The Strategy of Customer Service ChannelsThe next time you walk into your favorite brick and mortar clothing store, try noting the number of service interactions — and conversations — you encounter in a single visit. Consider: From the outside, you see the shop front. Maybe there’s a sale on or special offers. Walking inside, you see men’s or women’s sections, a “new collection” sign and some cool posters or flyers. A shop assistant greets you — even if it’s just with a little nod or a smile at first. They’ll soon wander over and kick off a conversation with you. They’ll ask what you’re looking for and offer expert, personalized advice. Once you’ve chosen, they’ll walk back to the checkout with you, sort out any further questions you might have, wrap your purchase up nicely, take your payment, thank you for coming to the store, and wish you a very nice day! This is the holy grail of customer service — an easy, personalized, consistent, and pleasurable shopping experience. Of course, your customers would love you forever if you replicated this in your own online store. But thanks to today’s tech-savvy, smartphone-toting, channel-hopping online shopper, you have an ever-growing stack of channels to wade through before you can start getting up-close and personal. Having a strong grip on your customer service channels is one of the key competitive differentiators between an online store that’s “moving along nicely” and a store that is truly becoming a market leader. In our previous posts we covered your “self-service” channels (product pages, support pages, FAQ, knowledge base, community, and blog). Now, we’re focusing on your main “assisted” service channels — social, e-mail, chat, and phone. We’re going to look at the typical channel challenges you face, offer some pointers, and share a great framework to help you optimize those channels. To get started, let’s take a look at these channels from a customer’s point of view…
Channels from your customer’s point of view“Omni-channel” is the new buzzword. To paraphrase CloudSherpa: “Ask a customer who has the best omni-channel service, and they’ll frown. Ask them who has the best customer service and they’ll tell you right away.” Customers don’t think in terms of channels. They only think about getting an answer to their question or complaint. Depending on where they are — at home, on the move, or at work — they will want to use whatever device is at hand (computer, cell, tablet, etc.) to get to that answer. In other words, whatever is most convenient at the time. So is there such a thing as a “preferred” channel? Well, the data varies quite a bit. STELLAService found phone and e-mail were the most preferred channels; in 2013 Forrester Research found that e-mail is the third most widely used channel with 58% of shoppers choosing it as their method of communication. Web chat has increased in popularity over time — adoption having risen from 30% to 43% between 2009 and 2012. It also has the second highest satisfaction rating after voice with consumers. Preferred channels also depend on how you slice and dice them. For example, in 2013 Forrester Research found that 71% of consumers prefer “voice” (phone and chat) to any other channel (just as we’d said!). Channel preference also varies depending on the type of product, the urgency of the issue, and, most importantly, the type of question. But no matter what the issue, no matter who the customer is, they do expect you to be “agile across all channels” — switching from one to another without any effort. And — as all the studies from PWC and Evigo to Zendesk and Intersperience show —there are three big things customers value more than anything else:
- A quick response — no matter what the channel. According to this study, 71% want a response in under 5 minutes. But typical channel response times vary considerably. A 2013 STELLAService study shows that Live Chat response times typically come in at 1minute 11 seconds. Phone is second at 1 minute 12 seconds, Twitter, third at 4 hours 6 minutes, and e-mail is last at a massively customer-disappointing 10 hours and 33 minutes! Ouch.
- A friendly response — no matter what the channel. Earlier, we shared CEB statistics that show a friendly interaction is the most effective way to create customer satisfaction. But different channels typically generate different degrees of satisfaction. This study shows 91% of customers are satisfied with service via phone. Chat has the second-highest customer satisfaction rate (85%), and self-service channels come in a very respectable last at (83%).
- An effective response — no matter what the channel. As long as the problem (or question) is solved in one contact whenever possible, customers are happy. This Accenture study shows 82% of customers that switch brands would not have switched if they had their problem solved in the first interaction. And results differ by channel. STELLAService found that live interactions had an 88.5% resolution success rate but only 58.6% rate in e-mails. Harvard Business review research confirms this, suggesting it takes an average of 2.4 e-mails to get a query resolved, as opposed to 1.7 phone calls.
Channels from your point of viewWe’ve included a summary of the main channel challenges online store owners face — along with a couple of pointers too. Afterwards, we offer a framework to start optimizing your channel strategy.
1. E-mail Hopefully, you are already using a tool to manage support e-mail such as Zendesk, Desk, Freshdesk, Helpscout, GrooveHQ, or even ROBIN’s — our own. However, in our experience many teams still use Outlook (Exchange) or Gmail. Using standard e-mail clients can become a serious problem when hitting a growth curve. For example, when you’re using Outlook Exchange, a customer support email lands in multiple Outlook inboxes. When any one of the team members opens the e-mail, it shows up as opened in everyone’s inbox. This can often lead to missed mails, duplicate responses, delayed responses, etc. Maybe even one of your team members drags a message over to a personal folder, at which point no one else can find it. It’s difficult to categorize e-mails. When you work in Outlook or Gmail, it’s almost impossible to get any contextual data into the mix that will help you deliver great service.
2. Phone The main challenge with phone service is that, when someone calls, your reps need to be able to pull up an order and conversation history in order to see when that customer called last. Quite often web stores cannot do this. As such, it’s difficult to properly analyze many issues people may be calling about. And the last thing you want is for your customer to have to re-explain previous problems to yet another service rep. That’s why ROBIN offers phone registration. Every call is immediately part of a conversation history. Others sites have solutions too, of course. You might even want to explore virtual phone numbers — depending on the size of your team and the type of contacts you most encounter.
3. Live chat As we pointed out earlier, live chat is a clear growth opportunity. “Chatters” are a high-value segment (they spend 55% more than non-chatters), and they convert 7.6x better than non-chatters too. Although live chat often has the biggest satisfaction rating, it also brings its own particular challenges. The main one being that live chat is, well, live! It demands a response time in seconds, not minutes. And once you get more than one customer online, you need concurrent user capability in your chat app. The success of live chat depends on how well your team is trained in the art of customer conversation. Integration with e-mail can also be a challenge. If you are to meet the customer need for speed, you must be able to draw on all available customer data from across platforms to solve their problem — instantly! If you manage it well, live chat can give an incredible boost to customer satisfaction and loyalty. But managing it can be difficult. We’ve developed a conversation roadmap to help you get there.
4. Social Media The majority of E-Commerce sites today use Facebook, Twitter, a channel for images (Instagram or Pinterest), and one for video YouTube or Vimeo). And they use them primarily as a content marketing channel. Every social channel can generate product or service questions. But by far the biggest use of social by consumers is to praise (or complain about!) your customer service. So you need to know what to look out for: Product or delivery questions and/or complaints. And then manage them appropriately. In terms of response time, what can you expect? Well, it’s no surprise — customer expectations run high: 32% expect a response within 30 minutes. 42% expect a response within 60 minutes. On the other hand, only 2% actually use social media for customer service. If you’re to get a grip on social media, it’s all about assessing the types of questions you get and then prioritizing the management of that channel. But we’ll discuss that later. To sum up: Each and every channel carries its own particular set of challenges. And it’s often tough to know where to focus first. Good thing we’re not done here just yet….
Two Steps to Optimizing Your Channel StrategyAt the start of this section we noted that the Holy Grail of E-Commerce customer service is to replicate the easy, personalized, consistent, and pleasurable shopping experience of a brick and mortar store. At this point, however, there’s one more thing we need to add to the mix: The cost of delivering that customer service experience you, and your customers, are after. Taking into consideration both costs and customers’ needs, you will be able to build a more profitable business. There are two steps to optimizing your channel strategy: The first step is to do your own assessment of the actual business value of your channels (see our four questions below). The second step is optimizing your channel strategy to make certain you have the right people, processes, and tools in place. That way you have a channel strategy you can really scale!
Step 1: Four Questions to Assess Channel ProfitabilityWe’ve adapted Gartner’s “Four Vs of Big Data” and applied them to customer service-assisted web store channels. (More info about big data and E-Commerce right here!) Cheeky, yes. But it works! You don’t need to go too deep here. You already have a good understanding of what channels work and how. Our goal is to focus you more on overall profitability rather than getting stuck in tactical problem-solving mode.
Volume: How many service contacts per month do you get in one individual channel? Why not use the split we suggested earlier: phone, e-mail, live chat, and social?
Variety: What are the main types of issues you encounter in this channel? You could use complaints versus questions or, as we suggested earlier, split this by pre-purchase and post-sales. Both will work.
Velocity: How quickly do customers get their issues resolved in that channel? This, considering our principles of great customer service — and one of the three main needs of today’s online shopper.
Value: What is the average order value of your customers in that channel minus the costs of servicing that channel? Look at the average order value per comment, question, or complaint and then subtract the number of hours you put into that channel.Once you’ve answered those four basic questions, you should have a more realistic view on how your channels are currently working for your customers and what it is costing you too. You can next use these insights to start shaping your service channel strategy. “People, process, systems” is a model used by many leading management consultants to help businesses deliver on their business ambition.
Step 2: The Three Parts of a Great Channel StrategyBelow is an explanation of what each part entails with a series of thinking points. Your goal here isn’t to tell your team what they are good — or not so good — at. Your goal is to ask them what they think. Nothing more.
- People: Ask your team what they believe are their own strengths and weaknesses in each channel. Ask which one of them is best and in which channel. Each channel is very different. And each team member has different preferences and skills. By mapping this, you will better understand the gaps in your channel strategy. Once done, you can get those who are best on one channel to train those not quite as good. This is a great way to get your team to coach each other — and already start to deliver better customer service along the way.
- Process: Once you have defined who is good at what, you should think about routing: What type of question should you route to whom based on their skills. For example, some of your team will be much better at handling product questions, others complaints. This is the second level of shaping a channel strategy that really works.
- Technology: Once you have defined who is good at what, and who is best at handling which type of issues, it’s time for you to think about how you can enable your team to deliver every time through the right channel tools. There are two main things to consider here: convergence and collaboration. By convergence we mean asking yourself if any one of your team members can quickly and easily call up any information — from any channel — to solve customer question. That means all the funky stuff we talked about earlier — conversation history, order history, and so on. Collaboration refers to how easily your team can collaborate internally — i.e., a quick, internal chat to solve your customer’s problem.