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 On the one hand, consumers are now empowered by the multiple channels in which they can contact a company, especially with the immediate response that Twitter and Facebook illicit. On the other hand though, companies can find themselves overwhelmed by the communications coming in, some of which are duplicated by consumers, and this sets them up for a public scolding. One answer to the problem is to combine all customer service communication channels, so that there is the scope to look at the entire customer service workload and zero in on a single customer to resolve issues before they escalate.

Matt Price VP EMEA at Zendesk (www.zendesk.com) looks at this problem that is becoming more prevalent and what organisations need to consider to avoid problems with their customer service.

Since the launch of Facebook nine years ago and Twitter three years later, the customer service industry has changed irrevocably. For one thing, the term is now described more accurately as customer engagement and its importance within the enterprise has risen substantially. However, this boom in the number of channels a customer can use to contact a company can be both a blessing and a curse.

Telephone and email are still the most popular way for customers to interact with companies, but Facebook, Twitter, forums, live chat and blogs are quickly taking a bigger share. The problem comes when a company puts these communications vehicles in place without the necessary back-end preparation to make sure it will add to the customer’s experience, rather than confuse and fragment it. It may only take five minutes to set up a Twitter account, but planning how it will be used effectively requires a lot more thought.

By just opening up all of these channels to please customers, some companies are setting themselves up for a very public fall, as they soon become overwhelmed. Equally, by avoiding these new channels that customers want to use could lead to the same disappointment. After all, just because you’re not using social media doesn’t mean people aren’t talking about you on it.

 

Keeping pace

The solution? Embrace it. Soon enough, another technology will come along that customers will also want to use and falling behind the curve now will be the death knell for many companies. Handled appropriately, the multiple social channels can improve the efficiency of the support team, greatly increase customer satisfaction and generate new sales opportunities. Mishandled or not addressed at all and there is a real risk of being out of touch and at a competitive disadvantage.

According to a survey by Forrester Research, 91 per cent of decision makers said elevating their customers’ experience was a mission-critical goal. Customer loyalty is increasingly hard to maintain, which is why every occasion that they do engage is a chance to build that relationship. Rather than use price or product, companies must differentiate themselves by giving their customers an exceptional experience and by engaging with them in ways never before possible. Offering a great price leaves businesses open to being undercut; offering a great experience builds long-term loyalty.

Be the customer

Is the customer always right? If you want them as a customer, then yes. Their query or complaint is an opportunity to make them into a champion of your company. As such, it is wise to consider the customer support service from their perspective. Seventy-four per cent of customers said they move from the web to another channel when looking for service. When they switch from one vehicle to another, it is traditionally recorded as two separate interactions by the support team; while to the customer, it is simply one continuous experience. The confusion on the support side results directly in frustration for the customer.

The proliferation of communication vehicles can lead to a discordant organisational experience with one of your support agents checking email, while another is communicating solely over Twitter. It is a classic problem of the right hand not knowing what the left is doing. While requests may arrive in different ways, the organisation should treat them all the same at some level. This will reduce overlap of efforts, ensure consistent responses and simplify management of the support team.

 

Your products have issues – accept them

Every business which requires a customer support function has issues with its products or service. This is not to say that the products are faulty, but there are stumbling blocks for customers. Analysing the purpose of customers contacting the company will show the frequently asked questions. Often times, these can be addressed by content in a community forum or a knowledge library on the company website. Time spent on putting these materials in place will save time and money later on. As a ticket is created for a common problem, a set answer can be sent back to the customer directing them to this help function. This is particularly useful on social media sites where customers are expecting a speedy response.

Customers who cannot resolve their issue through a self-service option or the delayed interaction of email need to be able to reach a human. If not, they feel helpless and can direct their frustration to their friends and social networks.

The implication is clear: it is important to offer your customers a way to reach you immediately when they want to. It is a balancing act – live support can be time-consuming and expensive, but it is one of the most effective ways to ensuring customer satisfaction. Yet, with good self-service channels in place, as well as all your other channels, you will need fewer live support agents in place that you would otherwise, making multi-channel support much more cost-effective.

Your staff have devices of their own – accept that too

Whether officially sanctioned or not, many support employees already make use of their smartphones and iPads to access corporate software and solve customer problems because these channels make the support team’s job easier. So it goes hand in hand that making the customer service system accessible from anywhere frees them from only doing support while at their desk. Agents who are meeting with clients or working in a meeting room can pull out their iPad and check in with the requests coming through. The result to the organisation is that response times will go down and support will be more flexible which can only benefit the customer more.

 

Embrace and unify

It is clear that incorporating social media into the standard customer support offering is important to stay on a competitive footing. In order to avoid being overwhelmed, all the communications channels must lead to a single point for addressing. Forrester’s research showed that 68 per cent of decision-makers plan to increase spending in this area. However, a savvy approach to customer support will create a more streamlined process for the customer, build brand loyalty and ultimately can lead to an increase in sales.

Social media is not a silver bullet, nor the only solution for customer support. But there is no denying the power and impact it can have on your business as a part of your multi-channel customer strategy.

 

 

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