Today, customers expect to be able to contact companies through their channel of choice, be it email, social media, chat or phone. But simply providing customer service through multiple channels is only part of the challenge. Customers expect a consistent service across those channels.
By consistency, we mean that the customers’ experience and the information they receive should be uniform across every channel. Otherwise there is a risk that customers will be presented with different, potentially conflicting answers to the same query, causing confusion. If you don’t ensure consistency then the customer will have a poor overall experience, potentially negating your multichannel investment.
The benefits of consistency
For customers, consistency delivers peace of mind as they can rely on the answers provided irrespective of channel. Additionally, if knowledge is centralised, they are likely to receive the correct answers more quickly and there will be no doubt or confusion about the information they are given.
Company benefits centre on greater efficiency. Getting it right first time with accurate, consistent information across all channels ensures that queries are more likely to be resolved quickly, with less requirement for costly further engagement. This increases First Contact Resolution (FCR) rates, freeing up staff to answer other queries.
Generally if companies are consistent in the information they provide, it is likely to mean they are using a single source of knowledge to support the various channels and hence allocating resources efficiently. The alternative, silo-based approach means having to maintain separate sources of knowledge for every individual channel. This duplicates efforts, as each one needs to be maintained separately, increasing complexity and adding unnecessary costs. It will also take longer for agents to find information and provide answers to customers.
Having systems and processes to ensure that information is consistent across all channels also makes it easier for companies to audit their processes in order to ensure that they fit in with regulations. For example, if you are a bank you can be confident that the answers your agents give to customers, via any channel, have been approved and comply with regulatory requirements.
How consistent are UK brands?
Delivering service across multiple channels is now acknowledged as a primary goal of most organisations. However, the recent Eptica Multichannel Customer Experience Study reveals limitations in the way customer service is delivered consistently through multiple channels. The research evaluated 100 leading UK companies in 10 sectors on their ability to provide answers to 10 routine questions via email, web chat, company websites and Twitter. It found that even those that do offer multichannel service are ignoring the importance of consistency across those channels.
The study reveals only a tiny fraction (3%) offered service across every channel we surveyed (email, Twitter and chat), to non-customers and just over half (55%) offered two of the three channels (normally email and Twitter).
Worryingly 5% of companies didn’t provide the means for non-customers to contact them by any digital channel – meaning they are refusing to provide basic answers to non-customers that could result in lost sales.
In many cases consistency was hampered because companies failed to respond at all by either email or Twitter - 28% of companies offered service on both these channels, but didn’t respond when contacted on one of the two.
Inconsistency in action
Many others gave widely disparate answers on different channels. For example, one bank (one of the 3% of companies that offered customer service via all channels), provided completely different responses on every channel. Furthermore, two retailers who were asked if they had an ethical sourcing policy, denied it on one channel and sent a web link to it via another!
Additionally, sectors that were strong at responding through one channel were extremely poor on others. For example, electronics manufacturers scored highly on the web (answering 70% of queries), but answered just 30% of questions via email and Twitter. Telecoms companies successfully responded to 60% of tweets, but just 10% of emails. It appears that resources are being focused on specific channels rather than across the whole customer service landscape, risking alienating consumers that don’t use the channels the companies prefer to target their efforts on.
How to deliver consistency
Centralising knowledge in a single knowledgebase that supports all channels is at the heart of consistency. It requires only one set of information to be prepared, reviewed and updated, reducing effort and complexity and minimising the chance of errors. It should be simple for agents and customers to provide feedback on answers and for new information to be added as needs change. Answers can be tailored by audience – so for example, agents receive more detailed information compared to the responses provided directly to consumers using web self-service but essentially the source material is the same.
Before rushing to add new channels to deliver customer service, companies must consider how they will support consumers to ensure consistency. A single, centralised source of knowledge is a pre-requisite to successfully offering multichannel service while driving efficiency across operations. However, as our research shows, consistency still has a way to go for many major UK brands.