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Kolsky Challenges Customer Service Conventions: The Case for Single Channel Excellence

Some time ago – well, early August while at CRM Evolution – I was invited to participate in a panel at the Customer Service Experience sub-conference.  The panel was moderated by Daniel Hong of Ovum fame, and we were discussing the future of Customer Service in a complex multi-channel and cross-channel world.  I was told to be on my best behavior – which to me means to contradict common wisdom with data.

So I did.

There are two trends in customer service today that are changing the way we work: the rise of social channels and push for multi-channel and cross-channel contact centers.

On one hand, the use of social channels in customer service is skyrocketing. According to recent research conducted by thinkJar and KANA (that is me, in case you were wondering), 86% of organizations have deployed at least one or more social channels for customer service.  There are many case studies on how well (or rather, how poorly) it is doing as well as tests, pilots, and beta programs to try to figure out how to make it work – also with mixed results.

On the other hand, the rise of multi-channel contact and the emergence of cross-channel management are forcing companies to focus on many channels, try to learn about each and how to leverage, integrate, and make them all work as one (more data in the same report).  This is forcing companies that potentially never had a good-enough solution for one channel to cover two-to-ten times more channels with a very limited set of resources (people, time, and money).

This is forcing organizations to try to serve customers in many channels equally well – the adage most used by pundits is “go to where the customer is” – and failing at it.  When they try to figure out why they failed the only “reason” they find is that the channel does not work.  There are limitations in every channel, that is for sure, but that is not why they are failing – the reason has more to do with trying to do many things at once well as opposed to do one extremely well (I covered that in a post called “Twitter, Facebook, Customer Service and Surgery”).

Thus, I am advocating a return to single-channel excellence for customer service, not multi-channel failure.  There are three reasons this is the way for organizations to go:

  1. Focus – It is equally hard to master many channels with their quirks and issues as it is to deliver excellent quality in one single channel.  Focusing on one channel, which is something that most organizations have not done since they were call centers – if ever, gives a customer service organization the ability to train their agents, implement the right tools, optimize the use of those tools and agents, and deliver the most effective customer service they can.  This is basically giving customers what they want, where, when, and how they need it.
  2. Delivering Satisfaction – Becoming effective at meeting customer expectations yields higher satisfaction.  Whether it is the right metric or not, it is something that basically all organizations are aiming for. A classic study published in HBR concluded that customers want an answer, regardless of channel and delivery method – but they want to be sure it is the correct one.
  3. Savings – Obviously having fewer channels will reduce the costs since there is less coverage to worry about – but the savings go beyond that.  Optimized operations in any single channel will yield to automation (which further reduces costs).  On average 40% of transactions for any contact center than can be easily automated, with an additional 20% that can be done with some work (this is my experience in the past many years).

Excellence in a single-channel, once achieved and maintained, can then be extrapolated and leveraged into other channels.  The question is which channel –right?  Good question – the answer is up to the organization: any channel in which they can exceed expectations, that is the one.

If organizations were to take back their ill-attempts at trying to do too much and not succeeding, they could just focus on doing the right thing first, then potentially extending it to other channels and succeeding – why wouldn’t they?

Am I way off?


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