Unraveling the Tangled Vines of Omnichannel Customer Care

by Susan Preiss in Contact Center Outsourcing, Customer Service Outsourcing, Omnichannel Customer Service, Susan Preiss

Competitive pressures, customer expectations, and emerging technologies are some of the key factors pushing leaders to elevate and evolve their customer service approach. We often talk about omnichannel as the ultimate goal for any and every customer service solution. But there’s a lot to unpack when it comes to creating and sustaining an effective, elegant omnichannel design that truly improves the customer’s holistic experience with your brand.

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As we close out the decade, we can safely make two sweeping statements: consumers have more channel options to reach a resolution than they did ten years ago, and we know a whole lot more about consumer behaviors than we did ten years ago. #decadeofdata. So let’s explore the intersection of those two statements through the lens of omnichannel support.

An Increase in Channel Switching

According to a Microsoft report, customers around the world use three to five different customer service channels on average. Adding more channels into the omnichannel experience was supposed to help simplify service, empowering customers to pick whichever channel they preferred to resolve their issues. Instead, the opposite has happened – adding more channels has complicated the customer journey, adding more contact points and sparking more channel switching activity. Gartner research shows a direct correlation between the number of available channels and the number of customer contacts in a single resolution journey. The graphic below shows the “spider web” appearance of today’s typical customer journey.

An Increase in Channel Switching

The good news, according to Gartner insight, is that channel switching isn’t actually hurting customer loyalty. As long as there’s responsive feedback (more on this below) and eventual resolution, they’re happy no matter which channels they interact with. In fact, a NewVoiceMedia survey revealed that 43% of customers feel more connected to a brand when they are able to contact a company through any channel. Furthermore, customer retention rates are significantly higher for companies with a strong omnichannel approach.

The challenge, however, is that the more complex the customer journey, with more channels and points of contact in a single customer journey, the more effort (read: expense) is required from an organization to resolve each interaction – and often, as shown in the graph above, more customer effort is required to reach resolution. Companies started adding self-service channels into the mix over the last decade with the belief that it would be cheaper – and that’s true. But when customers end up switching to a live agent channel midway through their journey, the cost is often 80 to 100 times more. How often are these switches happening? Gartner reveals that of the 70% of customers who start their journey on self-service channels, only 9% resolve their issue there – the vast majority switch channels, creating an exponentially more expensive customer service solution.

How do you effectively mitigate against the pain and cost of channel switching? To put it simply: focus on your holistic customer experience design before you add new channels. Bolting on new channels with an ad-hoc approach is not the answer. Each channel must prioritize issue resolution and promote customer confidence rather than get thrown into the mix as a “more is better” afterthought. A seamless experience across every channel is also essential – one survey revealed that of the 71% of customers who want a consistent experience across channels, only 29% actually get it. So, at the end of the day, executing on a loyalty-building omnichannel customer service depends upon thoughtful strategy, elegant technological solutions, rigorous process, and sophisticated agent training.

Personalization is the New Norm – And It’s Based on Trust

We’ve known for years that personalization breeds loyalty.  Organizations have rallied around the consumer call to action for brands to “Know Me.” And we’ve written about this trend before (check out the article here on consumer trends), but it’s no longer simply a “trend” – it’s the new normal. It’s been reported that about a third of customers stopped doing business with a company in the last year because the experience wasn’t personalized enough. And when a company does make the effort to personalize the experience based on name, purchase history, and preferences, 75% of consumers are more likely to buy from them.

This concept that the customer care experience should go beyond demographics and preferences and be completely tailored to any customer’s unique current circumstances pushes the limits of the traditional customer journey and relies on cutting-edge data technologies.

In the realm of omnichannel customer service, there is huge potential to achieve next-level relevance. With raw data from one channel serving all channels, companies can eliminate the risk of duplication (no one wants to repeat their name, account number, and issue three separate times on each channel) and leverage real-time views of the customer. An elegant, seamless transition between channels is key to true personalization.

Not surprisingly, data is a huge component of this evolution of personalization. But the second biggest factor is equally important – trust. Nothing triggers consumer frustration – and a bias to abandon a brand – than when customers aren’t able to trust a company with personal information. 58% of consumers reported that they would switch providers in an effort to gain a personalized experience without compromising trust. In the wake of highly-publicized data breaches, such as Equifax, among many others, consumers are more concerned than ever with how their data is being handled, stored, and protected. Yes, they want highly personalized omnichannel experiences based on the hoard of personal data a company collects, but only if they can trust that their data is secure.

Responsiveness Isn’t Just About Speed

Ever since social media, live chat, SMS, became pathways to reach a service resolution, the expectation of responsiveness has climbed higher and higher. Instant gratification and short attention spans are common challenges – a Microsoft report showed that 18% of consumers expect a response to their questions or complaints immediately; 28% within the hour; and 37% sometime that same day.

But recent studies suggest that it’s not all about speed. A McKinsey report tells the story of a company that decided to prioritize speed of issue resolution in response to customer complaints about slow service. However, customer satisfaction did not improve as a result, and the company’s executives realized there were multiple factors at play. As they dug deeper, they discovered that longer wait times were acceptable to customers – as long as they were updated with regular and thorough communication. The graphic below shows that even when resolution took days, or even months, customers were happy with the result provided they felt well-informed.

Responsiveness Isn’t Just About Speed

McKinsey suggests there are three main categories of expectation in the customer service journey: 1. Speed and flexibility. 2. Reliability and transparency. 3. Interaction and care. All categories are important, but they may not be equal, depending upon the specific circumstances and demographic of the customer.

In our own experience, we were able to illuminate the relationship between Average Speed of Answer and Customer Satisfaction broken down by issue type for one of our mobile clients. Armed with this data, our client could see the satisfaction of customers with billing issues was significantly impacted by slower speed of answer whereas CSAT for customers with technical issues was far less affected by a longer wait time. Armed with this data, we were able to identify necessary KPI adjustments and prioritization strategies that resulted in significant improvements in CSat overall.  In other words, this kind of cross-channel data can reveal which expectations should be prioritized at any given moment.

2020 Trends in Omnichannel Customer Service

Channel switching, next-level relevance, and responsiveness are all key themes in the current conversation about omnichannel customer service. At first glance, these may seem like simple challenges, but it’s clear that operating on assumptions and anecdotal information in these areas runs the risk of frustrating and alienating the customer. The good news is that, on the flip side, omnichannel done right – with these key points top of mind – has the power to delight your customers, increase brand loyalty, and positively impact your bottom line.

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