How To Improve Multi-Channel Customer Support

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Email, social media, phone calls—it's easy for IT solution providers' customers to feel overwhelmed if they don't have a handle on each of those channels. Here, the COO of Zendesk, Zack Urlocker, discusses the customer service value of these channels, and how they must be managed to maximize their potential. —Jennifer D. Bosavage, editor

Gone are the days when a customer could only communicate to a business through one-to-one channels such as mail, the phone or in person. As a trusted business partner, IT solution providers must help their customers to understand that the conversations around a business and its customers are happening in greater numbers across an increasing number of communication channels every year. Even the channels themselves are undergoing radical change, with the emergence of many more technologies including social media such as Twitter, Facebook and customer forums that allow for many-to-many communication. Increasingly, customers are turning to emerging technologies and expecting businesses to do the same.

IT consultants are uniquely positioned to show their clients how businesses benefit when they open up more support channels for their customers. Solution providers can suggest and implement the necessary technology to give customers a competitive advantage, and assisting them in gaining access to younger markets. Establishing multiple channels must be accompanied by a strategy to maintain and integrate them. It’s not enough to open the door if no one is there to greet them. That's another area where the IT solution provider can be a resource.

The New (and Old) Support Channels

There is a new customer support landscape, and it requires some fresh strategy. While phone and email are still the primary channels customers use to interact with customer support departments, they are not as dominant as they were even five years ago. Online tools such as chat, knowledge bases and especially social media are taking some of the support pie. That is not to say phone or email will disappear, but we are no longer in a day and age when offering one type of support will suffice. Any company wishing to offer quality support as a piece of its business will have to do so on multiple channels.

Support More Important Than Ever

As the number of channels increases, so too does the importance of customer service and support for a business’s bottom line. As business goes global and digital, it is becoming more difficult to compete on price and selection alone. As new markets and manufacturing centers continually open up, one’s ability to retain the lowest price is constantly threatened.

One area where a business can compete is the quality of their customer service and support. While consumers are price sensitive they are also brand loyal if that brand consistently provides exceptional service. By going where the customers are — email, phone, social media, the web, etc. — and providing great support, businesses afford themselves many advantages.

How to Stay on Top Multi-Channel Support

Offering multi-channel support presents many challenges along with its benefits. More channels can mean more management; and can lead to disorganization among support teams. With more channels to manage, more customer requests can fall through the cracks.

Let’s look at three strategies business can employ to stay on top of their multi-channel support:

1. Unified tools and processes
2. Working cross-channel communication (e.g. when a support request moves from email to phone)
3. A strategy of monitoring and engagement

Multiple Channels, Unified Tools

To be an effective support organization, a business needs to capture all its requests in a unified process and set of tools. While requests may arrive in different ways, the organization should treat them all the same way at some level. That will reduce overlap of efforts, ensure consistent responses, and simplify the management of its support team.

Ensure Cross-Channel Communication Works

Customers are often switching from one channel to another when interacting with a business. In a report on cross-channel communication, Forrester found that “more than 71 percent of customers reported that they go from the Web to some other channel when researching and buying, and 74 percent of customers said they move from the Web to another channel when getting service.” When they switch channels, it is often recorded as two separate interactions by the support organization; while to the customer, it is simply one continuous experience. The confusion on the support organization side results directly to frustration for the customer. To avoid this situation, a business needs to lower the confusion on its end.

IT solution providers can help by ensuring that any data that has already been collected from its client's customer stays with that customer through the whole interaction. For example, if the chat system can’t talk to a ticketing system, the consultant should recommend a unified tool.

Strike A Balance Between Monitoring And Engagement
It is also important to realize how each channel is different and treat them accordingly. Email, phone and chat are very reactive channels—support agents wait for the customer to initiate the interaction. Therefore, alerts need to be set so the agent is notified when an email has come in, a chat has started, or a customer is on the phone.

Social media channels and customer forums allow a business to be more proactive. A business’s service and support organization can also post updates about its product or initiate conversations about it. And, while a business can create rules that notify them about conversations mentioning their brand — and thus be more reactive — they don’t necessarily need to engage them right away. Sometimes sitting back and listening can be more valuable.

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