The How-Tos Of Multichannel Customer Service (Social Channels, Too)

One of the pillars of crafting an “ideal customer service experience” is to offer a consistent service experience across the communication channels that you support. So what does this mean for the service manager who needs to think about this problem from a pragmatic perspective? It means that:

  • Service agents must have access to the customer history across all interaction channels for a full view of the customer.
  • Service agents must use the same processes and have access to the same knowledge so that the service resolution process is the same regardless of channel.

To get there, service managers often start by asking, “What channels make sense to deploy?” This is a hard question, and an increasingly important one given the pressure today to deploy social channels. There is no single right answer — the answer depends on your customer demographics, the types of issues that your customer service agents field, and overall cost of managing channels effectively. What you should think about doing is:

  1. Understand your customer base and their channel preference (traditional and social).
  2. Assess the types of inquiries that you receive and map them to channels that can best support them — for example, Web self-service is best for simple informational requests, and complex troubleshooting should be handled via a real-time channel such as chat or the phone. Think about corner cases, too — such as understanding data privacy requirements that may affect your channel mapping matrix.
  3. Map out a channel rollout strategy (and this includes your social channels): determine the order that channels will be implemented. Ensure that your agent pool is staffed and trained to support new channels. Make sure that your customer service ecosystem is architected in such a way that all channels access the same view of the customer.
  4. Figure out your knowledge strategy across your channels — so that you have the same “source of truth” across channels.
  5. Standardize customer service processes across channels (e.g., if you create a case for an email inquiry, do the same for an inquiry coming over Twitter. If you ask for an account number at step 2 of a call script, do so for a chat session).
  6. Monitor how well you do. One great way to do this is to “mystery shop” your site and compare your results to how well you think you are doing and how well you are doing against your competitors.

Makes sense? Your thoughts, please.


Good stuff!

Good stuff! A couple of related points:

On no. 2, re type of inquiries, a simple but powerful distinction is between service and support. Strictly speaking, support is social (i.e., peer to peer), service is not. For example, a customer can tell you how to use your smartphone, but only an agent can explain why your bill was wrong last month. While you can do both (or either) in a given social channel, from that distinction flows significant differences in costs and ability to scale.

Re no. 3, I agree that every company needs to evaluate the channels it will use, and base that decision on all the criteria you mention at the top of the piece. Sometimes companies feel like they need to do everything at once, but customers award no prizes for doing a lot, poorly.

Finally, a note of realism: in 10 years I've never met a company who has done all six of the great things you recommend, let alone done them right. So the field is wide open.:)

Joe Cothrel
Chief Community Officer
Lithium Technologies

I'm not sure this goes far enough?

I make a disitnction between "multiple channels" and true multi-channel and this still sounds to me like "multiple channels". What I mean by this is that a number of channels may be available to the service agents but suffers from the assumption that the customer is served by primarily one channel hopefully reflecting customer preference.

Customer channel preference is undoubteldy a mark of personalisation but a primarily single channel service strategy does not reflect todays customer behaviour. Customers interact with brands through multi-threaded contact behaviours chosing different channels for different parts of the dialogue.

True multi-channel capability has to track, measure and learn from each interaction and adapt in an agile way that customer behaviour to be always maintaining the dialogue on a channel that is relevant to the customer at any point in time. This becomes particularly relevant with the addition and rapid take up of mobile and social channels.

This capability frees customer facing departments from neeeding fixed channel strategies that may or may not reflect customer preference and delivers a personalised customer centric experience for the end user. A true diffrentiating paradigm that enhances loyalty and customer life time profitability.

Richard Burdge
Chief Marketing Officer

Does Not Go Far Enough

Richard - I call conversations that start on one channel, and migrate to the next "agile channeling" - And you are right on in saying that you want to personalize and contextualize each interaction to the channel used, maintaining the dialog and past history of the customer. I'll write a blog about this soon, and hopefully we'll agree.