If there are two things people don’t like, it’s feeling isolated and being made to wait around.
Now, you might be forgiven for thinking that I’ve jumped to conclusions here, and you’re probably right. But let’s face it, it would be a lot harder to find someone who disagrees with that statement than to find someone who agrees wholeheartedly.
If I can be so bold, I’d like to build on this claim by including the following conditions. People especially hate to feel isolated or having to wait around when:
- They need help with something and don’t know where to begin
- They need more information about something
- They are in a rush
Let’s be honest, in many cases, a customer gets in touch with a company not because they want to, but because they need to. For example, if you’ve recently moved house, you’ll know that you need to get in touch with LOTS of companies to change your address on the various accounts you hold. I think it’s safe to say that in this scenario, people are getting in touch with customer services teams out of necessity, and this is ultimately an inconvenience for them in their day-to-day lives.
So how do you transform an inconvenient task into a positive interaction which helps to improve your customer’s experience?
The answer is simple: be available, easily accessible and provide quick, high quality responses.
But how exactly do you do that? As they say, horses for courses. Different strokes for different folks, different customer contact channels for different… customers? You get the picture.
It’s important to offer your customers as many contact channels as possible, to ensure that your customers are able to contact you in the most convenient way possible. What’s more, this isn’t a one-sided story: there are benefits for the company too. Not only do different communications channels give you insights into how your customers are interacting with your company, but having multiple communications channels alleviates some of the pressure from traditional contact channels to reduce contact centre wait times and improve overall customer satisfaction.
To help you decide which contact channels you should consider for your business, we’ve made a list of 12 of the most prominent customer communications channels, along with some of their key benefits. To make things even simpler, we’ve split them into the following categories: formal written, chat, voice and face-to-face.
Formal Written Channels
Email is one of the best options for formal communication which doesn’t necessarily require an immediate response.
It’s a versatile channel which can be used to communicate personal correspondence regarding to customer support, or to disseminate news and information across a company’s customer base. Another benefit of email is that both customer and agent have the freedom to make their emails as detailed and formal as they’d like.
However, the biggest drawback of email is that it can take a long time to get a response; the average response time for email customer service requests is 12 hours 10 minutes.
With many companies now moving towards paperless correspondence, often for environmental and convenience reasons, post is not used as prolifically as it once was. Nowadays, it is mostly used for formal and official customer correspondences, bills or invoices, or simply to inform customers of changes made to their accounts or services they receive.
It can also be one of the most personal customer contact channels if the letter is handwritten or personalised. Having said that, as lovely as it is for the customer to receive a handwritten (or hand-typed) letter, this is very expensive and time consuming for the company, so is uncommon and reserved for highly specific circumstances.
Web forms operate in a similar way to email, but a key benefit is that it doesn’t require the customer to leave your website environment in the first instance, which can encourage longer dwell time.
Responses often come through to the customer’s email inbox, which makes future correspondence easier. Web forms are also a good method of capturing customer data- provided it is GDPR compliant.
Another key benefit of web forms is that people who submit them often get confirmation of receipt, so they that know the message has been received by the company.
Live web chat
Human-powered live web chat is incredibly popular for younger audiences, because it provides in depth, tailored responses to their queries instantly. In particular, the 18-34 age group is the most likely to have used web chat ‘many times’ and top reason for preferring chat over phone is reduced hold time.
Live web chat allows agents to build relationships with customers as they travel through the website, by enabling meaningful conversations to take place in a super convenient way. Live web chat can also be a 24-hour service, meaning customers can receive assistance at any time, in any place.
Live web chat also has benefits for the business, like being able to gain insights into the customer’s website journey and being able to easily escalate conversations to a voice or video call at the click of a button.
Automated chatbots provide a cheaper alternative to human-powered live web chat, but are best used to field basic requests and FAQs due to their limited capabilities. Its low cost is mostly down to the fact that it doesn’t require human management.
Having said that, chatbots can come across as impersonal and their responses are generic, because they aren’t able to tailor responses to each customer.
Messenger apps, like Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp are quick and convenient contact channels for the customer, but are also great for providing insights to companies about how many of your messages get delivered and read.
They can also be incredibly powerful for broadcasting messages about offers and promotions. This is particularly true of WhatsApp, because it has a huge active user base (1.2 billion active users to be precise) and messages on these channels are more frequently checked than emails.
With many brands being initially discovered on social media nowadays, being able to communicate with customers through these channels can be a great way of engaging with new and existing customers very early on in the customer journey. Communicating with customers through social media can also be friendly, informal and fast.
Social media is also one of the only public customer contact channels available, it can double up as a marketing tool as well as an effective contact channel. Companies can and do use this to their advantage. Particularly on Twitter, many companies make sure they communicate using their brands ‘voice’ when engaging in customer conversations to improve or change their brand’s perception. For example, some brands use humour to showcase the human side of the brand.
A great example of a company who does this well is Greggs (for those who aren’t British, this is a much beloved national bakery chain):
Traditional Phone Calls
A telephone based contact centre is one of the most conventional choices for customer services teams, so most companies already have the set up available for a traditional phone-based call centre.
It is a tried and tested channel with proven success, and because customers are familiar with the process, it makes it a popular contact channel for companies to implement. In particular, it is the most popular channel for the older generation (65+).
A downside of a traditional phone call is that customers often have to wait in long queues before they can speak with an advisor, which can be tedious and inconvenient.
Web calling is a great way to offer customers over-the-phone advice, without the need the leave the website. Leveraging WebRTC (Web Real-Time Communication) technology, a click-to-call button means customers can engage in a voice call with an agent directly through the website.
Web calls can be escalated from a live web chat conversation, which means that agents can see their website journey and have already built rapport with the customer before they speak over the phone.
Another key benefit is that web calling lets companies offer free support to customers, regardless of their geographic location, because it doesn’t require the customer to dial an expensive landline number.
Preferred by the younger generation and is very powerful when you need to show, not just tell. Video calling is great for retail and automotive sectors, where video calling can be used to show customers around products.
Companies also use video calling as a way of delivering in-person customer support, remotely. This can be helpful for overseas customers, who may not otherwise understand what the customer experience should feel like.
Cobrowsing is a collaborative browsing solution which delivers most comprehensive support for online customers. It allows the agent to assist the customer through shared navigation, annotate the screen and push pages.
Cobrowsing is usually accompanied by a chat, voice or video conversation, and all together this maximises the online experience for the customer and creates a virtual in-store experience.
Cobrowsing is particularly useful when assisting customers with complex areas of the website, like filling out complicated forms or engaging in a consultation by guiding them through various products and services on offer. This can help to build a strong connection between the customer and the agent, which can encourage higher order values and repeat custom into the future.
Sometimes, the original is the best; nothing can beat speaking to your customers in person. Making customers feel relaxed and comfortable in your company’s physical environment is immeasurable in building a reputable and trustworthy brand.
However, in-person appointments are not the most efficient method of handling customer requests and this can be inconvenient for the customer, so it’s important to recommend more convenient contact channels for day-to-day queries.
The luxury or high-end sector can benefit from encouraging in-person customer support, as this can evoke a feeling of exclusivity and provide a super-personalised experience.
The future of customer communications
As technology entrenches itself deeper into our lives, the future of customer communication lies in a multichannel approach.
Gone are the days where one or two contact channels were sufficient. Modern customers have higher expectations than ever before and companies are competing with each other to deliver the most accessible, innovative and high quality customer service to their customers.
In order to keep up, companies must be agile and move in line with the latest customer communications trends, to ensure they don’t get left choking on the dust left by their trailblazing competitors.
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