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Can Your Contact Center Afford Not to Implement Emerging Channels?

Do you remember how you booked travel and vacation 10 years ago? 

If you were booking hotel rooms, chances are you probably either called the hotel directly, or went to their website to reserve a room.  One thing is for sure, you weren’t using a mobile app to do it.  Needless to say, times have changed.

Just last week as I was searching for last minute Memorial Day accomodations I noticed just how dependent I’ve become on mobile customer service channels.  Did I call any hotels to check for rates and availability? No.  Did I go their websites?  No.  I opened up a mobile app on my iPhone and took care of all the arrangements in a matter of minutes.

I read some reviews from other travelers, filtered my search based on hotel class, budget, and location, and found the perfect hotel for the dates we needed.  And I did it all from my iPhone.

Even as recently as five years ago, I would have never even considered booking a weekend away in this manner.  Now, I’ve come to expect that convenience, and I’m not alone.

Earlier this month we hosted a webinar with Mariann McDonagh of inContact and Dr. Natalie Petouhoff.  The topic of conversation was the shift in customer behavior and expectations and how technology has essentially put the customer in the driver’s seat.  Companies are no longer in control of their own brand and customer service strategies.  The customers are.

Mariann uncovered some fascinating statistics around customer attitudes toward emerging channels.  To echo my earlier sentiment, about half of smartphone users report using their phones for customer service more than they did five years ago.  Perhaps even more startling, 86% of consumers expect your brand to offer multiple channels and flexible timing to interact with customer service.

Only offering traditional phone and email channels is no longer sufficient for today’s engaged customers.  Is your company meeting your customers where they are, or lagging behind?

We polled webinar participants to see which channels their contact centers currently support.  Overwhelmingly, the majority of all contact centers are offering phone, web, and email support, but less than half are offering chat, mobile, and social channels.

According to Mariann, 70% of adults say mobile apps are a must for customer service, and 67% feel that way about SMS customer support.  Yet, only 39% of our webinar participants said their contact centers currently offer mobile support.

Can call centers afford to ignore this trend?  Is the shift in balance of power from the organization to the customer just a passing trend that will balance itself out again in the near future?  In short, Mariann says no.  Those who don’t adapt will be left behind, and will have to pay.  It’s no longer a question of should we implement emerging channels, or can we afford to, but more a question of can we afford not to.

“I don’t think it’s temporary,” said McDonagh. “We’ve opened the barn door. The horses are out, and they’re not going back in.  Customers have now experienced what it’s like to be in control, and this is only going to require more customization in the future.  Especially when you consider the viral nature of reviews, customers don’t want to be marketed to anymore; they want advice from their peers.”

And just because you don’t support emerging channels, doesn’t mean conversations aren’t already taking place there. For example, more than half of customers report having gone to Twitter for customer service without ever receiving an answer.  Is your company ignoring the conversations that customers are having about your brands, or engaging in the conversation and helping respond to any problems? Ignoring a problem doesn’t make it go away.

These statistics make a strong case for the importance (and necessity) of these channels, but many of you are probably asking who should own the channels, and how to involve the marketing department.  One of the questions we received during the Q&A portion of the webinar was around that very topic. Yes, the marketing department and contact center need to be better engaged, but as a contact center manager, how do you start that conversation?

First of all, be prepared. A majority of our webinar participants said when polled that marketing should own social media and other emerging channels. Should marketing be involved? Absolutely. But, it needs to be an integrated effort to be most successful. Know what you and your agents need to effectively manage or engage with these channels. Study up on current trends and processes and understand where your agents should fit into the process. For example, think about the access your agents currently have to social media.  Can your agents access your brand social media accounts throughout the day and respond to any customer inquiries?  What process is in place to track responses to these inquiries?  The conversations to have together, and decisions that need the input of both marketing and the contact center.

Another great question that was raised during the webinar:  should mobile and social be treated as channels or strategies?  Check back Friday as we tackle the answer to that question and look at more of the findings from “The Customer is in Control! Marketing and the Contact Center Talk Multi-Channel Support” webinar.  Have questions or comments now?  Feel free to chime in below and share your contact center’s challenges and successes with emerging channels.