We’ve all been on the receiving end of bad customer support. You’re bounced from operator to agent to operator and back only to find out you’ve reached the wrong department and, oh, you’ll have to explain the issue again. That frustration quickly evolves into a negative overall brand perception, and your next move is likely out the door.
Multi-Channel vs. Omni-Channel Customer Support
What is multi-channel customer support?
Multi-channel customer support is exactly what it sounds like: supporting customers over multiple channels, like email, phone, and live chat. These channels work alongside one another but are largely separate. If I chat with an online agent then call into support later that day, I’ll likely be starting a new conversation. These customer interactions are independent and transactional rather than cohesive and goal-guided.
For most mid-sized and large companies, this level of support makes sense. Customers expect a choice when it comes time to contact a business because, well, customers have lives. They walk and talk and drive and sleep and eat and generally live among ever-changing circumstances that make it hard to focus on one thing at a time. That means that when a customer has a question, the way they ask depends on a number of different factors.
Multi-channel customer support provides different routes for the customer, and ultimately increases customer engagement. If service is down and you’re in between meetings, you can call. If you don’t quite understand how a new feature works, you can email. If you’re having trouble picking the right plan, you can start a chat.
Just offering multi-channel customer support is an indicator of success in its own right. Talk is expensive, particularly when it’s not ending in new revenue. As customers, of course, we don’t really see it that way. Service is a consumer expectation, and there’s a certain benchmark companies have to meet or surpass to make us happy.
This is no new thing. Customer service is as old as customers, but the customers have changed. So to make customers happy, create new revenue, and keep service costs as low as possible, we have to think critically about the channels we’re using.
What is omni-channel customer support?
Take multi-channel customer support and add a customer experience focus, and you get omni-channel customer support. Customers don’t consider the channel as much as they do the conversation. Problems and solutions aren’t transactional for customers on the receiving end. If I call into support about an ongoing issue today then email in next week to follow up, I don’t want to start the conversation over.
On the other side of the conversation is the support rep. He’s answering support calls all morning. He has maybe 30 seconds at the start of these calls to orient himself before the customer expects him to engage and help. If the product is fairly complex, that’s a tough role to play. If this customer called in yesterday and spoke to another rep, it’s even tougher. As they wait on the line, the rep rushes through their case history and simultaneously evaluates possible solutions. He doesn’t want to ask them repeat questions, and he wants to fix the problem in as little time as possible.
This is a common scenario, especially for companies whose support cases usually take at least a couple touches to resolve. Take the tech industry—platforms break, downtime happens, features bug out, and customer support teams are tasked with an influx of requests. Why did this happen? When will this be fixed? How do I know this won’t happen again?
Companies offering omni-channel customer support fare better in these situations. They’re capable of continuing the conversation, rather than starting from scratch. These support teams tap into the customer mindset rather than approaching each ticket transactionally. If a customers opens a new ticket, the support rep can see that they spoke to Jake 6 days ago and he offered a workaround. These details are the bread crumbs leading to a resolution.
Offering Omni-Channel Customer Support
Widgets and integrations are regularly referred to as “convenient,” which underplays their value. Try managing a growing email queue with three other browser tabs open, each receiving incoming customer requests, and you’ll quickly realize that channel integration isn’t convenient—it’s imperative. Even if your support agents handle just two support channels at a time, minimizing the back-and-forth can help.
Reduce agent multitasking
Regardless of how great we think we are at multitasking, we’re not. In fact, one study found that our beliefs about our own multitasking abilities are negatively correlated with our skill. In other words, if you think you’re a good multitasker, you’re probably a terrible multitasker. This discrepancy in belief vs. reality is known as the Dunning-Kruger effect and it plays out in business every day, resulting in unmet expectations, sour deals, and customer churn.
Multitasking hurts more than our customer relationships—it’s a productivity killer across the board. Our brains take four times as long to recognize new things, so the more we try to do, the less we get done. Adopting an omni-channel approach to customer service reduces multitasking by unifying customer history. Instead of scraping through live chat transcripts while you place a customer on hold, you get a cohesive stream of information that tells a clear story. This benefits your agents, your customers, and your business.
Design a cohesive customer experience
Omni-channel customer support honors the customer journey by providing cohesive, consistent service. Customers don’t get the run-around on issues and they don’t have to chase down answers. Support agents meet customers on their level and channels are built around their needs and preferences. The agent knows your situation, and more than that, they know you. They’re more educated on your case history, so you don’t have to rehash the details every time a new agent joins the problem-solving party.
Integration is key to omni-channel customer support. If customer data lives in different environments that don’t talk to each other, mapping the customer journey will be like solving a jigsaw puzzle without the box. Before an agent responds to an email, it would help to know that this customer has been all-caps-tweeting about it for two days. The rep probably won’t start their email with a peppy intro that ends up setting the customer off even more.
A united customer history gives her that visibility. Each support channel feeds into one main view, delivering a complete customer picture that helps support teams tackle tough cases. Customer history displays every call, email, tweet, and community post, so the journey agents see is the same one customers experience.
Most customer service solutions offer multiple support channels or at least integrate with the third-party providers you’re already using. For example, companies using Salesforce Service Cloud can help their customers through email, chat, phone, social, community, and even in-person visits. But if a Service Cloud user wants to go with a different provider for phone support, they can add a widget to start receiving those calls right through their console.
Measuring Omni-Channel Customer Support
Big decisions should be backed by big numbers. Without data on agent performance, customer happiness, and general efficiency, you can’t make informed decisions. Too often, we rely on hunches rather than hindsight and metrics. It’s not surprising when decisions led by feelings rather than fact end up falling flat.
But measuring customer support can be tough. How do you use data to make the right choices for your customers and your company? And how do you prove those were the right choices after the fact?
Customer service solutions typically offer analytics that fill in some of the gaps. You can usually see the days and times you’re receiving the most tickets, the topics people are asking about, and an array of other finite details. This helps customer support managers make smart staffing decisions and communicate customer needs to other departments.
Customer satisfaction surveys
Support data is extremely important, but it often excludes one rather important detail: the customer herself. You can optimize customer support processes all you want, but if that work isn’t increasing customer satisfaction, then a huge piece of the puzzle is missing. A lot of businesses send customer satisfaction surveys transactionally. The customer rates an email response, the support team sees it, and they either follow up or forget about it.
In contrast, when you integrate customer surveys with Salesforce, customer feedback is housed alongside other customer data. Salesforce surveys help you refine the customer journey. You can trace changes in customer satisfaction back to their source, then take real action on those metrics.
This level of insight can take a customer support manager out of the reactionary mindset that keeps them fighting fires when they should be forging paths. It also helps agents provide more proactive support (a characteristic of the most successful service teams). Best of all, a Salesforce survey automates some of the processes you’d typically handle manually.
Omni-channel customer support is the new golden ticket. As customer experience takes center stage, modern businesses have to provide consistent service across many channels. A cohesive, omni-channel customer support system puts the customer experience first. It reduces friction at every stage of the customer journey, and it helps businesses make data-driven decisions that lead to success.