doesn’t always happen. But there’s the expectation that you should get immediate help, because you’ve paid for that service.
– Amy Smith, Head Of Customer Service at Trouva
Community boards and message boards
Don’t forget that many of your customers will share similar interests. Whether your customers are active on your own moderated forum or on a ‘shared community’, you need to keep an eye on the threads where customers have questions that the community weren’t able to sufficiently answer.
Don’t underestimate the work involved in moderating your own forum. Having active, or reliably semi-active, moderators is extremely important. Active means that problems get fixed quickly, users are responded to, and issues are discussed and resolved behind the scenes.
Self-service knowledge base
An online knowledge base or help center can be a useful tool for encouraging your customers to use self-service. By providing answers to your most frequent support questions you can, in effect, deliver round-the-clock support, as well as make cost savings and stretch your support resources further.
Though undoubtedly a great way to extend your support channels, be mindful of switching too much of your support to your knowledge base and effectively creating a barrier between you and your customers. It will never be a replacement for personal support, which there will always be a demand for.
Like your product or service, a deep and detailed knowledge base never stands still, and so can be time-consuming to edit. It helps to have at least one person ultimately responsible for governing it.
The next popular channel
There are always emerging channels that catch the imagination and get you excited about new ways to support your customers. AI-assisted support, with its promises of solving customer requests in much less time than human agents alone, is gaining in popularity.
If you’re looking to add an additional channel, ask yourself whether it will actually help you resolve customer issues better than you do currently. Anything that risks adding to their confusion or frustration needs to be carefully weighed up.
Ways to relieve channel overload
Focus on your team's strengths and interests
Not everyone on your team will be suited or comfortable with every support channel. You might have someone who doesn’t enjoy talking over the phone but can provide quick and detailed written responses. Another might struggle with high volume chats but has the patience and know-how to tackle complex, technical questions.
When your team are overburdened, focus on the support channels that multiple team members are comfortable using and where they excel.
Analyze the performance of each channel
To find your best combination of channels, take the time to analyze how each is currently performing.
For each channel, look at support metrics like:
- Volume - How many customer support interactions do you receive for this channel in a given period?
- Response times - How long does it take for your team to respond to customer for this channel?
- CSAT - How satisfied are customers who use this channel?
- Cost / Effort - How much does it cost to run a channel and how much effort is involved in monitoring it?
Look for other ways to test your existing channels. Try them out yourself to see how they perform. User test your knowledge base with your customers to see how easy it is for them to find answers you know exist on there.
Remove underperforming channels
Once you’ve pinpointed one or more underperforming channels, consider whether to continue supporting them. By doing so, could you reallocate any cost savings and resources to further improve an already popular channel?
Don’t leave your customers stranded. Make sure you have a plan in place, if needed, to clearly redirect customers who may return expecting to use the removed channel. If customers are not able to self-serve or use another channel for their type of issue, then you’re not ready to remove it yet.
If you have neither the resources, time nor skills to support a channel that you can’t remove, outsourcing can be a cost-effective solution. If done well, they can become remote partners or flexible extensions of your own team.
Keep in mind that you, and your customers, will want them to sound just like your own team. That means you’ll need to be really clear in your training and be prepared to work with your outsourcing provider to help them get in tune.
Use tools that serve multiple channels
If you’re serving multiple channels, there are tools out there that can help overcome channel overload.
- Omnichannel tools like Zendesk are great for managing customer relationships across multiple channels.
- Live TV dashboard software like Geckoboard can integrate data from several channels, enabling agents to easily monitor, and respond quickly, to queues.
- Online automation tools like Zapier can be used to create custom workflows, triggers and alerts for the different services you use.
Review your channel metrics regularly
You can help tackle channel overload before it even becomes an issue by regularly reviewing your incoming support metrics. As your product or service changes, your team’s skills deepen and new channels emerge, try to find the mix of channels that lets you consistently deliver the highest quality of customer service.
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