While many retailers may have embraced multi-channel shopping, the idea of multi-channel customer service is often overlooked, despite playing a vital role.

multi-channel customer serviceToday’s consumer expects to be able to shop anyway they like – whether this means online, on the phone, or in-store. And the multi-channel shopper doesn’t just expect choice, but consistent service across all channels. While many retailers have mastered a seamless shopping experience, many have not yet replicated this when it comes to customer service. Businesses may offer multiple ways for customers to get in touch, but they often operate as independent channels of communication. This creates a fragmented and confusing customer experience. The solution is delivering effective and efficient multi-channel customer service. This is particularly frustrating for your customers because as far as they are concerned, they are contacting the same company – whether they pick up the phone or start typing you an email. To avoid this disjointed experience, retailers should start thinking about customer service differently. Instead of viewing their customer service strategy in terms of individual channels of communication, retailers should consider a ‘single customer view’ which crosses over all channels and organises all communication by customer.

The Importance of Customer Service in Multi-Channel Age

With customers armed with greater choice, today’s consumer demands more. They expect retailers to cater for their needs and jump through their hoops – not the other way round. So once they’ve shopped via the channel that suits them, they want to be able contact you however they choose. This level of service also makes sense from a business point of view, as the financial value of good customer service has increased in the digital age. With social media, the news of bad service travels fast – with one tweet reaching thousands of potential customers in seconds. According to Econsultancy, poor service costs the UK economy 15 billion a year, with the average cost per customer working out to be £248 (~$400 US). The most common reasons cited for poor service are problems which can easily arise from a disjointed customer service strategy, such as customers being forced to repeat themselves, having to wait too long for service and staff not knowing the customer’s history. Retailers which allow shoppers to switch between channels as effortlessly as changing the TV channel, will create satisfied and most importantly, loyal customers. Here are the main channels of communication that form your customer services and how they can be optimized for multi-channel customer service:

Mobile multi-channel customer service solution

Many of us are glued to our mobiles all day long, so it has become the obvious choice when contacting a company. And one increasingly popular touch-point is apps. Many retailers have developed apps that offer on-the-go service. Mobile has to be one of the multi-channel customer service options available to customers today. The only problem with this is that many apps are developed to offer one-way engagement. For example, they allow shoppers browse, check their account and even make a purchase but they don’t offer a quick way to get in touch. Usually, if you want to get in touch, you’ll have to exit the app and effectively ‘start again’ with a phone call or email. Forcing customer to go through a different channel means that they have to wait on hold and re-authenticate who they are. Instead, businesses should develop customer centric apps which allow users to get in touch – with an option to call or instant message directly from the app. This means the customer service team will already know who they are and perhaps even why they are calling.

Telephone is a core offering of multi-channel customer service

The telephone is the one of the most traditional methods of communication and is typically seen as being slow and frustrating. However, despite the rise in other more high-tech ways to get in touch, the phone remains a popular choice for complex problems and remains the backbone of the customer contact service channel. While new emerging multi-channel customer service options are gaining strength in their use by customers, phone remains the most requested customer service channel and organizations today can’t ignore it when it comes to their customer service delivery. Therefore, it is important to invest the same amount of time and energy in the telephone as you would digital technologies. Many websites encourage live web chat during checkout process and while this can be useful, it’s important that this is not the only method of communication offered. Always offer a phone number for online shoppers, as real conversation might just be what they need.

Email as a support service

Email is very popular as you can just send off an enquiry and then carry on with your life while you wait for the problem to be resolved. However, email customers often find that they don’t receive the same level of service as phone customers with some emails left unread for days. In fact one study of American small to medium-sized businesses found that 51% of emails never got a response. While customers do not expect an immediate response, they don’t expect to be kept waiting days – and certainly don’t want to have to chase the email. When a customer takes the time to send an email, they are starting a conversation and if the problem needs to be resolved over the phone, the web-based beginning of this conversation should be visible to the agent. This way it feels like the email and phone call are going to the same place, and are not lost in a babble of disjointed emails and chatter. Whatever a customer writes online should be connected to any phone calls they might make, to create a complete conversation.

Live chat customer service solution

Live chat has grown in popularity primarily as a way to ask a quick query during the checkout process online. This does not mean that it should be seen in isolation to the other channels of communication. Service channel support through live chat is also an effective way to overcome language barriers as translation services can be added to translate foreign languages in real time. If the enquiry is too complex to be resolved over live chat, the agent should be able to offer to call the customer, instead of expecting the shopper to leave the chat and open up a new channel of communication (and probably have to wait in queue to speak to a completely different agent).

Social Media, the fastest growing channel for customer service

Social media for business began with marketing in mind. The opportunity to speak to millions of people around the world was too tempting to refuse. However, social media is much more than a one-way conversation – it is the opportunity to engage with customers and this meanings listening as well as talking. Social media is a great place to engage with your customers and deal with their complaints. Yes, their complaints may be visible to all, but so is your support and service. What could be seen as a negative can be transformed into a great PR tool, if it’s used effectively. There are two common problems with social media in business: it’s either not used effectively for customer service, or when it is used, it’s not linked up with other channels of communication. Social media works as a good point of engagement for customers. Some problems can be solved online while others need to be resolved over the phone. The conversation should shift to another channel seamlessly – ideally with the same agent calling the customer and if this is not possible, that agent should be able to arrange for a colleague to call right away.

Multi-channel customer service happening in store

A common misconception is that in-store customer service assistants are only for high-street shoppers when in fact your staff on the high street should help to join your online services with your in-store experience. Multi channel customer service means real service across multiple channels. Live person, in store is certainly an important channel to consider. Services like ‘Click and Collect’ and ‘Buy Online and Return In-Store’ bring the high-street into the 21st century, by allowing customers to mix and match their shopping experience to suit their individual needs. Not only are customer service and customer experience critical for the online portion of the shopping experience, but if it isn’t backed up and equally matched by a live person, in store shopping experience or fulfillment experience, the entire process can come crashing down, leaving customers with a sour taste of working with your organization.

One Customer, One Conversation

If you can merge all your channels of communication into one fluid and effortless conversation, then you have mastered customer service in the multi-channel age. Your customers do not think of your business as separate channels, so neither should you. Retailers should aim to create fluid service and you can use your customer service communications as a way of joining the dots between separate channels of retail. Just like you’ll need multi-channel retail software to keep track of your business across multiple channels, you’ll need the equivalent in CRM software to keep track of your communications – whether they happen to be over the phone or online. Providing this kind of service is a good long-term strategy, as great customer service creates loyal customers and the loyalty of your customers will save you money in the long-run. How do you think retailers should approach multi-channel customer service? Share your thoughts below.

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