The 8 Customer Service Channels to Pick – or Avoid
Which customer service channels do you offer? Many believe that more channels means a better customer experience.
But according to research by Gartner, the more channels you offer, the greater the number of customer contacts per individual case. It turns out customers actually don’t care so much about whether you offer their favorite channel or not. What they care about is speed and convenience.
So instead of offering all channels, a better approach is to guide your customers to those channels that fit their and your business' needs best.
In this article, we’ll look at the strengths and weaknesses of the most important customer service channel to help you decide which best suit yours and your customers’ needs.
- Website chat
- Video calling
- Online communities
- Social media
- Mobile messaging
Despite the availability of newer channels, most companies offer phone support. It’s a direct form of communication, which meets basic, human needs.
There’s something reassuring about a human voice on the other side, empathizing with your issue. This assurance is especially helpful if you’re a business in which trust plays an important role in selling to customers.
But phone support is also, more often not, a frustrating experience. To reach a human, customers have to endure long waiting lines, annoying hold music and never-ending voice menus.
And because calls lack documentation, the customer usually ends up repeating themselves — over and over again, which means issues are rarely resolved in a single conversation. The lack of documentation can also lead to arguments about who said what.
For businesses trying to keep their service costs down, the phone is by far the least favorable channel. Agents can handle only one call at a time, which inevitably leaves your customers waiting. The only way to avoid frustrations is to have enough staff on to cover peak volumes.
The phone is therefore better suited as an escalation channel, rather than as a first mode of contact. It can be valuable – essential even – for working through complex issues or building customer rapport on the way to a sale. But for first contacts or the resolution of basic issues, the phone is too inconvenient and inefficient.
Next to the phone, email is the second default channel for many businesses. It’s universal in its reach and much cheaper than the phone, which is why many businesses prioritize it.
Because conversations aren't live, service peaks are less of an issue. And as emails are text-based, they can be stored and accessed later on. This makes it easy to search and read through conversations.
Since emails are rarely answered immediately, customers don’t know how long it’ll take for the company to get back to them. And because an agent often needs to ask clarifying questions to understand the customer’s issues, emails tend to result in long back-and-forth conversations. This makes that issues are rarely resolved in the first contact, and oftentimes an escalation to phone is needed.
Since it doesn’t connect with today’s need for speed, email is not a suitable channel for sales support.
Across various studies, live chat consistently comes out the preferred customer service channel due to its real-time nature. Of all the channels, it is the only one that’s able to support customers throughout their website experience – making it the perfect for sales support.
Businesses are likely to experience an increase in sales and conversions when they implement chat on their website. Electronics retailer Cyberport, for example, found that visitors who engaged in a chat were five times more likely to buy than visitors who weren’t.
For businesses, website chat is one of the most cost-effective channels. Agents can support multiple customers at the same time, which means smaller teams. As with email, these teams can also make use of canned messages to answer basic, repetitive questions. And if you use website chatbots, computer programs that simulate human conversations, you can take the efficiency element even further by automating the answering of simple questions.
As you can tell, we are fans of website chat. And that's not just because we offer a customer chat solution ourselves. Think about it: when customers are on your website, they are at their most valuable. Phone and email weren't built for today's digital era. Live chat is the only channel that really works if a question pops up during the website experience.
Video calls are the modern version of regular calls. Blending the personal element of in-store experiences with the convenience of online shopping, video calling allows companies to offer face-to-face service when text alone isn’t enough.
It’s especially useful for style consultations or product demonstrations. Customers can get expert advice and view products from the comfort of their home. John Lewis, a UK department store, offers virtual appointments with a range of services from personal styling to interior design.
Other companies, like German neobank N26, are known for using video calling to verify customers when processing new applications.
Since practically every phone or device offers video-calling capabilities, this is a low-barrier way for customers to get personalized help. For complex issues, agents can use the screen-share function available in most video-conferencing platforms to understand what exactly the problem is.
A downside of video calling is that some customers find it intrusive. They may not feel comfortable showing their face to perfect strangers.
For the business side, video calls are also more demanding in terms of time and bandwidth. They take longer to set up (lighting, position, etc.) and are dependent on stable internet connections. And just like the phone, one agent can only attend to a single customer at a time, which means it’s not a solution for mass support. For high-value products, however, it can be a good fit.
Finally, video calling can't function as an autonomous channel. It always needs to be connected to another channel like website chat or email.
We all like to feel in control. Self-service gives customers a feeling of empowerment. They can get answers to their questions 24/7 without needing to wait in line or to speak to an agent.
Most companies realize this and offer an FAQ page on their website as a bare minimum. But for your customers to reap the benefits, the best self-service portals include a mix of articles, videos, diagrams and how-to guides. As password issues are among the most common customer queries, it makes sense to integrate a password reset functionality as well.
A searchable knowledge base like Google Analytics’ help center saves customers endlessly scrolling through articles. All they need to do is type one keyword or just one letter and a dropdown menu of related articles will pop up.
For self-service options to be effective, information needs to be accurate, clear and consistently updated.
Answers can come from support representatives or the public, which means there’s less pressure on your agents to be constantly available. And resolved issues, when searchable, function in the same way as FAQs/help articles.
Most online communities make use of reputational functions (e.g. ‘karma’ on Reddit) and upvotes, which give a sense of credibility of the answers given. Moderators are also often at hand to filter out low-quality answers or spam.
The caveat is that answers do need to be monitored to ensure that they are accurate and of high-quality. Discussions can also get off-topic or quickly escalate.
Social media magnifies everything. When social media support is done well, customers are likely to spread the word to their friends and family. But the converse is also true.
If issues aren’t resolved to their satisfaction or service interactions don’t go their way, these can turn into bad publicity for your brand. That’s why customers often use social media outreach to put leverage on companies.
To fulfill its promises to respond to customers within 1 hour, KLM has a dedicated team of 250 service agents who respond to 30,000 questions or comments a week. The company also displays waiting times on its Twitter account to let customers know when they can expect a response.
For customers, the main benefit of this mode of support is its convenience. Most people (Facebook and WhatsApp alone have over 3.3 billion users combined) already use messaging apps continuously throughout the day to stay in touch with friends and family.
Customers can contact support on the go and return to the conversation when a reply is available or when it suits them. There’s no longer a need to wait days for an email response or to hang around in a never-ending phone queue.
For businesses, mobile messaging provides all the same benefits of email support – just that the conversations tend to be faster and more informal in nature. What's more, there is something very powerful about being present with your brand among the friends and family members in your customers' contact lists.
At Userlike, we’ve built our solution around website chat and mobile messaging. When customers are on your website, live chat is the best channel for immediate assistance. But you also need a way to offer support for when they are going about their day, and messaging apps are the perfect fit.
The benefit of combining website chat and messaging is that they are the same mode of communication, and can therefore be seamlessly offered from one solution.
Does this mean that you should stop offering support on suboptimal channels?
Not necessarily. You’ll likely have existing customers who are used to traditional channels like phone and email. What we do recommend is to prioritize the channels that work best for your business.
Instead of quitting a channel cold turkey, you can guide your customers towards the optimal channels and hide the ones that work less well deeper within your website. Over time, your customers will grow accustomed to your preferred channels, and you can choose to withdraw them entirely.
If you're curious about exploring the power of messaging for your customer relationships, just sign up for a free Userlike trial here.