Savvy companies that fully understand the impact of digital communication are embedding Twitter and other social channels into their customer service strategy to speak to customers in a way that suits them: through a unified 'omni-channel' strategy.
Omni-channel software is very flexible, giving organisations leeway in how they use it. Rules can be set up to determine how to respond to "conversations" in each of the channels, either to facilitate automated responses or to have representatives manually respond.
For example, if a competitor's customer tweeted about poor phone reception, the software can automatically respond to this (along with other similar tweets) with something along the lines of "Nothing is more annoying than a lack of signal. We guarantee signal coverage anywhere in the UK – are you free for a quick chat?"
If a follow up call were then needed, the system would direct this to the relevant representative. Omni-channel customer service centres operate a unified queue of requests via all media types, being able to blend inbound/outbound contacts and assign the right representative skills to the right conversation at any time based on business rules.
From the customer's perspective, omni-channel enables them to use any form of communication they like – Twitter, SMS, email, phone, instant messenger – to contact a company and resolve problems. In theory, they should be able to resolve the same query on whatever channel they choose to use, at whatever point in the conversation thread. This means that a customer could tweet their provider to solve a problem and then move onto a call without ever having left the conversation, or having to repeating any information.
Many organisations may think that character restrictions on Twitter make it impossible to solve problems as this limits discussions, especially if the issue is complex and longwinded. This is especially true of the financial services industry, where data protection regulation is tight and privacy is a primary concern.
However, the idea of omni-channel is not about being able to solve the problem through the first means of contact, it's about responding to your customers straight away, acknowledging you are aware there is an issue, and suggesting the next appropriate step.
For example, if a customer tweets a company saying they have a problem with their order, the company can arrange a call back at a time that is convenient to the customer, avoiding any dreaded call queuing. As Lithium Technologies Research states that 38% of people feel more negatively towards a brand if companies don't respond on Twitter within an hour, omni-channel gives companies the tools to respond to customers quickly, eliminating negative feeling.
Harris Poll's 2014 survey of 2,000 British adults shows the harsh reality of the impact of poor service: more than a third (69%) agreed that a bad experience has led them to go to competitors or insist to speak to a senior member of staff, and over a quarter (29%) were "fed up" with the time it took communication service providers to resolve an issue.
In order for companies to get ahead of the competition, customer experience needs to be second-to-none at all times. According to the report, poor customer service can cost a business up to a third of their revenue, which emphasises the importance of getting it right first time.
As omni-channel monitors and listens to every communication channel, representatives can respond quickly to any form of customer query. This creates several opportunities and benefits for a business as well as its customers.
For the company, it removes any manual processes from live customer service advisers that are frequent and high volume, saving operational cost. Instead of having several hundred, basic skilled advisors working in a customer service department, there is a smaller, more trained, and expert team, armed with the right technology to deal with lower volume complex queries that cannot be resolved with self-service.
For the customer it provides a positive experience. Having used little effort to contact a company, in a way that suits them, they receive a quick response about the next steps in the process if the issue can't be resolved there and then.
The beauty of omni-channel is that it can be adapted for almost any organisation. For instance, the very public channel of Twitter doesn't seem to fit well with a private issue such as personal finance, as previously mentioned. But this is where the customers are, and therefore where the company needs to be.
The retail sector has fully understood that its customers are on Twitter as it has been leading the way in omni-channel adoption. Retailers understand the importance of loyalty and the impetus to make customer service a higher business objective priority, and often increase the revenue from new customers as a result.
The retail sector has turned the customer service centre into a hub of new engagement technology and clever strategies to target the next generation of consumer. Smart retailers understand that placing customer service at the heart of their operations is the key to success.
Regardless of industry sector, most companies can take advantage of omni-channel thanks to the development of cloud computing and virtualised offerings. Even SMEs, who are more likely to have a limited customer service budget, have an opportunity to get ahead of the game as the cloud offers a cheap, viable alternative to on-premise software.
For those companies concerned about having a fully cloud solution, finding an omni-channel provider with an on-premise and hybrid alternative will put any cloudy fears at ease. Ultimately, a business opting for a cloud model should feel fully confident that service up time will be 100%, so a provider offering service incentives, such as refunding 1% of fees per minute of downtime, guarantees an extremely reliable network.
In order to retain customers (and also attract new ones), communicating with them in a way they prefer – something that is faster and easier – enhances their journey and improves overall satisfaction. In return, companies experience cost savings and better skilled staff, while all the time promoting customer loyalty.
Those companies that take the time to understand the different communication channels – and implement these in their business strategy – will significantly reduce the effort needed from the customer, helping set them apart from their competitors, and propelling them to become market leaders.
- Jon Lingard is Customer Experience Consultant at Aspect Software.
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