It's undeniable; retail customer service is facing an era of dramatic change. According to analysis from global consultancy, Deloitte, consumers increasingly digital lifestyles are altering traditional customer service models more than ever.

Where the customer service sector was once comprised of simply responding to customer queries using a single channel, today it has become a multi-functional role that requires its employees to be able to respond to issues and queries across various digital communications channels in real-time.

Social channels such as Twitter and live online customer support via chat have significantly changed what it means to provide customer service. Consumers now expect answers in real-time.

If a company's customer service team does not have the tools and skills necessary to respond effectively in a timely and supportive fashion across multiple channels, this can affect both a company's brand value as well as the bottom line.

Therefore, it is more important than ever for companies to empower their customer service teams with the right tools, relevant skills and training, and to develop proper metrics to ensure that the correct levels of service are being delivered.

The right tools for the job

Today's digital communication touch points are numerous – in one day, a person might phone a friend, text a family member, email a colleague, post on Twitter and chat online with a retailer for customer support.

In fact, recent Omnibus research reveals that the average consumer uses 7.4 channels a day to communicate, many of which are accessible on the go. Thus, the onus on retailers to successfully deliver multi-channel customer support has become even more complex.

Companies need to be able to cope with maintaining effective customer support in the face of a changing industry while mitigating the decline in staff satisfaction levels and attrition rates.

Unfortunately, in many cases, little attention has been devoted to putting systems in place to enable staff to effectively handle multichannel enquiries.

While consumer technology has advanced, companies' internal systems and processes often fail to respond in kind, which leaves staff frustrated and lacking the resources necessary to be able to elevate their job to the requirements of today's digital world.

However, with the right tools and systems in place, organisations can act more intelligently. Internal collaboration technologies can empower employees to track and respond to customer queries through these multiple new channels. By providing employees with the right tools, response efficacy will increase, and productivity along with it.

Customer service teams will be able to close the loop on customer queries quicker and more efficiently. Moreover, employees will also feel more empowered to do their jobs, raising employee satisfaction and reducing attrition rates.

The right training

Along with having the right tools to get the job done, companies must also ensure that their employees receive adequate training to cope with today's quickly changing multichannel customer service environment.

Companies must ensure that their customer service staff possess the skills necessary to successfully navigate multiple channels and live up to today's customer expectations. This requires investing in employee training.

An effective approach can be to identify existing team members that are particularly adept at serving customers through digital channels and organise in-house training sessions led by those workers.

Such comprehensive training can provide an excellent opportunity to discuss how they approach these channels differently and to share advice widely throughout the company.

Metrics matter

Over the years, organisations have developed a number of metrics to assess service delivered in the contact centre, ranging from call volume and average response time to customer loyalty. While it would be great if these metrics could be applied to customer service via web chat or social media, the truth is that they can't be applied across the board.