by Sarah Stealey Reed
Date Published - Last Updated February 26, 2016

Remember when contact centers were simpler? Customers had two choices if they needed assistance: they either called or they sent an email. Channel switching was rare, and this siloed approach made it much easier to track customers, report on their journey, and manage the agents involved.

Today’s multichannel contact centers are anything but simple. According to the International Customer Management Institute (ICMI), almost 86 percent of today’s contact centers are multichannel. While voice is still predominant, one channel is no longer enough. Consumers want to engage with technical support and customer service through multiple channels: chat, email, social media, self-service mobile app, and phone (whether by calling into an automated IVR or actually speaking with a live agent).

In the past twelve months, 73 percent of contact centers have added at least one new channel to their mix, and almost half say that more channels will be implemented within the year.

The point is, multichannel is here! It’s here, it’s complicated, and customers aren’t waiting patiently for us to figure it all out. So, how do we keep multichannel mayhem at bay?

Fortunately, some companies are doing multichannel right! Let’s look at how one company—Peloton Cycle—is capitalizing on multichannel options for customer service and technical support by following six best practices for mitigating the multichannel mayhem.

The Right Communication Channel Options

Not all channels are right for every business and every customer, so it’s the brand’s responsibility to decide which channels to offer. It’s important to know how customers really want to interact with the contact center and figure out how best to service them from there.

Our research also shows that while most customers are still calling in, their “first channel choice” would be something different if they were given the option. So, ask your customers what channels they would like to see. In our research, customers have actually said that even when they get good service, they would be more satisfied (93%) if they could get it through their preferred channel. Almost half went on to say that they would jump to a competitor if all other variables were the same but the competitor offered customer service through their preferred channel.

Once you know which channels your customers want, you must then consider the feasibility of integrating those specific channels into your contact center. Will you need to add more staff or train your agents differently? Do you need to adjust your hours of operation? Will your current tools and processes suffice, or will you need to invest in new resources and technologies?

Take social, for example. A couple of years ago, Gartner reported that, in the near future, “refusing to communicate by social media will be as harmful to companies as ignoring phone calls or emails is today.” And while 84 percent of contact center leaders believe that social is a competitive differentiator, and 67 percent think it’s a necessary channel, only about 40 percent formally offer it as an option. For many, it’s simply a resource issue. Social is a 24×7 medium, and that just isn’t possible for some contact centers…yet.

And consider this: Just because you’ve been supporting email and phone for ten years, that doesn’t mean those channels will operate in exactly the same way once you throw chat or social into the mix. Obviously, you want to implement channels that benefit your business and customers, but experiment with those channels that will cause the least disruption, like self-service and email, and then really plan it out. Get your agents involved in pilots, and ask them to provide feedback. Then, be looking ahead to the channels your customers will expect to see next.

Peloton Cycle: Peloton started with just email and online support and has been gradually expanding its multichannel offering. It currently offers multiple channels, including social, phone, live chat, and the Peloton Community. Peloton has a very active social media following, and it offers formal support for both Facebook and Twitter. On its website, Peloton clearly displays the hours of operation for each channel and sets expectations for response time.

Establish Direct Links and Easy Transitions

If your customers’ initial channel choice isn’t the best one, they may need to be transitioned gracefully onto another. In other cases, they may have a complex issue that needs to be escalated to a live agent. Kate Leggett from Forrester calls this agile support. “Customers expect service to be agile,” she says. “That is, they expect to be able to start an interaction in one communication channel and complete it in another.”

This is where a unified agent desktop system can come into play, as it allows agents to move interactions effortlessly from one channel to another and still have the customer’s entire history and communication context available. It’s very important, no matter what the channel, for a customer to be able to seamlessly transition to another channel when needed. Don’t strand your customers without a method or channel for resolution.

Peloton Cycle: After I had some minor issues with Peloton’s product, I made a couple of comments on Facebook. Even though I wasn’t formally requesting assistance through social, I was pleasantly surprised when I received an immediate response. A short time later, I also received an email asking me to provide details about my experience and take a few troubleshooting steps in an attempt to recreate the problem. It was clear from the email that the agent had visibility into my history and knew that moving me from social to email in this agile manner was the best course of action.

Encourage Self-Service

Across all demographics, voice is still the primary communication channel, but self-service is gaining ground. Forrester says that within the past three years there has been a 12-percent rise in web self-service usage and a 25-percent increase in community usage for customer service.

Here’s the harsh reality, though: According to our surveys, self-service implementations fall far short of their lofty goals. While 75 percent of companies have web or IVR self-service, less than one-quarter measure completion rates and more than 60 percent don’t understand containment, abandon rates, or the impact on overall call volume. Nevertheless, self-service is a great channel to experiment with and see what your customers like and where the adoption will be greatest. It takes a little work, but self-service is a dynamic tool that should help organizations and agents manage the customer experience.

Peloton Cycle: Self-service is actually the first channel listed on the Peloton support page. There’s a knowledge base with general FAQs and a community message board for crowdsourcing solutions. The support site is also frequently referenced elsewhere on the website, with links back to videos, help articles, and pictures. From each page within the self-service portal, there are options to go out to social media or submit a ticket to request more assistance. By having customers serve themselves in this fashion, Peloton keeps live agents from having to answer mundane and rudimentary questions, which leaves them free to handle more complex and challenging issues.

Uphold Monitoring

Whether it’s self-service or live support, you still need to be monitoring for success and engaging the customer at the right places. Start with what you know: CSAT and QA. Use your current processes from voice and email and evolve them to work for newer channels. Although there are specific nuances to each channel, certain criteria, such as identifying customer needs, accurately capturing information, and delivering the right facts and services, are uniformly important across all channels.

Also, if you can, start investing in and using analytics. Analytics can close the loop between agent activity, customer need, and any necessary actions you might be required to take. Desktop analytics help your agents improve performance and increase productivity because both you and the agent can see where and how they’re spending their time.

Analytics can help set a baseline for current and forthcoming channels. Text analytics are amazing tools for emerging channels like social and community moderation, as the systems will identify which postings require responses and give indicators for customer-requested service levels. Likewise, speech analytics, through your QA system, can identify patterns and highlight opportunities for agent coaching and training.

Peloton Cycle: It’s clear that Peloton is monitoring across channels and using analytics to identify areas that necessitate a follow-up. A quick review of their social channels shows that not all posts and tweets are acted upon, but those that require a response all seem to get one. They also uniformly request customer feedback on each support interaction. Regardless of the channel, a short email survey is sent upon resolution so that the experience can be rated and evaluated.

Deliver Unified Tools and Processes

As contact centers make inroads with new channels, the customer experience should remain optimal. If a customer is accustomed to world-class service via phone but their request through the mobile application isn’t addressed with the same speed, customer satisfaction can plummet.

Closing the loop between the agent and the customer depends on the contact center’s ability to deliver unified tools and processes. Each interaction should convey consistent contextual knowledge and information to the customer.

If you can, merge your channels into one unified queue. This will help break down silos and eliminate work duplication and inconsistency. This holistic approach will also give you more flexibility, as you can route multiple channels to the same agent and make better real-time adjustments to handle fluctuations in volume.

This merging of channels also eliminates the ad hoc routing that’s so common these days. Of the top five highest volume channels in the contact center, most aren’t automatically routed through the ACD to the agent. Email routing is a notoriously manual process, and that’s problematic when you consider that it’s the second highest volume channel for most centers. And since the routing is ad hoc, it affects agent productivity and the contact center’s ability to forecast and schedule.

According to Aberdeen, 26 percent of an agent’s time is spent looking for relevant data across different systems, and our own research shows that agents use an average of five screens for each customer interaction. That’s a lot of time that could be better spent helping customers!

These inefficiencies affect the customer experience, in particular their perception of the agent’s and the contact center’s capabilities. With only 27 percent of contact centers currently using a unified or simplified desktop system, there’s a lot of opportunity for growth and improvement.

Peloton Cycle: All Peloton tickets appear to be routed through one system, regardless of channel. It’s also apparent that the same agent can provide assistance across the channels and manage both technical support and customer service inquiries. I’ve interacted with Peloton through a variety of mediums, and I’ve always felt confident that each one would be handled in a consistent and timely manner.

Create Connections to Live Agents

Sometimes, even the best self-service tools aren’t enough. And even if the self-service solution is adequate, we all know that sometimes customers just feel better if they can talk to a live agent. While rudimentary tasks can easily be handled through automation, the human element is crucial. Keith Dawson from Ovum believes that agents will continue to be the focal point for the highest value customers and interactions in the future.

Personalized service creates tighter customer connections, which often increases customer satisfaction and loyalty. Not only does access to a live agent improve the immediate customer experience, it also positively impacts the perceived significance of the agent.

Peloton Cycle: My first support interaction with Peloton set the tone for our ongoing relationship. My issue required an empowered and thoughtful response, and that’s exactly what I received. Had I been forced into self-service, or received a scripted response, I wouldn’t be the vocal and loyal advocate I am today.

By following these best practices, it is possible to mitigate multichannel mayhem. As your customers evolve, you must make yourself available to them wherever and whenever they want it: right time, right channel, right place. Your success with multichannel will hinge on having a defined strategy, unifying your channels, and maintaining the same levels of superior service your customers have come to expect.


Sarah Stealey Reed is a customer experience and contact center leader with nineteen years of experience in multisite global organizations. She’s built contact centers from the ground up, managed them for growth, and acted as a turnaround specialist for metrics and employees. As the content director for ICMI, she’s responsible for the association’s editorial content and engagement strategy. Sarah’s a writer, blogger, and social poster, and she often speaks about customer support and emerging channels. Follow her on Twitter @stealeyreed and connect with her on LinkedIn.

Tag(s): self-service, support models, support industry


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