What’s the Best Channel for Communicating With Customers? Part 1
Recent research by STELLAService revealed that answering a simple email isn't as easy as it seems for 25 of the top U.S. retailers. Only 54 percent of consumers got a complete answer to their straightforward questions about delivery dates or clothing sizes. For the rest, 80 percent of the time an automated reply was received advising them to read the FAQ section of the retailer's website. Even the top-scoring retailer failed to completely answer consumers’ questions more than 11 percent of the time.
So how should retailers communicate with customers and prospects? The issue lies with the number of channels there are to choose from: voice, email, online chat, social care (i.e., queries dealt with via social media channels), text message, etc.
In this two-part series, I'll look at each customer service channel in turn and talk about the pros and cons of each when it comes to their effectiveness as a communication channel for customer service.
Consumers value email as a customer support channel for the following two reasons:
- Convenience: People can contact the company at a time and place that suits them.
- Ease of use: Most people use email on a daily basis, so it's a simple and familiar process for them.
However, the drawbacks of email are numerous. As STELLAService's research shows, many companies redirect consumers to their websites to source answers for themselves, which isn't helpful. Customers want to be provided with or directed straight to the information they need.
The back and forth of email can also take time, which isn't valued in today's era of direct customer interaction. Customers expect quick responses; delays heighten frustration.
Online chat allows retailers to talk to shoppers in real time via their website. This capability offers numerous benefits, including the following:
- You're chatting with a real person. In this age of texting and Facebook, people are used to holding conversations this way. It's less intimidating than talking on the phone, particularly if they have a complaint. There's no shouting; it's all very civilized.
- It's easy to use. Really, it is easy to use. Consumers just open up a dialog box and start typing their question (reactive chat) or a pop-up chat box appears asking site visitors if they'd like to start a chat session (proactive chat).
- Customers can multitask. People can ask a question via live chat and then while a customer service representative (CSR) is digging for the answer the customer can check Facebook or do their laundry.
- You don't have to talk. Live chat enables users the flexibility to deal with other issues (e.g., work) while providing a private interaction that no one else has to know about.
- It's cost effective. CSRs can chat with more than one customer at a time and the technology is cloud-based and scalable.
Of these two methods, manual online chat offers a more immediate, personalized and helpful solution. It also enables customer service on the same web pages where sales and marketing information can be found — when consumers are potentially in look-and-buy mode.
Email can be useful as a customer service tool if it's treated as "high priority" by retailers (which isn't happening at the moment) and the CSRs are dedicated to responding quickly and accurately. If this doesn't change, then over time we may see email become obsolete as a customer service channel in favor of other, more personable channels.
In the second and final part of this series, I'll focus on voice, social care, text message and mobile support, examining the benefits of using these channels to communicate with customers.
Al Rose is the vice president of retail and internet properties at TELUS International, a provider of BPO and contact-center solutions to global clients.