Today’s companies have multiple communication channel options to reach customers and vice versa. Designing a channel strategy that improves support and overall customer relationship management can feel overwhelming.
Companies need a solution that can capture their customer’s entire journey, in a way that improves on the traditional support ticket or help desk. One strategy goal is to help you figure out which channels are working well vs. which ones are not. It’s also critical to provide your customer support team with the tools to operate more efficiently.
Let’s look at some different elements of an effective customer service channel strategy, along with five channels to improve your customer success journey.
What Are Customer Service Channels?
Every company uses a variety of service channels to carry out transactions. Most of the channels interface with each other at different points. Supply channels are an easy-to-understand example because they involve tangible materials. Communication channels can be a bit confusing because we can’t see them. Even so, they definitely exist.
Another way to think about it is, just like cable channels broadcast programming, marketing channels broadcast a company’s communications. Companies use communication channels to raise awareness and explain or demonstrate their value proposition.
Channels enable sales, delivery, and post-purchase customer support. Communication channels organize interactions and get the right information to the right people at the right time.
Why is it Important to have a Customer Service Channel Strategy?
The customer service channel is one of the most important channels because it directly affects Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) and retention. In brief, different considerations for your customer service channel strategy include:
- Your unique product or service
- Different generations prefer different channels
- Time to resolution – for customers, response time is the metric for good service
- How can you help people save time with self-service options
- How can you best equip your service agents to save time on service calls
Customers Want to Save Time Regardless of the Channel
One way to simplify your strategy is to realize that regardless of the channel, the most important predictor of customer satisfaction is, are they saving or wasting time? 73% of customers say that valuing their time is the most important function customer service can fulfill.
The desire to save time is why most customers prefer a quick self-service option to resolve their issues. Secondly, if customers can’t quickly find what they are looking for, they want to be able to get on a call with a real human quickly.
Because live human support is the most expensive for companies, your strategy should prioritize continually testing and improving self-service options to minimize live support calls.
Different survey results point to similar self-service and live support trends:
- Most customers want to be able to help themselves, especially for routine tasks. 69% of customer service leaders see self-service as a major trend for customer service strategy. Gartner studied more than 8,000 customer journeys and found that 70% of customers are using self-service channels at some point in their service journey.
- Optimized self-service options like intelligent chatbots and robust knowledge databases can help people help themselves and reduce customer attrition. Customers are also increasingly interested in voice-activated assistants such as Siri or Alexa. As artificial intelligence (AI) improves over time, these options will become even more intuitive.
- If customer engagement via live agent support is necessary, it is critical to help them work efficiently. A unified view of customer information is vital. 84% of service professionals say a unified view of customer information is key to providing great customer experiences.
- Currently, 56% of agents have to toggle between multiple screens to find all the information they need to do their jobs. Customers don’t like to repeat details to multiple help agents or to wait on hold while agents search for information.
A successful customer service channel strategy has several moving parts. Kayako’s experience with Coin Stop provides an interesting case study in reducing average response time, increasing agent productivity, improving collaboration between departments, and providing omnichannel support.
Generational Preferences for Customer Service Channels
While there are always exceptions to the rule, customers from different generations show typical channel preferences. If your customer base is dominated by one generation over another, their preferences can help you decide where to put resources and boost customer retention.
- Baby boomers prefer phone and email.
- GenX is the bridge generation that can move between email, text, and chat.
- Millennials feel that talking on the phone or voice mail is too time-consuming. They prefer messaging apps.
- Gen Z, the first true digital natives, has more nuanced preferences. They prefer messaging apps for personal or informal connections. At work, they prefer face-to-face contact. In the customer service setting, live video calls may be most effective for them.
The Best Customer Service Channels That Every Business Should Consider
For each step in the customer journey, there can be multiple communication channels. The most common communication channels used by service companies are:
- Social media – 72%
- Online forums – 68%
- Customer portals – 64%
- Messenger apps – 55%
- Online chat/live support – 52%
Those numbers show how much communication with customers has changed over the last 30 years. Mainstream social media didn’t even exist until the 1990s; now it’s the top channel companies use. Facebook launched in 2004 and currently serves 1.6B people, including 69% of the US population.
The advent of social media multiplied the number of channels and communication from the customer to the company. Customers also began posting their experiences with companies and brands, too.
It is interesting to compare the list above of channels companies use to communicate with customers vs. the channels customers prefer when reaching out for service.
Notice that a support phone number didn’t even make the list above, whereas it’s the #1 preferred customer service channel from the customer’s point of view, according to the “Customer service channels preferred by consumers” survey by Statista.
Let’s take a look at some specifics for each channel.
Even in this era of multiple devices and channels, a good old-fashioned phone call remains the customer’s preferred method for accessing customer service, especially if they haven’t been able to solve their problem on their own via self-service options.
Gartner cautions, “While there will always be live service, that type of service should be treated as a precious resource”. That statement may be true, but it reflects the company’s internal priority, not the customer’s.
Limiting phone help is easier said than done when consumers prefer the phone as the most popular option. Almost everyone has a frustrating story about hunting for a support phone number hidden deep in a website or not listed at all.
Companies that make it difficult to access phone support may spend less on live call support, but the cost can be lost revenue and more negative word of mouth from frustrated customers.
So what is the solution? One key to the perfect customer experience is to optimize the self-service experience so that fewer customers access live support in the first place. For those calls that do escalate, giving agents a unified view of the customer’s experience so they can do their job quickly and efficiently results in the best use of everyone’s time.
Trying to scale customer support with a single shared email account quickly causes frustration for customers and staff. Email isn’t designed to track dozens or even hundreds of requests that may involve several threads, channels, and team members. The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that the average interaction worker spends 28% of the workweek managing e-mail and nearly 20% looking for internal information or tracking down colleagues who can help with specific tasks.
In contrast, a shared inbox solution is a centralized communication tool. Shared inbox software creates a single shared interface per customer that the entire customer support team can access. Instead of long, confusing email threads, teams can track each customer’s complete support history, all in one place, via a visual dashboard. This allows service reps to work more quickly and save time resolving customer issues.
One excellent bridge between self-service and one-on-one phone support is live chat. In fact, some audiences (millennials, for example), may prefer live chat to a phone call. 63% of customers said they’re more likely to return to a website that has a live chat. Just having a live chat option isn’t enough, though. Remember how we showed above that it’s not about the channel? It’s about the time spent.
Hubspot reports that 60% of customers expect an immediate response when contacting live chat. Just like customers don’t want to wait on hold during a phone call, they also don’t want to wait for a chat to begin or have a lag time between responses.
Kayako’s live chat software makes it easy to give your customers the personalized help desk service and experience they expect. It’s quick and easy to customize our live chat software and integrate it into your website, iOS, and Android apps.
A help desk knowledge base is a critical part of enabling customers to help themselves. Companies can capture ongoing learning and internal and external conversations. Careful knowledge base curation over time creates a valuable, growing asset. A self-service portal provides 24-7, searchable access to the knowledge base. Make it easy for your customers to help themselves, and you may deflect thousands of live call requests yearly.
Customers often turn to social media for recommendations on products and services. They also use social media to express satisfaction or frustration with a brand, which naturally leads to service requests originating from social media platforms. Companies need a tool that unites all customer conversations into one view, enabling social media workflows to automate managing conversations across channels.
The Bottom Line
Customers want to save time. Live phone support is expensive for companies. The key to success with customer service channels is to first optimize the self-service aspect to decrease live calls. Secondly, streamlining the calls that do happen will reduce costs and increase customer satisfaction.