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Do Your Service Channels Have Multiple Personalities?

Forrester recently published their top customer service trends for 2014. Trend number one was the rising demand for multiple service channels.

The proliferation of multiple service channels is making customer service harder for companies to manage. The task is even more daunting when each channel has its own distinctive personality.

Not all of these personalities are good.

I experienced a delayed suitcase on a recent flight. Every airline employee I encountered was friendly, but they were all very different. It wasn’t just a product of the employees’ individual personalities. Each service channel seemed to have its own vibe:

  • Baggage Counter. These folks have seen it all. Nice, but curt.
  • 800 Number. The call center agents were friendly but perfunctory.
  • Twitter. The airline’s twitter personality was light, engaging, and helpful.

Customers will take your channels’ personalities into account when deciding how to contact your company. For many organizations, this becomes one more way you are training your customers to complain via Twitter.

What causes these multiple personalities?

One culprit is channel ownership. A 2012 study by Ragan found that only 19% of companies had their customer service department manage or co-manage their social media channels. Who does manage social media? The list of top 5 departments is very revealing:

  1. Marketing – 70%
  2. PR – 69%
  3. Corporate Communications – 49%
  4. Advertising – 26%
  5. Customer Service – 19%

See a trend? The data suggests that most companies operate under a philosophy that social media drives sales but customer service is a cost center.

Many companies also look at traditional one-to-one customer service channels as being very different from one-to-many. This isn’t totally unreasonable. That call where your employee was a total jerk to your customer was only recorded for quality and training purposes and not for broadcasting over the internet.

Of course, this short sighted approach misses a very important detail. People still have the ability to share their version of the story via with their own online networks.

The fix to this problem is changing the corporate philosophy to firmly realize that customer service drives sales. Those one-to-one interactions are all preserving sales and creating future ones.

Another reason service channels can have multiple personalities is nobody has taken the time to define what outstanding customer service looks like for our organization. A recent survey I conducted revealed that only 62 percent of companies had created their own definition of outstanding service.

Of course, just creating a definition doesn’t guarantee that employees actually know it. It has to be baked in to everything the company does. It needs to be discussed, trained, and applied to difficult situations.

Take a lesson from small business

Unifying service channel personalities is one area where small businesses have a huge leg up over larger organizations. The smaller scale makes it easier for one person, often the owner, to infuse his or her personality into each channel. In many cases, the owner is also primarily responsible for each channel.

Antica Trattoria is my favorite Italian restaurant in San Diego. Their food is outstanding and their service is warm and personal. They also have consistent personalities across all of their channels.

Chef and owner Francesco Basile personally manages their social channels. He runs their Facebook page and responds to reviewers on Yelp. If you dine there, you are also likely to see him in the dining room talking to guests. Basile’s hands-on approach translates to a consistent feeling no matter how you interact with the restaurant.

How can larger companies emulate this? By doing the same things they do to scale up other parts of their business from small to large.

  1. Codify it so the organization’s implicit understandings become explicit.
  2. Measure it we can gain a clear picture of how well we’re doing.
  3. Manage it so we can ensure we’re heading in the right direction.


Want to learn more from Jeff?  Join us in San Diego for Contact Center Expo and Conference .  Jeff will lead a half day session on getting the most out of your contact center agents.

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Jordan Linford — 2:54PM on Feb 12, 2014

The emergence of omnichannels, much more defined workforce management software's, social customer service, etc., all for the name of excellent customer service. However, it seems that the interaction between contact centers and customers are always thrown away to the proverbial window of customer experience and not so much attention is given. I think a lot of bigger brands are more concerned of making their image flashy on their social media accounts that that they already refuse to see the bigger picture.

Jeff Toister — 12:55PM on Feb 20, 2014

Jordan - I think you may be right. My research and experience suggests that companies aren't valuing those 1 to 1 interactions as highly as social media interactions. The best companies can provide a consistent level of service no matter what the channel.