Multiple studies, articles, and experts highlight the importance of delivering excellent customer service. But rarely do they discuss the concrete steps to achieving it. Choosing the most effective customer service channels is a good way to start.
One challenge? Customer expectations are higher than ever before:
- 54% of customers have higher expectations in 2021 than they did in 2020
- 90% of customers decide whether or not they will do business with you based on the quality of your customer service
- 30% of customers will leave a brand they’re loyal to after one bad customer experience
So how do you provide outstanding customer service that meets these expectations?
You can start by choosing the most effective customer service channels to communicate with your customers. Customer service channels are the bridges that connect you to the customer and vice versa. If you select the wrong one, you won’t have the means to interact with them. And thus, it will be harder to form a relationship.
However, with many customer support channels available, choosing the right one(s) can be complicated. In this article, we’ll go through everything you need to know to select the best multichannel mix for your customers’ needs, including:
1. The top customer support channels available today
2. Methods for choosing the most effective customer service channel for your business
3. The importance of regularly evaluating your different communication channels to keep customer service efficient and high-quality
Top Customer Service Channels
Not too long ago, there were only three to four customer support channels for customer service: face-to-face, phone call, beeper or text, and (later on), email.
Now there are dozens to choose from, and the choices keep growing. It can get overwhelming to find a starting point, mainly because customers expect an omnichannel customer support experience. They want to be able to reach your business when they want on whatever platform is most convenient for them at that moment.
According to our 2021 E-Commerce report, we found that phone, email, and web chat were the most preferred channels, at 87%, 83%, and 72%. Here we’ll break down these and four additional customer service channels to help you narrow down your choices.
Although it may seem old-fashioned, phones are still your customer’s support channel of choice. Studies show that people of all ages and nationalities primarily use phone calls over other customer service channels.
Because next to face-to-face communication and video calls, phone calls are the most information-rich customer support channel. Customers can get detailed answers to their questions, easily ask follow-up questions, and have a more natural conversation. Plus, they get the answers immediately instead of having to wait for a few minutes or an entire day for a reply, as is often the case with email or chat support.
Phone calls are also an ideal customer support channel for less technologically adept customers, who may have difficulty with live chat and video chat options.
Email is another customer service channel that is here to stay.
Customers may not get quick replies via email, but it has a universal reach, with more than half of the world’s population owning an active email account. Not only that, but a recent survey reveals that 49% of customers want to hear from brands via email.
This is because customers can effortlessly refer back to previous messages, send documents and images, and they don’t need to dedicate a part of their day to waiting to speak to a customer support agent. With phone calls, video calls, and chats, they have to spend more time actively communicating and risk losing their place in the queue if they walk away from the phone or computer for too long.
Plus, email is one of the best customer service channels to communicate formal news and updates, such as information about planned system maintenance or expected shipment delays.
3. Live Chat
Online chat as a customer support channel is a relatively recent development, but our 2021 E-Commerce report found that it’s already the third fastest-growing support channel.
In fact, 51% of e-commerce customers say they’ve used web chat to contact customer service in the past six months.
Whether it’s a chatbot plugin on your website or offering live chat through your online customer support portal, chat support gives your customers the convenience of talking to support reps anytime, anywhere—even in the middle of a purchase.
Another advantage of chat as a customer support channel is that customers can send images and documents to your team, which allows for more efficient and quicker communication. For example, consumers can take screenshots of the problem they’re encountering, so your agents can more easily guide them to a solution.
4. Text Messaging/SMS
With 85% of customers preferring text messaging over emails and phone calls, your business can benefit from having SMS as an alternative customer service channel.
SMS offers the same convenience as live chat because customers can contact your support team any time, anywhere, and still expect a quick response. And because they don’t need an internet connection or a smartphone to reach you, they can contact you even from remote locations.
Text messaging also provides a great customer support channel alternative for customers who are uncomfortable with video and phone calls or those who aren’t as technologically savvy. That means your company becomes more available and accessible to a lot more customers.
When your laptop freezes, would your first instinct be calling customer support channels? Or would it be searching online for a way to restart it?
67% of customers would choose the latter because self-service is an efficient way to resolve issues. It eliminates going through the step-by-step process with an agent or having to wait on hold. And it gives your customers the satisfaction of fixing a problem on their own, while also learning more about their product.
Some of the most popular self-service tools are knowledge bases (e.g., e-books and blogs), mobile apps, FAQ sections, and automated tech support tools.
However, you must note that self-service shouldn’t replace other customer service channels that facilitate direct agent-to-customer communications. This is because there may be complex and situation-specific questions that only a knowledgeable agent can answer.
6. Social Media
With the rise of social media channels as a B2C channel (consumers are most likely to post on social media after interacting with a company), customers expect that they can reach your support teams through your social media accounts. In fact, studies reveal that you can experience a 15% increase in your churn rate if you don’t respond to customer inquiries on social media.
Much like chat, social media as a customer support channel gives customers accessibility and convenience. It allows for 24/7 customer support and can be done anywhere. It also offers customers quick replies and lets them share images and documents regarding their inquiries and concerns.
Plus, with 54% of your customers using social media to research a product, customer support is just a click away when they’re already browsing the offerings on your page.
7. Video Chat
Video chat has become a more relevant customer service channel in the wake of coronavirus. It gives businesses another way to provide the information-rich experience of face-to-face communication from anywhere in the world.
It’s also a valuable tool when customers have complex problems that are too difficult to convey or solve with written communication alone. For example, if a customer is having trouble assembling a gadget, your agent can easily and quickly teach your customers where each part should go.
Imagine how challenging and inefficient it would be for your customer and agent if your only customer support channel was chat. It would entail your customer to send photos at every step of assembly, and your agent would need to give detailed, long-winded replies. Who has time for that?
Plus, the latest video chat platforms allow you to share your screen during the call, which means support reps can walk callers through the steps of an online process in real-time.
8. Customer Reviews/Forums
Although you may not consider forums to be a type of customer service channel, customers now want businesses to respond to their forum discussions and product reviews.
Forums and reviews are ways for customers to air their feedback, frustrations, and issues about your brand or product. By responding to them, you make them feel heard and valued. You also give them the impression that you’re constantly updating and improving your product to deliver the best quality.
Furthermore, customer forums are also a customer support channel where customers try to resolve issues on their own. If you answer with a solution, the discussion becomes a knowledge base for other customers trying to fix the same problem. This makes support convenient and accessible 24/7, and can reduce the number of calls your call center agents have to handle.
Why Is It Important to Evaluate Customer Service Channels?
Not all customer service channels are created equal. And what works for today may not be effective tomorrow.
However, by regularly evaluating your customer service channels, you’ll be better prepared for that tomorrow. This kind of continuous assessment allows you to identify changes in consumer demands and behaviors and informs you of your current capacity to adapt to these changes. It also gives you in-depth insight into the customer support channels you need to improve upon.
As a result, you and your team become proactive instead of reactive, which means you’re always prepared to offer the best possible customer service experience across all your communication channels.
Here are some ways you can evaluate your customer service channels.
1. Review the Current State of Your Customer Service Channels
When you’re evaluating team performance across your different communication channels, you can start by asking yourself:
- Is each customer service channel fulfilling its original objectives?
- What metrics are you using to gauge its customer reach and effectiveness?
- Have your customers expressed any opinions about your current channels (it’s too slow, has a poor UX interface, etc.)?
- Can you connect individual channels to other customer support channels?
One way to understand the current state of your customer support channels is by conducting customer surveys and feedback forms. This way, customers tell you directly if a channel is still effective (or why it’s not) so you can work on improving it.
Another is to monitor the tickets of every customer service channel over long periods. If you notice a steady drop, it might be a sign that the channel is decreasing its usability and popularity among users.
2. Monitor the Quality of Service Your Agents Deliver
- How quickly does each agent resolve an issue?
- Are there times when support reps aren’t able to answer a customer’s call or reply quickly?
- How often do customers call back with the same issue?
- How do your agents handle irate customers?
One of the best ways to monitor customer service quality is by leveraging technology, such as cloud calling software with a CRM integration. It lets your expert agents listen in on new trainees, so they can offer advice and correct mistakes after or even during a call (using a feature known as call whispering).
A cloud-based phone system also allows you to analyze customer interaction across various customer service platforms, giving you a more holistic view of the service you provide across all your communication channels.
3. Analyze Customer Feedback
Gathering customer feedback is crucial for improving the support experience your business offers, but you also need to evaluate the feedback you receive. Ask questions like:
- What are the most common issues that customers bring up?
- What do you do after they report the issue?
By understanding and working on the issues that your customers point out, you effectively decrease the number of complaints and tickets that you’ll receive in your customer support channels. You also provide customers with better experiences because you make them feel heard and valued when you implement these changes.
In fact, according to our E-Commerce Report, 52% of consumers say brands need to respond to, encourage, and accept their feedback.
How to Decide Which Customer Service Channels to Use
Modern-day consumers expect an omnichannel customer service experience. However, with the wealth of customer support channels available, being present in all channels equally could detract from the quality of your customer support overall.
Furthermore, recent studies show that 66% of customers only use about three customer service channels. Thus, omnichannel is better thought of as being accessible and available in all the channels that your customers most frequently use to interact with you.
Here’s how you can decide which customer service channels are the most effective for your company:
1. Know Your Team’s Capabilities
When it comes to customer service, it’s all about quality, not quantity. If you can’t deliver excellent service in one customer support channel, customers will already look at your company disfavorably. What about if you have multiple customer support channels that are all falling short?
That’s why, before you start opening more than one customer service channel, it’s essential to audit the capabilities of your team:
- What are your employees’ previous experiences?
- How well do they perform in each customer support channel?
- What’s your current team capacity? Are they already too busy handling just one channel?
- Do you have tools in place that allow for cross-channel testing and monitoring?
By knowing the answers to these questions, you can better determine if your team is ready and able to handle several customer support channels. You’ll also know if you need to provide further training for your team, hire more people, or acquire tools that will help you manage multiple platforms.
2. Understand Your Customer’s Needs and Preferences
The main objective of having a customer service channel is to communicate with customers. If you’re unable to provide them with a channel that they can use, then you’re already failing your customer.
To determine your customer’s needs and preferences, you need first to understand their persona—their location, demographics, technological know-how, etc.
After you know who your customer is and what’s important to them, you have to understand the three factors that come into play when they think of contacting you:
- How convenient are the channels for your customers?
- How do they reach you when they have an urgent matter?
- What’s the best channel that they can use when they have a complex issue?
If you understand these factors, you’ll be able to tailor your communication channels to address specific customer issues, thus providing a better experience across each platform.
3. Implement Industry Best Practices
The world of customer service is never stagnant, so you should always be prepared for changes and the necessary pivots that come along with them.
To find out whether your business is ready to adapt and improve in the future, start by answering these questions:
- What are the industry standards? Have I been meeting them?
- Are there better channels or better ways to manage my customer service channels?
- What are today’s customer support trends and preferences?
Research is always key to knowing how to enhance your customer support channels and services. Another is studying the past experiences of top companies and learning from them or conducting a case study on your competitors so you understand what works and what doesn’t in your industry.
By knowing the latest technological advancements and your industry’s best practices, you’ll be able to adapt to changes quickly and continuously provide quality customer service experiences.
Providing Effective, Efficient, and Successful Customer Service Channels
The first step in having excellent customer service is by choosing the most effective customer service channels to prioritize. Get this right, and you’ll not only convert leads into sales, but you’ll also form strong customer relationships that last for years to come.
However, determining the most effective channel isn’t always as straightforward as it seems, with the wealth of available platforms today and customers expecting an omnichannel experience when contacting support teams.
Your best bet? Start with the customer service channel that’s most used by customers—phone calls.
At Aircall, we don’t just provide any calling software. We offer the most advanced and holistic calling software in the market. In addition, we feature a CRM integration that lets you consolidate customer data across all platforms throughout the customer journey. This lets you provide quality, personalized customer service experiences across all your omnichannel communication methods.
We also measure your key performance indexes to help you monitor your team and individual channel metrics. This way, you can be confident that you’re using effective, efficient, and successful customer service channels every day.
Want to know more about how to balance your multichannel customer service communications? Schedule a call with us.