SOCAP International

Focus Is the Key to Success in Omni-channel Customer Service

Find the two places you can make the most impact: where the majority of your customers live and where their feedback has the most staying power.

Click here to access the full digital issue of CRM Magazine Summer 2015


Using Your Resources Wisely
Here are some best practices to keep in mind:
  • Consider customer feedback based on potential impact on purchasing decisions, size of the potential audience and lifespan of the feedback.
  • Keep in mind that customer feedback in the organic search channel is by far the most lasting and impactful.
  • Don’t try to be all things to all people in all channels. Instead, focus on two places where the majority of your customers live and where their feedback has the widest and longest reach.

How do your customers communicate with you? Do they want to help themselves via the FAQs? Call you? Connect on social media? For most organizations, the answer is: all of these. Welcome to the age of omni-channel, where customers demand the ability to communicate with brands across a confounding number of platforms. You may have spent the past decade building a worldclass call center, but consumers now expect customer service to move seamlessly among in-store staff, phone, text, live chat and social media.

Creating a truly omni-channel customer service experience requires money and manpower, two resources that companies are usually hesitant to devote to customer service. While connecting your customer service silos can seem overwhelming, it doesn’t have to be. The key to success in omnichannel is to focus the bulk of your resources in the two places they can make the most impact: where the majority of your customers live, and where their feedback has the most lasting impact.

Finding Where Your Customers Live

Every business is different, so the best thing you can do to focus your customer service is to identify the channels where your particular customer prefers to communicate. That said, there are still a few simple truths that you can use to guide your decision-making:

1. People really want to help themselves.
For the first time since it began tracking, Forrester’s survey on customer service channel usage found that respondents reported using the FAQ pages on a company’s website more often than speaking with an agent on the phone (76% vs. 73%, respectively). That means it’s essential to create an online environment that makes it easy for customers to troubleshoot their issues. However …

2. Phone calls still provide the most positive experience.
The prospect of scaling down your call center in favor of improved self-help channels is pretty sexy. For many companies, reducing cost per contact is a high priority. But it’s a bad idea, and here’s why. According to Forrester’s survey, 73% of consumers still end up calling customer service. That number has held steady year-over-year, and isn’t likely to decrease. And, separate research by the CFI Group showed that customers were 40% more satisfied when they interacted with a live agent.

3. You can’t ignore social (but you don’t have to be everywhere).
Social media is the fastest-growing and most frustrating customer service channel. There are dozens of social-media platforms, with new platforms coming online every year, and each platform has its own distinct style of communication. Although you should be aware of every channel, you can reserve the most effort for the platforms where your customers communicate the most.

Here are some important considerations for social media: How are your customers using each platform? The number of questions asked on brands’ Facebook pages increased 85% from 2014 to 2015, while some companies’ customers are using Twitter for everything from asking questions and airing grievances to booking flights and hotel rooms. How are your consumers using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat to communicate with you? What do your customers expect from you on each platform? Seventy-two percent of Twitter users, for example, expect brands to respond to a tweet within an hour.

4. Looking for your least satisfied customers?
Google your company. Although not traditionally considered a customer service channel, organic search is one of the important places companies should focus their customer service efforts, both because of the outsized impact it stands to have on your business and the type of customer you can typically find there.

Reviews in organic search—Google, Yahoo and Bing—live on third-party review sites, the highest-friction method for consumers to leave feedback. You have to create an account, verify your email address, write the review and then wait for it to post. All this is to say that the people who actually make it to this channel are motivated, and typically not by satisfaction with your products or services. The bulk of reviews are from consumers who have tried to resolve their issue via multiple alternative channels— self-help, phone and social media—with no success.

Where Are Your Customers Most Impactful?

We consider the impactfulness of customer feedback based on three criteria: potential impact on purchasing decisions, size of the potential audience and lifespan of the feedback.

Person-to-person feedback, for instance, has the most impact on purchase decisions: 52% of people base their purchases on recommendations from family and friends. It also has the smallest potential audience (typically three to four people for a satisfied customers, and eight to 10 people for an unsatisfied customer) and the most limited lifespan. 

Social media, on the other hand, has a larger potential audience, especially if a post or tweet about a product or service goes viral, and a decent impact on purchase decision. Eighty-one percent of people say friends’ social-media posts directly influence their choices. However, social media has a fleeting lifespan, especially on chronological sites like Twitter. 

Customer feedback in the organic search channel is by far the most lasting and impactful. Customer experiences are memorialized in the organic search channel, and re-experienced every time a new customer searches for your company name: 88% of consumers consult online reviews before making a purchase, and they trust them almost as much as recommendations from their family and friends (48% vs. 52%, respectively). That is an outsized impact for a single channel to have on your business. Fortunately, the organic search channel is also one of the easiest to manage. 

Working with third-party review sites is usually a minimal investment for your organization to communicate with customers to resolve their issues, and every comment and review is an opportunity. Quickly responding to unhappy customers and working to resolve their complaints can turn brand assassins into brand ambassadors. And it gives brands an opportunity to identify problems with their products and breakdowns in their shipping or process.

Creating a true omni-channel customer service team requires a tremendous investment of money and manpower that most companies simply don’t have. And although full customer engagement in every channel is ideal, by focusing your efforts on the channels where the greatest number of your customers communicate and where their feedback, and your response, stands to have the most impact, you can ensure smooth communication and produce noticeably better outcomes for your customers and better return on your investment for your organization.

Bennett_headshotJoy Bennett is with ConsumerAffairs. "As a former advertising account executive, I know the effect a positive—and a negative—public image can have on a brand. ConsumerAffairs gives companies the tools to not only improve their brand image, but to connect with their consumers on a deeper, more meaningful level. It’s a win-win for everyone!”