Millennials Want it ALL: OmniChannel Customer Service

customer service

customer serviceThat’s right. Millennials want it all when it comes to customer service. But then, so do many Americans across all types of demographics according to a recently released study by Aspect Software in partnership with the Center for Generational Kinetics and Conversion Research. See the infographic below for more details from this study.

Omnichannel customer service

Omnichannel customer service means giving customers the ability to get support through any channel — voice, social, online, email. If that were all omnichannel customer service was, things would be easy and everyone would do it. But, it means more than that.

Omnichannel customer service means you coordinate customer service across all the channels your customers use to engage with you.

Here’s a typical customer service scenario:

Joy buys a new Samsung Galaxy S6. She loves it, but soon she has a question about why the battery isn’t lasting very long. She calls Samsung customer support and goes through a series of questions and they give her some suggestions to fix the problem.

A few days later, Joy notices her phone still loses battery power before a full day. She’s done everything Samsung customer support suggested, so she calls back again to help solve her problem.

Joy is frustrated because she has to describe the entire situation all over again and tell the representative the solutions she already tried. “Don’t they have a record of this,” Joy thinks.

Customer support doesn’t have a solution, so Joy goes online in search of an answer. She reads a few things posted by others complaining about the same problem and stumbles upon another possible fix. Unsure of whether the solution would void her warranty, Joy goes to the Samsung site and accepts the offer of a secure chat with a representative. Again, Joy goes through everything that’s already happened.

There are long lags in the chat while the representative looks up information or something. In frustration, Joy end the chat. Tired of getting the run around and still having the same problem with her new phone, Joy Tweets that she’s sorry she ever bought a Galaxy S6.

That gets a response. Someone from customer support is listening and asks if she can help Joy. Again, Joy goes through the entire history of her problem — only now in 140 character blocks.

Sound familiar?

We all had experiences like Joy and we hate them.

Companies hate them, too. These frustrations boil over to damage the image of the brand and reduce re-purchase and  loyalty. That costs money.

Estimates suggest the cost of replacing a customer are 5 times higher than keeping the customer in the first place.

Not to mention the damage to brand reputation when others see these Tweets or read other complaints in social media or through the media. At the extreme, poor customer service leads to public boycotts and demonstrations. No company wants that.

Solutions for superior customer service

Providing omnichannel customer service is resource intensive because it requires retaining key elements of the conversation from each channel; allowing customer support representatives to provide a cohesive solution based on previous exchanges.

Omnichannel customer service requires that the enterprise deliver a superior customer experiences in all channels. Every time.

Part of the problem is that customer services is a really broad area encompassing (in order of ongoing resource commitment):

  1. Self-service problem solving
  2. Providing general fixes
  3. Using expert agents to solve complex problems

Self-service problem solving

Let’s say I need the balance on my checking account or want to check the points on my frequent flyer account. Self-service is easy and solves my problem — assuming I want self-service.

What happens if I can’t access the Internet or I have a disability making it hard to read information from a computer screen?

What happens if I don’t trust self-service to provide safe, private communication? My mother was like that. She NEVER accessed her banking information electronically for fear of someone stealing her money or identity. If she wanted information, she expected to reach a person who would give her that information. (She also didn’t trust ATMs and “broke” several through her inability to use them properly).

What happens when you’re on a mobile device? I’ve found companies do a good job of providing mobile-friendly sites, but, when it comes to customer service, many aren’t. The buttons are so close you can’t accurately select the one you needs, the text is too small to read even after pinching it bigger. and they ask for account information you don’t have in a mobile environment.

A further frustration with mobile is many companies still use phone numbers heralding from the dark ages. You know the ones — “call 1-800-memorable name”. Well, mobile devices don’t use numbers associated with the letters so your customer is clueless on how to reach you on their mobile device. At the end of 2013, more than 41% of households had no land line phone, according to a study by the CDC, up from just over 38% of households in 2012.

By the same token, I love doing things electronically and find it frustrating to hold for a customer service rep for something I could easily accomplish myself if given the opportunity.

Solution: Provide robust self-service options, especially on mobile, but remember you still need other channels for consumers who don’t want self-service.

General fixes

Let’s say my vacuum is clogged or my pilot light went out. I don’t really need someone to walk me through that fix. Just give me a YouTube video or something to show me how to fix it.

This is where having an engaged community really helps because these folks will answer general questions online or in social networks, which reduces the strain on your own internal customer service. Providing a forum where users can help each other offers a central location and makes it easier for customers to find answers to these general questions.

Of course, you’ll still need customer service representatives. Remember my mom? She’d never watch a YouTube video or talk on a forum. She paid her money (and trust me, she made every penny scream before she forked it over) and she expects service.

Expert agent

Here, you need highly trained customer service representatives with effective AI (artificial intelligence) systems to troubleshoot and solve more complex problems. You need a highly secure environment, as well. I’m certainly not going to discuss my medical tests or bank transactions over a channel I don’t feel is totally secure.

One solutions suggested to provide more omnichannel customer support is using Twitter and establishing an @ profile dedicated to providing customer support. DMs to that @profile are not visible to other Twitter users, but Twitter is hardly secure from a hacker.

For that matter, your home phone is pretty easy to pick up by someone driving around with the right equipment. I even picked up my neighbor’s conversations in their home over my baby monitor. But, here’s an example where reality and attitude just don’t jell — people believe phone conversations are more secure than email, chats, and social media so don’t waste your time trying to convince them otherwise. Just provide omnichannel access so each customer can choose his or her favorite or most easily accessible channel for each conversation.

It’s become pretty common for companies to relegate complex problem solving to arms-length customer support. For instance, good luck getting a response from Facebook on a problem. They send you right to their support forums and you’ll never get a real person. Of course, Facebook is free so if you don’t like it, too bad. Leave.

On the other hand, I have a problem with Adobe. I pay for Creative Cloud every month and, until recently, their customer support sucked (a technical term meaning it was totally unacceptable). Adobe turned training over to highly paid professionals — colleges, universities, trade schools, and academies. If you just wanted to learn Creative Cloud to do your job better, forget it. Recently, Adobe got smart and now offers a series of training videos that are excellent tools for learning software included in Creative Cloud and even help solve immediate: “how do I do XXX” problems well. Kudos.

Final thoughts on omnichannel customer service

If you want to truly offer superior customer service, here’s my advice:

  • Coordinate between channels using something memorable like a phone number or social media login to understand the customer across customer service tickets. (Actually, Drs need to do more of this, which is what electronic medical records are designed to do).
  • Provide robust omnichannel solutions allowing consumers to choose the one most appropriate for their situation and comfort.
  • Build brand advocates (also called evangelists) who reduce your customer service load by acting as pseudo-agents — in marketing we call these folks partial employees.
  • Don’t expect customers to solve their own problems unless you’re Facebook and can afford to alienate users.

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Hausman and Associates, the publisher of Hausman Marketing Letter, is a full service marketing agency operating at the intersection of marketing and digital media.

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