Multichannel Customer Service – Bringing It All Together

I’ve come to the conclusion that a typical customer service organisation is very much like a tropical island. Last year I went to Thailand, which was lovely but the quality of the destination was marred by the experience of a horrible journey.

The same is true with many customer service experiences. When I phone a contact centre I expect a fast result and to have that expectation shattered by a dumb IVR system or call queue can be like the bump-down from business-class to economy.

Opening new customer service channels should not be simply about reducing cost, but making the customer journey better. That said, the great news is that opening new channels will also save you money if you get it right. Asking me to take a boat will not win my loyalty if I want to fly. Web and email can be an order of magnitude more frustrating than a voice call, simply because the journey can be much longer and the effort required much greater – now I’m rowing to Thailand and your website represents the tide.

In general terms, the challenge is to understand where I want to go and how to get me there with minimum delay, effort and frustration. As with travel, it helps if you understand and acknowledge my personal needs, values, preferences and expectations.

If we look at the characteristics of a multi-channel customer service operation, we might conclude that it needs to be ’deterministic’ and apply knowledge-based rules to help guide each customer along the best route for them.

Frequent fliers who get to know the system inside-out will look for ways to make their passage even easier. They may also have a raised service expectation to reward their loyalty; so our multi-channel system should also be ‘adaptive’. That is, it should consistently look for small improvements to offer an even better journey based not only on my previous experience and behaviour, but for those like me – Amazon style.

We all know that listening to customer feedback is essential, but why not go further and help customers to define their own ideal journey? So, a third important characteristic should be to make the service ‘configurable’.

These changes are already delivering results in multi-channel marketing, with customers owning the marketing relationship through personal subscription-centres and adaptive systems that enable a ‘one to one’ exchange.

Our friends in marketing have found that by sending the right information to the right people, at the right time and using the right channel, campaign response rates can increase significantly. Not only that, but because the communication is less frequent and more relevant, it is perceived as having more value and- importantly- read rather than deleted.

Like marketing, customer service should be proactive as well as a reactive. Recent evidence has shown that customers highly value status-updates, reminders and other information that they would otherwise have to seek-out for themselves. As with marketing, these value-added communications can be delivered in person or by a personalised email, text message or automated voice call.

Customer service and marketing are inextricably linked through a common objective to retain and grow customer value by creating and preserving loyalty. And yet, back-office systems often remain disjoined and the common-sense principles and best-practice techniques of marketing automation are seldom applied to customer service.

To provide a consistent and best-in-class experience, they need to be joined-up and the glue will typically be a CRM system that allows the same customer data to be used across every touch-point. But marketing tends to be very dynamic and fast-moving, whereas customer service is seen as a hands-off business function; oil and water in many respects.

This divided approach must change. The introduction of a multi-channel strategy can be a great time to review the end-to-end customer experience by looking at all of the customer journeys that you offer and focussing on ways you can make those journeys even better.

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Marlon Bowser founded HTK in 1996, with responsibility for technical direction and core applications development. In 2003 Marlon adopted the role of CEO to lead the company into position as a leading managed service provider. Before HTK, Marlon worked for five years as a consultant engineer to BT Laboratories Advanced Research and Technology division, designing and developing some of the first systems to exploit speech technology in a digital telephony environment. Marlon graduated in 1991 from the highly regarded University of Manchester Institute for Science and Technology (UMIST) with a first class honours degree in Computation.