Jun 18, 2020 8:03:00 AM

Why omnichannel customer service is flawed—and what you can do about it

 

Who hasn’t heard of “omnichannel strategies”? Your service department might even be applying one, proudly offering customers every imaginable service channel—from email to Facebook messenger and everything in between.

But perhaps you have a nagging feeling that this approach is not all that it’s cracked up to be. Maybe your CSAT scores (Customer Satisfaction Scores) have not significantly improved since the strategy was implemented and the channels were opened. In fact, the CSAT scores may have even plummeted a few times, but you’ve managed to bring them back up to where they were by using other measures. 

 

Maybe you expected response times to shorten, but you’ve noticed that they are actually growing. Your team is struggling to meet the response time KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). You’ve also noticed that costs have been going up: Customers are using multiple different channels to contact you about the same issue, thereby generating extra work for your service agents.

 

Of course, not all omnichannel strategies are doomed to fail. If you’ve applied an omnichannel approach and it’s working out for you, that’s great. However, if you take a closer look at your workflows, you might be surprised to find that your smooth customer service is not due to the strategy itself, but because you’re also applying other measures that make up for its deficiencies. 

 

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How did we get into this mess?

 

“Omnichannel” entered the business lexicon in around 2005 and quickly gained a lot of momentum in customer service. In the world of customer service, it promised to finally keep everything in sync, ensure a seamless experience and enable customers to contact companies when and where it suited them best. 

 

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As an idea, omnichannel service sounds fantastic, but in reality, the picture ain’t so pretty. Almost two decades after the approach first gained popularity, the customer service landscape at many companies can still only be described with one word: messy. 

 

Omnichannel service typically involves dozens of contact channels, technologies and tools—frequently with no clear prioritisation. And things can get really hairy if different departments within the company are responsible for different channels, without any kind of integration between them. In 2016, ContactBabel and Jacada’s US Contact Center Decision-Makers’ Guide found that customer service provided via social media was often handled by marketing or communications teams, self-service channels were managed by the IT department while the contact centre took care of inbound calls and emails. 

 

Providing customers with as many contact channels as possible may actually work against the company. According to a global Microsoft report, customers use three to five different service channels on average. Until now, the received wisdom suggested that adding more channels would simplify the service by enabling customers to reach out using whichever channel they preferred. Instead, according to research, it often has the opposite effect. Extra channels complicate the customer journey, increase the number of contact points and spark more channel switching activity. Gartner research shows a direct correlation between the number of available channels and the number of customer contacts in a single resolution journey. 

 

The core problem underlying omnichannel service strategies is the question of prioritisation. When companies offer support across a variety of channels, but do not prioritise those channels in any way, nobody should be surprised when chaos ensues.

 

Will the customer intuitively know which channel is most suitable for solving their particular problem?

 

The situation gets messier still if all the available service channels are presented to the customer as equals and in the same digital “real estate”. Because as experience has shown, different channels actually specialise in providing particular types of assistance. 

 

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Every service manager is familiar with the following scenario: A customer has a problem and first decides to send an email. After two hours they get impatient and decide to call. While listening to the hold music, they also look up the company on Facebook and send a message using chat. Now there are three contacts on three different channels for one single request.

 

A study published recently by Gartner has actually confirmed that greater choice isn’t always better. In fact, their research found that the more channels there are, the greater the number of customer contacts per individual case. Although the approach is intended to simplify customer service, a larger number of channels actually creates complex customer resolution journeys. Customers switch easily and frequently between channels and, in the worst cases, this can more than triple the costs associated with each contact request.

 

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By applying a traditional omnichannel service strategy, companies are actually doing themselves a disservice.

 

Not only are companies increasing their own ticket and contact volumes, they are inadvertently making their response times longer. As if that weren’t bad enough, they’re also creating a frustrating service experience for their customers by forcing them to navigate the tangled and confusing “channel jungle”.

 

 

There’s a better way: The customer service funnel

 

So how do you effectively mitigate the pain, frustration and costs of channel switching? 

 

We think it’s time for a major strategic rethink when it comes to customer service. By taking an omnichannel approach, companies have focused on the channels themselves, instead of the types of requests that need solving, or indeed the factors that define a good customer service experience:

 

  • Speed and efficiency
  • Convenience
  • Single contact resolution: no multiple interactions
  • Friendly service

 

There are numerous studies on this topic and nearly all of them identify these same factors. 

 

Omnichannel strategies suggest that you will only get ahead of your competitors if you are present in every single channel that your customers are likely to use. It seems logical, so no one can blame customer service managers for thinking that’s the way to go. Yet using every possible channel is not really a strategy. Instead it’s a tactic which, according to research, is often unnecessary and expensive. 

 

This is where the customer service funnel comes in.

 

The funnel is all about active prioritisation and guidance: Instead of presenting the customer with every available contact channel, companies should guide their customers towards the most efficient channel based on the type of problem or request. 

 

The basic flow is pretty straightforward: All customers are first directed to self-service options, such as FAQ pages and chatbots, and from there, the interaction is escalated to the appropriate channel based on predetermined categories.

 

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Strategically funnelling requests will improve your service experience 

 

The point of the funnel is to help service managers be strategic about how different customer requests are dealt with and how they are escalated within the service department.

 

The classic configuration directs all customers towards self-service first, then escalates the interaction to other channels further down the funnel as required. 

 

This approach will also help you identify the requests that are best dealt with in the self-service layer (thus reducing the number of incoming tickets), as well as the high-value requests that need additional attention (and often generate revenue), so that they can be fast-tracked to the most suitable service rep. 

 

If applied correctly, the funnel approach will offer every customer a superior service experience. They will get the help they need in the fastest, most convenient and efficient way possible. 

 

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After almost twenty years, the omnichannel customer service approach has become outdated. Many companies have found that the misaligned strategy leaves a lot to be desired. Instead of streamlining the customer journey and improving the service experience, it has left many customers feeling frustrated and powerless. 

 

The reason why the funnel model is so effective, is because it is based on a solid understanding of the incoming customer requests. It’s all about identifying different types of contacts, ranking them according to their priority level, then strategically guiding the customer towards the most efficient channel based on the type of problem they have. 

 

The customer service funnel is a response to today’s empowered consumers who expect a superior service experience and want to access companies and their resources around the clock. It’s up to service leaders to rise to the challenge and make sure customers can quickly and easily help themselves, or seamlessly request further assistance if they need it.

 

Read our full white paper on The Customer Service Funnel:

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AUTHOR

Sara is a brand & content strategist at Solvemate. She’s really into chatbots, and improving customer experience. When she’s not writing about customer service automation, she’s an Italo-disco singer and a devoted housekeeping nerd. Hailing originally from snowy Finland, the Berlin winters leave her cold (pardon the pun).