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Would a customer today make a special trip to stand in line at a service counter just to ask a question or have their issue resolved? Not likely. Why would they, when they have so many options for getting in touch with their favorite brands? Beyond traditional call centers, more and more brands are opening up their service channels to deliver customer support in the form of online chat, social media, and even text messaging, giving them an edge against the competition through multi-channel support.

But the concept of offering multiple support channels is still new enough that many service teams are still in the strategy phase or grappling with how to best provide a cohesive experience across all touchpoints. According to Salesforce’s second annual “State of Service” report, only 45% of moderately performing service teams rate their omni-channel service interactions as excellent or above average.

Offering exceptional multi-channel support starts with a better understanding of what it is, why it’s necessary for today’s business landscape, and what challenges brands must overcome to successfully implement it across channels.

 

What Is Multi-Channel Support?

 

In the most basic terms, a support channel is a medium through which a brand can communicate with its customers (and vice versa). You’re probably familiar with traditional support channels like telephone and email, as well as slightly newer support channels like social media, live chat, and forums or knowledge bases, among others. Multi-channel support is when a company offers more than one of those channels as a way to interact with customers. Providing multiple channels to connect gives customers options they can choose from based on their preferred channel or issue at hand.

 

A Note on Multi-channel vs. Omni-channel Support

Perhaps you’ve heard “multi-channel” and “omni-channel” used interchangeably. While the distinctions are minute, the details make all the difference. Whereas multi-channel support focuses on simply providing multiple channels for customers to interact with your company, an omni-channel support strategy brings all of these channels together in one unified brand experience. Service teams have become more omni-channel to keep pace with customer expectations. Despite an ever-expanding list of channels, leading service teams align all channels in a cohesive customer journey where customers don’t feel they’re treated like a number.

 

 

 

How Multiple Support Channels Benefit You — and Your Customers

 

Yes, providing more than one support channel may require additional staff, budget, and infrastructure depending on the product and/or size of your customer base. But as with most investments, the gains of correctly implementing a solution far outweigh the costs. In this case, it’s not just your business that stands to benefit from offering an increased breadth of service options. Customers will also walk away more satisfied with multiple channels to meet their needs, boosting loyalty and retention in the long-run. Multi-channel support benefits you and your customers with:

  • More options. Not only does offering multi-channel support give your customers more options to reach you, it also shows them that you care enough to provide them. While phone and email support channels have come to be expected of modern businesses, expanding into additional channels like mobile messaging (SMS), messaging apps (e.g. Facebook Messenger), social media, live chat, video, or even in-app support will allow you to delight customers with convenience and choice.

  • More appropriate channels to fit the situation. While it may be more convenient or cheaper for your company to provide only a single support channel, it may end up hurting your productivity in the long-run. Not every support case calls for human interaction (e.g., using a self-service system to check on a statement balance or a chatbot to check order status), while others simply can’t be solved through automated telephone prompts (e.g., disputing a charge on a bill). Offering a range of service types, from self-service to full-service, not only gives customers flexibility, it allows you to save time and money by routing them to the best channel for the quickest, best-suited support type.

  • Increased loyalty and retention. At each turn, multi-channel support (and especially omni-channel support) gives you the opportunity to meet customer needs in a variety of ways and gives them more “ins” to connect with you, reducing time-to-resolution, increasing customer satisfaction, and ultimately strengthening customer loyalty. In fact, 69% of consumers and 82% of business buyers say personalized customer care has a major or moderate influence on their loyalty to companies.

 

The Challenge of Providing a Cohesive Customer Experience

 

More channels, more problems? Maybe. While companies with multiple support channels are still way ahead of the game, they face a challenging outlook if they fail to acknowledge consumers’ rising expectations for connectivity. Multi-channel support strategies are at risk of:

  • Disconnected customer experiences. Your customers aren’t concerned with your behind-the-scenes multi-channel versus omni-channel strategies. All they see is one brand (not seven different departments), and they want to make purchases and receive support through the channels they prefer most. Adopting an omni-channel mindset helps you break down channel-specific silos to provide a cohesive experience that customers can choose to enter or exit freely at any point. For example, if a customer makes an online purchase, but doesn’t want to go through the hassle of mailing it back, does your support strategy allow them to return the item to the nearest physical location? Or when someone calls in, can your service staff see the email or live chat conversations between the customer and your fellow service agents prior to that? Omni-channel support allows for a connected customer experience, regardless of entry point.

  • Sizable expectations for the best of both worlds. Consumers have little patience for less-than-impeccable customer service in an age where they can tweet about their poor experience in a matter of seconds. While customers say they want more personalized interactions, they also demand it at the speed of automated services. How can brands win? Artificial intelligence (AI) may hold the key. Whether using a chatbot to automatically deflect routine customer requests or locating a promotional offer to meet the customer’s needs, AI allows service reps to continue providing the human touch at the point of need, while smart tools comb through the data to serve up the most relevant information. AI can also accelerate case resolution by automatically predicting case fields, and prioritizing and routing cases to the right agents. And predictive intelligence can assess past data to help reps identify at-risk customers, meet them with specialized service and retention offers, and ultimately reduce churn.

  • Customers taking their business elsewhere. Millennials aren’t the only ones who are quick-footed when it comes to leaving subpar brand experiences in the dust. Customers spanning all generations are proving how crucial it is for teams to deliver service that’s equal parts real time and ubiquitous. In fact, Salesforce’s “State of the Connected Customer” report reveals that 73% of consumers and 78% of business buyers are extremely or very likely to switch brands if they receive inconsistent levels of service.

 

Why Multi-Channel Support (and Omni-Channel Support) Is Imperative for Long-Term Brand Success

 

A customer’s journey with a company is rarely linear or limited to a single department. That’s why providing a customer experience that feels the same — regardless of business unit — requires collaboration across the company to present a multi-faceted front. More than multiple support channels, customers crave a connected service experience that’s as fast, easy, and personalized as face-to-face interactions. Regardless of the number of channels you offer for customer support, keeping pace with rising customer expectations means arming your service agents with better data; tapping into AI and predictive technologies for more proactive experiences; and keeping speed, personalization, and continuity top of mind for your team.

For more customer support insights, get the full “State of Service” report, based on a survey of 2,600+ customer service professionals worldwide.