Too often, conversations about customer service and customer service experience either dive too deeply into technology or neglect technology completely. Where then does a discussion regarding channel of communication and points of interaction between company and customer fit? Is mobile a channel strategy or a technology strategy? How can you, should you, encourage channel usage that is mutually beneficial?

I recently shared my thoughts on the evolution of customer service. There I introduced the concept of “active pull,” versus “push” with regards to communication channels.

Channel match is the core of the conversation. The conversation seeks to reconcile the way you would like to interact with your customers versus how your customers prefer to interact with you. This agreement with your customers (call it a communication strategy) cannot simply be decided in a conference room, nor by pure demographics or psychographic data. Each organization needs to understand their customers, the jobs to be done and will certainly feel financial pressures to “drive” customers toward cheaper channels. The difference between inexpensive and cheap is something we all know quite well.

Pull Versus Push

Not only do organizations need to adapt to the changing channel usage by their customers, they need to realize that customer “channel hop,” changing mode of communication even mid-stream within an interaction or process. Your favorite channels are not always your customer’s favorite channels. No one likes being “pushed” toward a channel. Have you ever encountered IVR hell? You know, where you are pressing the “0” button, hoping and praying you can get to a live human? We avoid it because we are convinced that after we enter our 14-digit account code, we will need to repeat it to the agent.

Active pull is a way of saying to your customer that an alternative channel will be worth their time and effort. Active pull is where it is blatantly obvious to the customer that the alternative route is in fact real and valuable.

Conversely, push is exactly what it sounds like -- “go this way, because it is better for me.” For many organizations, and we have all been there as customers, this is typically manifested as “please visit our website.” It is important to carefully consider the customer perspective in each technical decision you make. Pushing customers toward a specific channel purely to deflect calls may not always be the best move. The context of the conversation is an important element in this decision, as data shows:

According to Forrester’s North American Technographics® Customer Experience Online Survey, Q4 2010 with more than 3,400 consumer responses: Live-assist communication channels (phone, chat, co-browse) have much higher satisfaction ratings than asynchronous electronic channels (email, web self-service).

  • Phone (74%),
  • Chat (69%),
  • Co-browse (78%),
  • Email (54%), and
  • Web self-service (47%)

Matching Data, Process and Technology

If we consider, for a moment, that managing processes is not a bad thing, then we should be able to work our way to the conflicting requirements. Channel management is a subset of your customer service process management. Your processes cannot be rigid; they need to be dynamic and flexible, including what channels are used and how they are used.

At the start, the flexibility may need to simply be agent choice, the human element. This is not wrong, as long as the proper data is in front of the agent. Customers are no longer interested in listening to the script, the guided path nor being pushed toward the efficient route. Organizations will need a way to coordinate activities with other parts of the organization. As I have noted before, yelling over the cubicle does not count as collaboration.

There is also a human element to consider. Certain topics and information gathering activities are just more natural in some channels versus others. As the chart below depicts, very personal issues are better suited for agent assist via voice. I want to highlight here that complexity is a mixed bag. While at first it might seem a correlation between complexity and the requirement for agent assist, this is not always the case.

Multichannel Survey.JPG

Yes, for a complex health, insurance or financial service issues, getting on the phone is important. But, what about a do-it-yourself, build the shelves project? Home Depot has shared that it has been able to deflect millions of calls via a peer-to-peer support community and assisting people via Twitter. Carphone Warehouse has seen great success with YouTube videos, achieving over 8 million views since they started in 2008. It is once thing to push people to website, it is quite another to actually help people get their jobs done.

A Balancing Act

Channel match is about balance -- balancing the needs and wants of the customers alongside the needs and wants of the business. If you are not able to match the customer needs properly and the balance is not correct, the grinding sound will be deafening -- like the sound the clutch made the first time my son attempted to put the car in gear.

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