Three Questions to Ask Before Adding A New Service Channel

Customer service channels were simple in the good ol' days.

There were three big channels when I got started:

  • In-person
  • Phone
  • Mail

Later, fax came in handy for business-to-business communication. Email eventually started catching on and then, boom! It's suddenly become a channel arms race.

Your might be tempted to add a new customer service channel in an effort to keep up. Before you do, I want to let you in on a little secret.

Your customers don't really care about channels.

What they do want is a seamless experience. So, before you invest a chunk of change in the latest channel craze, make sure you can answer these three questions.

Question #1: Is there enough demand?

Let's set aside in-person service. For contact centers, there's a new big three for customer service channels:

  • Phone
  • Live Chat
  • Email

Parature's 2015 U.S. State of Multichannel Customer Service report reveals these are by far the most preferred channels. It also helps to have a robust customer service website since the majority of customers go there first when looking for help.

Adding a new channel to the mix can take a lot of resources.

You'll need invest in the right technology, hire and train the right people, and create procedures to tie it all together. Oh, and you'll need someone who actually knows what they're doing to manage it all. That takes time.

Let's say you're thinking of adding SMS (text) support. It's probably not worth it if only one or two customers per day want to send you a text. On the other hand, you've got a pretty strong case if your daily volume is 100.

You also need to understand whether an additional channel is adding new contacts or diverting contacts from a different channel. For example, a 2015 Zendesk report revealed that implementing live chat typically draws contacts away from other web-based contact methods.

 

Question #2: Can you serve your customers effectively?

There are a few things to consider here.

One is context. Some channels are better suited than others for certain applications. Let's look at email as an example. It's great for simple, low urgency inquiries. It's terrible for complicated, high-urgency matters. This is especially true since the typical company takes one day or longer to respond. 

Capability is another consideration. 

You might be itching to add live video support because you've heard it's so great. Then you start looking into what it actually takes to make it happen. You might face some significant technology, staffing, and infrastructure hurdles.

Companies sometimes worry about their customer's channel preference. But, here's a secret. Your customers aren't really committed to their preferred channel. 

A 2012 study by CEB found that 84 percent of customers prefer a seamless service experience over using their channel of choice. They want a fast resolution on the first contact with minimal effort. Only 16 percent of customers were steadfastly committed to using their preferred channel.

 

Question #3: Can you serve customers in a way that's consistent with your brand?

A lot of companies have service channels with multiple personalities.

Social media provides a common example. Customers of some companies have learned that they'll get faster, friendlier, and more helpful service by Tweeting their complaint rather than calling.

Here are a few barriers to consistency:

  • Silos - different channels owned by different departments
  • Vision - no clear definition of outstanding service
  • Priority - some channels are given more resources than others

Things get even trickier when service interactions move from one channel to another. Customers expect a seamless experience.

For example, think about a typical airline passenger and the channels they use:

  • Website: book the ticket
  • Mobile app: check in
  • In-person: gate agent, flight attendant

That's assuming they don't have a problem. The channels can expand rapidly if there's a flight delay or another issue:

  • Phone: call to re-book
  • Twitter: vent frustration about the delay
  • Email: contact the airline's consumer affairs department to complain

One passenger experiencing a flight delay might use six or more channels. A lack of consistency in service quality across those channels can be frustrating.

 

Getting It Right

Dense Lee Yohn gave this excellent advice in her book, What Great Brands Do:

Great Brands Ignore Trends

Her point was that companies can easily lose their way by chasing the next trend without giving much thought to execution. The best brands focus on being good at doing a few things really, really well.

That philosophy applies nicely to choosing the customer service channels you'll support. It's far better to have a few well-supported channels than many channels that aggravate your customers.

You can learn more about managing multiple channels by watching this short video.