Customer Service: Lessons from the Omni-Channel Trend

By Pete Slease, 22 January, 2014,

Handshake Showing Business Concepts Customer Service and Sales

Only a few months ago, senior marketing, sales, and customer service managers were telling us about the organizational clamor to develop a multi-channel customer service plan as the only way to gain and retain customers.

But now this trend has moved on to the idea ofomni-channel retailing which describes the attempt to create a seamless customer experience through every channel your firm offers customers.

In this context, many businesses are thinking of their customers buying something, as in: a customer visits the company website, does some research, and maybe even calls the toll-free number to discover if stock is available locally, and then goes to a store to make a purchase.

If the company is delivering an “omni-channel experience”, then the marketing teams will be well aware of the customer’s online research, the phone call, and the visit to the store.

What it Means for Customer Service

But this omni-channel idea also applies to customer service, and to customer service in non-retail businesses. There are two lessons in particular.

  1. Pass account information from the interactive voice response system to customer service reps: This may sound obvious, but there are plenty of firms that don’t collect the information that a customer provides before they speak with a human. Customers will often phone a company and punch in their account/customer number on the phone’s keypad, only to be asked by the rep, “May I have your account number please?”

    I’ll be the first to admit that I was a senior customer service manager who refused to invest in the technology to do this because it cost more than I could justify with the simple seconds saved from the total handle time of a call.  But there’s more to the return-on-investment equation than seconds saved; for example, lowering customer effort is incredibly important to retaining customers’ loyalty.

    And, if your customer service function hasn’t yet invested in computer-telephony integration (for CEB Customer Contact members), it probably should.

  2. Help customers find the easiest way to resolve their issues: This one’s a little trickier (but life wouldn’t be fun if all the solutions were easy).  You know your business better than your customers, and you should use that knowledge to guide customers to the channels that will best allow them to resolve their issue, asMasterCard does in this case study.

    The first step in guiding your customers is knowing what are the worst paths for resolving common issues and then preventing your customers from taking those paths.

    For example, if chat is a bad channel to resolve account-specific inquiries, then clearly provide that information to customers before (or even right after) they click on the ‘Chat’ button.  It just takes a simple blurb next to the Chat feature, like, “If you have an account-specific question your best bet is to search our site using [insert FAQ link here] or contact our live representatives [insert link to phone numbers here]”.

Omni-channel isn’t just for retail companies and customer service teams from all industries shouldn’t be blind to the lessons it does (and will continue to) provide.