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Did THAT Just Happen? Multichannel Matchmaking

Did you know that more than a third of all marriages are the result of online meetings? Would you expect that there are over 2500 online dating site in the US alone? Would you believe that those couples who met online would be happier than those who met “in real-life”? (According to University of Chicago researcher, John Caioppo and team, that is indeed the case.)

Did you also know that my husband and I met on Match.com and just celebrated our 7-month wedding anniversary? Yes, that did just happen!

I say all this because matchmaking organizations are not just a reflection of the current trend in dating; they are a fantastic representation of an industry’s successful adoption of the emerging channels.

Love is in the Air; Err it’s on My Phone

Online dating has arguably “revolutionized romance” over the past decade. According to a February USA Today article, it’s an industry that's expected to reach $1.2 billion in 2013. And potential daters are not just going to the web to access sites like Match.com or eHarmony any longer. Matchmaking has become a true multichannel endeavor that spans live events, web, self-service, social, and mobile. In fact, the mobile dating segment alone is projected to double its revenue over the next five years.

This is a clear sign that online dating organizations have been paying attention to where their customers are and where they are headed. As mobile internet usage has overtaken that of the desktop, online daters have gone there as well. Nielsen reports that the number of Americans using apps or a mobile version of a dating website was 13.7 million in November 2012, more than double the previous year's 5.8 million.

The proliferation of dating apps is taking love “on the move”.  Mobile applications highlight “here and now” encounters through GPS location-finding, send real-time profile alerts, and text a user SMS messages when someone has expressed interest. And several of the apps have live chat customer service embedded directly into the smartphone or web-based app.

The Optimization of Multichannel Love

Online dating has a unique challenge that doesn’t exist in a lot of other industries – desired attrition. On average, a typical online dater only stays with a service for two to four months. Let’s face it, in order for a site to be successful, people have to connect, date, become committed, and churn. It’s also a business that doesn’t lend itself well to repeat and returning customers. Add in the high number of competitors, and this means that the service AND the customer support has to be incredible in the short time that a customer is actively engaged with a particular brand.

That is where multichannel really comes in. The online dating sites have rapidly realized that they need to offer several channels for customers to connect with them – and this again applies to both the service and the support.

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to hear Michele Watson, the SVP of Global Customer Care at Match.com speak at a conference on the need to offer multiple channels of customer service. "Our customers now expect more," she said. "They are always online, want self-service options, have their phones in hand, and demand responses in real time."

But do communication channel options and personal preference affect a customer’s overall satisfaction, and more importantly, that potentially short-term, but necessary customer retention? ICMI polled contact center leaders in Q2 of 2013 to find this out. Not so surprisingly, the answer was YES! Even when survey respondents reported receiving good service, if they did not have their ideal choice of contact, they were considered only somewhat satisfied 54% of the time.

An overwhelming 93% of survey respondents said they’d be more satisfied if they were able to connect with the organization in their favored method, be it social media, phone, live chat or some other manner.

“Customers don’t think about it much when the channels are there—but they notice when they’re not,” says Brad Cleveland, Senior Advisor and former CEO of ICMI.

Watson reiterated that. “A goal at Match.com is to make sure agents, regardless of channel, can converse with customers who can be highly emotional -- for both good and bad reasons. Sometimes an emotional conversation is best held over chat, rather than the phone, or vice-versa.”

Most worrisome to companies, online dating or not, almost half of the survey respondents would jump to a competitor if all variables were the same and the competitor offered customer service through their preferred channel. In fact, brand loyalty only mattered to about one in 10 people.

ICMI’s has Six Best Practices for Optimizing Multichannel Support that strive to help contact center leaders make the right decisions to successfully accelerate any combination of multichannel, most notably self-service, mobile and social media engagement.

  • BEST PRACTICE 1: Provide communication channel options
  • BEST PRACTICE 2: Deliver unified tools and processes
  • BEST PRACTICE 3: Uphold a strategy of monitoring and engagement
  • BEST PRACTICE 4: Establish direct links and easy transitions
  • BEST PRACTICE 5: Encourage access to interactive self-service
  • BEST PRACTICE 6: Create connections to a live agent

According to Watson, Match.com is investing heavily in all of these best practices in order to maintain their differentiation.

“My agents are not building widgets,” she said. “They can have very emotional conversations about very personal things. They and our customers need the tools to facilitate that.”

When Love Needs Customer Service

An IBISWorld report says that online dating is "in the growth phase of its economic life cycle”.  40 million people in the US alone have claimed to have tried online dating. The biggest usage is with those in the 18-29 range, followed by 30-49 year-olds. Demand is expected to increase with Baby Boomers as well, since 1/3 are currently unmarried and more and more are migrating to the digital world.

And at some point, they all need customer service.

In an interview with 1to1 Media, Watson said that her team has added lots of enhancements to the customer service experience.  They’ve improved self-service offerings both online and through the IVR, expanded the mobile offerings, invested in a multichannel platform, and increased the focus on tracking and responding to customer comments in social media. According to Watson, internal research shows that members who have engaged with Match.com customer care have a higher lifetime value than those that do not.

A Match Made in Marriage

While I don’t recall if I ever used Match.com’s customer service or not; I am happily called one of their former customers. Sometimes it is good to be a statistic.

To learn more about the recent ICMI research, check out  Six Best Practices for Optimizing Multichannel Customer Support help guide, or Extreme Engagement in the Multichannel Contact Center: Leveraging the Emerging Channels research report and best practices guide.