In the not-too-distant past, most customer support was conducted by telephone. Then, over the years, technology changed the way we communicate and companies added more customer support channels.
Requests for help came in via email and online forms. As social media and website capabilities evolved, channels were expanded further.
Today, customers receive support using a variety of channels, including phone, email, social media, video, self-service portals and chat forums. Customers are interacting with companies via a range of devices, including smartphones and tablets. This multi-channel customer support model is now the standard rather than the exception.
Multichannel Support – Complex for Companies, Confusing for Customers
Multichannel support sounds good – instead of contacting a company on a business hours-only support line, customers have more choices. But is the multi-channel model effective in helping customers and the companies that serve them resolve issues more quickly? In too many cases, the answer is no.
Multichannel support has made resolving requests more complex for customer support teams, which must now monitor multiple applications to manage all of their customer interactions – often handling six or more separate channels. For customers, there is frequently no continuity between interactions – too often, the service record and information created in one channel are invisible to agents and customers using another channel.
Omni-Channel Support – An Integrated Approach for Better Results
There’s no going back to using fewer channels – customers like having more choices, and it’s better for companies if customers can access answers 24/7. But multiple communication channels require rethinking the way information is gathered, stored and shared. Companies need a fully integrated approach that makes all information accessible across all channels.
This strategy, called omni-channel support, gives customers access to the same channels as before, including phone, email, self-service portals, chat, etc., but all channels are integrated into a single system. That means customers can choose which medium to use when they need support, and agents can view customer data from a central repository of information.
The Growing Importance of Self-Service Channels
The Internet has changed the way people get answers. With access to an unimaginably huge dataset that can return answers on virtually any topic in seconds, people typically go online to get answers to questions, and that extends to customer support questions as well – studies show that 90% of consumers check company sites for answers before placing a phone call.
By some estimates, customers will rely on virtual agents and self-service channels to resolve approximately 85% of their customer service issues in the future. Customers actually prefer it since self-service is typically the quickest way to get answers. And companies benefit as well since self-service enables support staff to focus on resolving more complex issues.
Unified Omni-Channel Support – The Best of Both Worlds
Customer expectations about support and communication with companies is undergoing a generational shift, and business owners who want to stay ahead of the curve will need to rethink their support delivery strategies. Today’s consumers expect a robust self-service option, so companies that plan to build a unified omni-channel communication strategy should invest in a solution that makes it easy for customers to access information via a knowledge base.
Beyond self-service options, an effective omni-channel support system requires a platform that integrates support data from all sources – including phone, chat, email, social media and other channels – into a single solution. It will require collaboration between the customer support team and colleagues across all departments, with everyone accessing a central knowledge base and contributing their expertise to solve customer problems.
In this way, customer support will complete the evolution from multichannel to omni-channel service, giving a new generation of customers support when and where they need it on whichever device they choose. Companies that embrace this new model can stand out in a crowded marketplace.
About the Author
Robert C. Johnson is CEO of TeamSupport.