Connecting to the online masses

As the era of one-to-one communication with customers is swept away by new media, businesses need a multi-channel strategy to touch base with customers.

Gone are the days when a customer could only communicate with an organisation through one-to-one channels such as mail, the phone or in person. Conversations around organisations and their customers are happening in greater numbers across an increasing number of communication channels every year. Even the channels themselves are undergoing radical change, with the emergence of many more technologies including social media such as Twitter, Facebook and customer forums that allow for many-to-many communication. Increasingly, customers are turning to emerging technologies and expecting businesses to do the same.

The New (and Old) Support Channels

There is a new customer support landscape, and it requires some fresh strategy. While phone and email are still the primary channels customers use to interact with customer support departments, they are not as dominant as they were even five years ago. Online tools such as chat, knowledge bases and especially social media are taking some of the support pie. That is not to say phone or email will disappear, but we are no longer in a day and age when offering one type of support will suffice.

Support More Important Than Ever

As the number of channels increases, so too does the importance of customer service and support for a business’s bottom line. As business goes global and digital, it is becoming more difficult to compete on price and selection alone.

One area where a business can compete is the quality of their customer service and support. While consumers are price sensitive they are also brand loyal if that brand consistently provides exceptional service. By going where the customers are — email, phone, social media, the web and providing great support, businesses afford themselves many advantages.

How to Stay on Top Multi-Channel Support

Offering multi-channel support presents many challenges along with benefits. More channels can mean more management; and can lead to chaos among support teams. With more channels to manage, more customer requests can fall through the cracks.

Multiple Channels, Unified Tools

To be an effective support organisation, a business needs to capture all its requests in a unified process and set of tools. While requests may arrive in different ways, the organisation should treat them all the same way at some level. That will reduce overlap of efforts, ensure consistent responses, and simplify the management of its support team.

Ensure Cross-Channel Communication Works

Customers are often switching from one channel to another when interacting with a business. In a report on cross-channel communication, Forrester found that “more than 71 per cent of customers reported that they go from the web to some other channel when researching and buying, and 74 per cent of customers said they move from the Web to another channel when getting service.” When they switch channels, it is often recorded as two separate interactions by the support organisation; while to the customer, it is simply one continuous experience. The confusion on the support organisation side results directly to frustration for the customer.

Strike A Balance Between Monitoring And Engagement

It is also important to realise how each channel is different and treat them accordingly. Email, phone and chat are very reactive channels - support agents wait for the customer to initiate the interaction. Therefore, alerts need to be set so the agent is notified when an email has come in, a chat has started, or a customer is on the phone.

Social media channels and customer forums enable a business to be more proactive. A business’s service and support organisation can also post updates about its product or initiate conversations about it. And, while a business can create rules that notify them about conversations mentioning their brand — and thus be more reactive — they don’t necessarily need to engage them right away. Sometimes sitting back and listening can be more valuable.

Michael Hansen is the Zendesk Vice President and Asia Pacific Managing Director