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Best practices Social media

You can deliver excellent customer service in a multi-channel world

Editor’s note: On Monday we shared an Op/Ed article by Esteban Kolsky, a noted customer support and experience leader. Esteban's article on the Desk.com blog (a topic he originally published on his blog) provoked an energetic discussion, and inspired our own Greg Meyer, a senior member of the Desk.com Customer WOW Team, to write a counterpoint. We hope these different viewpoints stir you to consider what's right for your business.

In today’s world of immediate customer contact — where potential, current, and future customers might contact you at any moment through any channel — isn’t it good business to answer them no matter where they are? That’s my belief, but Esteban Kolsky has a very different point of view, as he explained in a recent post.

Kolsky suggests that the effort to support multiple channels "...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)." The winning strategy, he suggests, involves focusing on one channel first, to deliver excellent quality, higher satisfaction and the right answer (not just a quick one) plus save money by consolidating efforts on excelling in one place.

Is one-channel customer service really the way to go?

Esteban is absolutely right in suggesting that organizations are stressed by the increased demands of customers who want a response wherever and whenever they ask for help. Although intentions to provide social customer service are on the right track, many organizations are not structured to handle it in terms of resource allocation, integration, and efficiency.

However, I respectfully disagree with Esteban’s argument that single channel excellence is the way to go. Instead, I advocate for the following goal: Deliver excellent service regardless of the channel where customers requested your help.

Why? First, step back and look at this through the eyes of a customer. As the customer, wouldn’t you want to choose how you contact the company from which you buy products or services? And second, when you contact your trusted provider, wouldn’t you want to get a message along these lines:

"We've got this - there's no need to worry - and we'll make sure that we have the accurate contact details and information so that you know that we've heard you."

We hear you, no matter where you are

Many customers experience emotion before reason — they want to solve their problem, not worry that they've contacted you in the most expedient way for you to deal with their issue. Telling them "We don't engage here" is like putting up a giant red stop sign on that social channel and saying that you don't care about them.

To Esteban’s point: is this even possible, and are companies just burning resources in the quest for an unreachable goal? Is it possible to produce channel-specific replies with the tone, detail and security necessary to resolve a customer's issue in a timely way?

Rest assured, it’s not that complicated. When you set up shop on a social network — establishing a handle or a page — you are communicating that your business will respond to your customer in the style and tone to which they’re accustomed on that network. Even if you don’t solve their problem then and there, you are setting the expectation that you’ll at least respond

Have a social response strategy

Responding in the channel where the customer contacts you might be as simple as having a semi-customized canned response such as:

"I'm sorry. We use this channel mostly for marketing. I'm happy to help you [here] — please contact me privately and I'll make sure that we handle and resolve this issue."

Ultimately, if you want to respond well to customers and promote a culture of excellence, I agree that you should drive customers to the channel where you can best answer their question and provide quality, consistent, and effective service within the expected time period for your organization. Just remember that your customers don't care about the easiest or most effective solution for your company. They care that you will acknowledge their issue, apologize (when necessary), answer their question accurately, and get it done while keeping them involved and informed during the process.

As John Rote, VP of Experience at New York-based clothing retail Bonobos, said when asked about why his company had expanded their Facebook presence: “Nearly thirty percent of our customers try to reach us on social media. If 30 percent of your customers were trying to call you on the telephone, would you just let the phone ring?” Let the words of the customer be your guide, and be where they expect you to be.

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