Kerry Robinson closes his series on self-service automation. In this final article he gives us a look into the future of customer service solutions being delivered through multichannel platforms.
In previous articles I’ve focused on self-service for customers contacting your organisation by phone. For many organisations the phone still represents the majority of contact, so you’ve got to get the “over the phone” experience right. But increasingly consumers and organisations are looking to engage via multiple channels, including social media and smartphone apps. In this article I look at the future of customer service, focusing on the opportunities and challenges of delivering multi-channel self-service.
According to a survey by ComScore
, more than half of UK mobile phone users now have a Smartphone. At this level of penetration the option to provide customer service apps has to be taken seriously, but it’s not for every organisation.
There are barriers to the use of a customer service app: customers need to discover that an app is available and download it. Then they’ll usually need to enter account details and verify their identity (but they should only need to do that once). When the alternative is to make a telephone call on the same device, it’s clear that the app must offer significant value compared with traditional channels. That means apps must quickly and conveniently provide information or automate transactions that a customer needs frequently. Good examples include banking apps that allow customers to manage their accounts or apps that allow pay-as-you-go mobile phone customers to check their balances and top-up.
Others apps are integral to a product offering, like the British Gas app for customers on their EnergySmart tariff that lets customers submit regular meter readings and monitor their usage. Do you have customers who make contact regularly via other channels, that might be better served with an app? If you do, apart from building a great app, you need a channel migration strategy that identifies ways to shift customers to using your Smartphone app. Plain old advertising is one way, but it’s often better to engage customers just after they’ve accessed relevant information or services in another channel, that way you know they’ll benefit, and can offer an easy way to get the Smartphone app up and running that avoids some of the usual barriers.
Many brands already have a Facebook presence (Facebook’s filing with the US securities and exchange commission stated that more than 4 million businesses have pages on the social network) but while most are focussed on attracting and engaging customers, increasingly, organisations are beginning to offer customer service via Facebook as well.
A recent survey by Sword Ciboodle and thinkJar found that 60% of nearly 400 self-selected respondents said their organisation had adopted Facebook. Currently customer service on Facebook is mainly delivered by agents who monitor and respond to posts. So far, the opportunity to offer self-service through Facebook has been largely overlooked, although O2, who offer a top-up-service via Facebook is a notable exception. While it’s still early days, it’s reasonable to expect that social media channels will go the same route as the phone channel – as the cost of servicing them with agents rises, organisations will need to employ self-service.
As a self-service channel, Facebook is quite attractive. You can develop Facebook ‘canvas applications’ that are basically just websites that appear within Facebook, but the great thing is that when a customer accesses your ‘app’, they are already logged in, so you can present a customised page. This is a great way to engage customers in self-service. For example, if a customer with an unusually high bill is about to post a complaint on Facebook, you can intervene with a breakdown of charges and give options to pay at that moment or allow them to speak to an agent (by phone or in a private chat window) to resolve a dispute. Just as with Smartphone apps, there are barriers to getting self-service via Facebook.
Customers need to sign up for the app and agree to share some of their personal details. This can be a big concern for customers, so you should ask for minimal permissions and make it clear what you’ll do with them. For most self-service transactions they’ll also need to enter their account details and validate their identity (again, they should only need to do this once). As mentioned in the previous paragraph, these barriers can be lowered with a good channel migration strategy.
Twitter is starting to gain traction in customer service (the Sword Ciboodle survey
revealed that 59% of respondents said they have adopted Twitter) and other channels are emerging with the potential to provide self-service. Virtual personal assistants like Apple’s Siri may soon open up interfaces to third parties, which could open up the possibility of answering customer service queries. Microsoft’s Kinect for Xbox is yet another possibility for self-service with certain audiences. Finally, don’t overlook SMS as a medium for giving customers information and completing simple transactions – it’s ubiquitous and avoids many of the sign-up issues of other channels.
The proliferation of channels poses a problem for the customer service organisation. What channels should you support? What functionality should be available in each channel? Here are three key considerations from the perspective of self-service:
1. Ensure consistency
The information available in each channel must be consistent. You don’t need to replicate the same functionality in every channel – some are better suited to certain tasks than others – but it’s essential that the services are all up-to-date and communicate your brand. As channels proliferate, this becomes harder. Try to have one point of ownership for change across channels and if you can, configure systems so that changes are immediately reflected across multiple channels.
2. Create seamless customer journeys
No self-service system can answer every query, so you should also consider allowing access to agents from within each channel – either by offering to arrange an agent call-back from Facebook or your Smartphone application, or by launching chat windows directly within them. Customers hate having to repeat themselves or re-enter information, which all too often happens when they move from one self-service system to another, or from self service to agent service. In a multi-channel environment this will only get worse, so it’s essential that context is shared between systems and with agents.
3. Know what’s happening
This is a new area, and nobody can predict quite how your customer base will respond to multi-channel self-service, so make sure your business intelligence systems give a consolidated picture of what’s happening in self-service across channels. Knowing what kinds of customers are using different channels, the typical queries and success rates can help guide your multi-channel strategy. Without it, you’re just guessing.
That’s the end of this four part series. We’ve covered self-service IVR:
Kerry Robinson is strategic solutions director with VoxGen.