Today, contact centers have had to deal with an influx of new communication channels through which customers can -- and now demand to -- communicate. Customers no longer want to be restricted by going to a physical store or calling a contact center for support. They want immediate, real-time customer service in whatever forum they choose.
Things have gotten only more complex as these channels now incorporate new media. Today, live chat and video are emerging as viable mediums for consumers. Even SMS texting for customer support is making its entry into the multichannel universe. But if this proliferation of channels seems like an opportunity, it has also created a myriad of new challenges. Companies need to be able to coordinate customer interactions across multiple channels -- and with other customer data residing in a CRM or ERP system to provide consistent, on-the-minute customer service. They also need to be able to join these data silos to gain new insights about customers to continue to provide high-quality, personalized service -- not indifferent, bulk messaging.
As contact centers try to satisfy consumer expectations and get greater insight into customers through data, these four channels are notable: chat, video, social and SMS.
Let's look at each in terms of their possibilities and their drawbacks.
While live chat has been around for several years, it has been treated with hesitation until recently. But in fact, live chat provides a tremendous opportunity to reach a customer in real time and to close a sale.
Customers often initiate a chat conversation on a company website. In many cases, customers are browsing around and researching products but have unanswered questions and turn to chat to get additional information. These kinds of customers should be considered a "hot" lead, and it is up to a company to close the deal.
To do so, a company's service department must use live chat as another place to provide information and impeccable service for customers. That means having the ability to cross-reference a customer's live chat information with data residing in a CRM, possible interactions by the customer in other channels that may be relevant to his inquiry, as well as detailed knowledge about the product/service being researched.
Video is a relatively new channel for customer service and can have a major impact on customer service if used effectively.
The Mayday button for the Amazon Kindle Fire has been a breakthrough for acceptance of video as a communication channel. Historically, consumers have mixed feelings about this channel and may not understand how it works. Services like the Mayday button offer one-way video, where customers can see agents, but not vice versa. Customers can be confused about one-way video, however, and thus hesitant to use it.
In addition to customers' lack of knowledge about video support, companies need to identify the communication skills that agents need to provide seamless service, including nonverbal skills such as body language and facial expressions. It's also key to have agents speak slowly, clearly and enunciate instructions for customers. The second challenge can be more complex: The physical presentation of customer service agents can pose problems. If an agent has pink hair or is dressed too casually, it can be perceived as discordant withe the organization's image.
Social customer service is already here and in many ways is one of the most challenging for organizations.
In addition to using social platforms to respond to specific inquires, companies must develop a strategy for handling negative social mentions of brand and products. Historically, if a customer had an issue on a call, he was transferred to a senior executive and the issue would be resolved one-on-one.
But in the world of social customer service, customers communicate concerns to a company on social platforms while also sharing those concerns with a much larger audience. Organizations face various challenges in this forum, including how to provide positive customer service, even when a customer may be incorrect, transitioning communication from a social channel to one-on-one phone or email interaction and measuring success beyond the typical contact center metrics.
Social channels offer numerous opportunities to use data to identify customer preferences and trends, but social media monitoring tools and social media metrics can also pose a challenging new frontier for contact centers. Contact centers may not have the expertise for data analysis or data may be too siloed in disparate, legacy systems for companies to identify global customer trends or to get a 360-degree view of individual customers.
While SMS texting for customer service is emerging, it is hardly a mainstream channel for contact centers today. Texting, like live chat and video, offers the possibility of real-time customer service that may help seal deals or provide more proactive customer service. And for certain age groups or tech-savvy customers, it may be preferred over phone calls or other means.
Historically SMS has been underused because consumers paid for individual SMS messages. Now with unlimited text messaging on wireless plans, this is no longer a concern.
Organizations also need to be prepared for the onslaught of inbound SMS messages: Companies need to be able to answer these messages immediately and articulately. Wrestling with volume, combining text-message data with other customer records and so on will loom large as companies delve further into SMS for customer service.
Measuring success in new channels
The principles of measuring success in a multichannel environment are the same as those for traditional phone calls, with a focus on the quality and the timeliness of interacting with customers.
In a multichannel environment, the challenge is determining customer expectations for each channel and understanding how they may evolve (at one time, it was acceptable to respond to email within 24 hours , but current customer expectations have sped up dramatically). The following are examples of new challenges:
- A call center uses standard metrics to measure the quality of service for email and phone, but what are the appropriate quality measures for a live chat session or a video interaction? What tools do companies need to use to monitor these interactions?
- First-contact resolution, a key factor in customer satisfaction, needs to be redefined in the multichannel environment, especially when customers cross channels.
- What are the appropriate response time criteria for the various channels, including both acknowledgement of an issue and resolution of an issue?
- How will companies use new tools like social media monitoring to gauge customer preferences, identify trends and address issues?
We are in the midst of an evolution of the contact center where customers can communicate with organizations via a variety of communications channels. This evolution is providing organizations with a new set of opportunities to expand their service model and enhance customer loyalty. Along with those opportunities, there are several challenges that organizations must address to ensure they satisfy the customer experience.