SOCAP International

In an Omni-Channel World, What Matters Most?

Here are four things to consider as you create your customer care channel strategy.


Keeping the Customer Front and Center

  • The call center remains a solid channel to deliver what customers want and leave them feeling satisfied.
  • Emotional engagement is the foundation of any brand and key in customer service interactions.
  • Offering contact channels that aren’t providing stellar service is bad for your brand.
  • Companies need to engage and show empathy and the phone remains the principal way to do this.

Since the early days of the call center, companies have looked for ways to streamline customer interactions and reduce the cost to serve. Technology has been a great help in this quest: from improved telephony and routing systems to customer relationship management platforms to social media. Advances in technology are promising, but technology isn’t a silver bullet.

As the complexity of customer issues increases, we need an understanding of what customers want and a balanced approach in order to deliver superior customer care. Here are four things to consider as you create and optimize your omni-channel customer care channels:

1. The contact center is dead; long live the contact center!

When it comes to service interactions, companies should resist prematurely pushing customers away from their channel of choice. While preferences are slowly changing (particularly with Millennials and Generation Z), for the moment and the foreseeable future the contact center remains king for most customers.

Consider the intrinsic benefits that well-managed contact center interactions offer as far as providing brand-reaffirming experiences when developing an omni-channel customer care strategy.

In our research study, “Touchpoints: Personal Presence Trumps Digital Decorum for Optimal Customer Experience,” we found that while only half of customers were satisfied with their first interaction, personal touch prevailed. Satisfaction was highest for those who contacted companies in person and lowest for those who did it via social media. So the call center isn’t dead yet. It remains a promising channel to deliver what customers want and leave them feeling satisfied.

2. It’s all about emotions. Do machines understand that?

We know how important emotional connections are to satisfying and delighting customers. We must remember that just because it’s technically possible to manage customer interactions through self-help and social media, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best thing for the business. What’s best is to build a customer care infrastructure that lets customers decide which channel works and feels best for them.

Creating a customer experience that delivers issue resolution and positive emotions is the goal, and companies are pushing hard to deliver social-media channels to reduce costs and compete. However, social media provides customers with a voice that must be proactively managed to make these important emotional connections.

The inexorable shift toward chat and self-help service channels will continue, driven by familiarity of their use, the emerging influence of key, younger demographic groups and their perceived cost efficiency. As machine-to-machine technologies (particularly mobile and app-based services) continue to wholly or partially replace human-to-human interactions, companies and brands have fewer real opportunities to connect on an emotional level with their customers.

There is no escaping the fact that emotional engagement is the foundation of any brand, and it’s been long established that it is key to delivering a differentiated brand experience. How companies manage their service interactions, particularly at key moments of truth, can deepen customer engagement and drive loyalty. It’s easy to see how activating these emotions can be done in a phone interaction, and more difficult via email, chat and self-service.

3. If you can’t do it well, don’t do it.

When developing your customer care channel strategy, remember that your customers expect you to deliver on the options you offer—and deliver them well. In the recent Customer Touchpoint Stress Test, we looked at how 50 major brands performed on customer satisfaction with contacts across four different channels: phone, email, chat and Facebook. Customers of the companies tested were recruited to evaluate service offered when contacting on simple issues, such as billing questions and product inquiries.

The first headline was that companies just aren’t making it easy for customers to initiate contact in the first place. Only 52% of the testers found the customer care contact information on their website very easy to find and only 24% found the information extremely helpful.

Phone was the highest performing channel with 86% resolution rate and 58% of testers being very satisfied with the resolution. But even high-performing companies on the phone didn’t fare well with other channels, with less than half of the testers obtaining resolution and only about one-fourth being very satisfied with the response. In a recent Forbes post, Micah Solomon said, “If you set up an expectation that you will assist, interact with and engage customers through social media, then you need to do that, and do it just as fabulously as you do it in other channels…If your social responses are inferior to—or not integrated with—your other channels, they’re hurting your brand.” We couldn’t agree more!

Our research showed that access is crucial. Making it difficult for customers to contact your company with questions or complaints means fewer contacts, leading to lower customer satisfaction and loyalty. The same research also showed that contact handling can be a profit center because of dramatically higher loyalty created by the positive contact handling experience.

Our Stress Test confirmed this. It showed that once the contact is initiated, the customers’ experience strongly impacts their loyalty. Having a positive contact experience resulted in testers being 15 times (94% versus 6%) more likely to say they would definitely buy again than those having a negative contact experience.

4. Don’t forget about now as you prepare for later.

There will continue to be structural changes in how companies will have to mirror the needs of the market and changing customer demographics. The key takeaway is that companies need to engage and show empathy, and phone interactions remain the principal means to do this. Companies need to align their resources to today’s reality while building to take on the challenges ahead when it comes to creating meaningful interactions via alternative channels. It’s a “now and later” approach to customer service strategy.

While an omni-channel strategy is absolutely required to deliver the best customer experience, offering contact channels that aren’t providing stellar service is bad for your brand. As a starting point, companies should identify directly how they fare across all touchpoints by conducting their own “stress test” and learning what actions to take to significantly improve the customer experience, customer satisfaction and loyalty. Understanding what customers want is the first step to delivering superior customer care in this rapidly changing omnichannel world we live in.

Grim_CindyCynthia J. Grimm is vice president of client development for CX Act (formerly TARP Worldwide, Inc.). She has assisted hundreds of companies with quantification of the value and ROI of customer experience improvement, enhancing the voice of the customer process and developing balanced approaches to measurement that drive action within an organization.

GavinWinter_headshotGavin Winter spearheads business development and strategic solutions development. Previously, he held senior leadership roles for Maritz and Synovate research in Europe and globally where he pioneered the understanding and application of emotional drivers of experience to drive business performance.