Omnichannel customer service report

Consumers are becoming more comfortable interacting with companies across a growing number of channels, and as a result, they're demanding a seamless and consistent approach across all those channels when it comes to customer service.

How are companies around the globe doing in implementing omnichannel customer service and sales strategies to meet consumers' expectations? Loudhouse, an independent research agency, surveyed 7,000 consumers in seven countries (U.S., U.K., Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, and Japan) to find out.

Download the full report: The Omnichannel Customer Service Gap

More of a visual person? Check out our infographics:
Bridging the gap: Customer service omnichannel survey (global findings)
Australia omnichannel survey graphic
Brazil omnichannel survey graphic
Japan omnichannel survey graphic
U.K. omnichannel survey graphic
U.S. omnichannel survey graphic

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Companies Focus on Customer Retention

Consumers are using more channels and devices than ever to research buying decisions, make purchases, and seek customer service. Smart retailers that are focused on customer retention have responded by forging into new channels to meet their customers where they're living.

Now that shoppers have access to their favorite brands everywhere, their expectations are evolving again. The reality is that many consumers use multiple devices and channels at the same time or one after the other, and they expect their experiences with a brand to be consistent across it all. When retailers manage to pull it off, consumers reward them with their loyalty.

Our infographic examines how retailers are building a seamless customer experience by integrating across channels and how they expect their efforts to pay off in terms of customer retention and repeat business.

Companies Focus on Customer Retention

An Enterprise Guide to 21st Century Customer Engagement

Conversations around your brand are happening in greater numbers, and across an increasing number of communication channels each year. This means that every business must consider the impact of offering (or not offering) customer support through multiple channels. It's safe to say there has been a "consumer awakening" and customers are now in charge. Enterprises who recognize this are poised to be the new 21st Century customer service heroes.

Customer Service Skills You Need

Customer Service Skills You Need
Customer service involves much more than having a conversation on the phone. Responding to tickets over email, live chat, and social media are now equally important channels for customers. While there is much overlap in the customer service skills required to do a great job, each channel also benefits from a unique set of soft skills.

For example, soft skills that are usually associated with phone support, such as empathy, the ability to “read” a customer’s emotional state, clear communication, and friendliness remain important. But emotional cues are much harder to read in writing, and so additional skills for newer channels need to be developed to make these channels as viable a choice for customers.

Whether you’re interviewing or brushing up your customer service skills for your resume, it’s good to remember that most customer support managers are going to be interviewing for soft skills. Technical skills and tools can be learned—and might be easier to learn.

The best customer service agent will be able to move easily between channels and apply the skill set that best suits each channel. If you can do that, you’ll be a rock star in the workplace.

What follows are our tips for improving your soft skills by channel, excerpted from the ebook Customer Service Skills You Need.

Phone support: How’s your “phone voice”?


Some say we wear our emotions on our sleeve, but others might say we convey our emotions through our voice. Customer service agents certainly know that frustration and anger translates through the phone lines. And, of course, that’s a two-way street. Even phone agents reading from a script must consider their tone.

The following are important tips to help you provide skilled phone support:

Smile, literally.

Smiles translate through the phone, but be used at appropriate times.

Mirror a customer's’ language and tone.

Mirroring another person’s language and tone can help create connection. That said, if a customer is angry, you don’t want to mirror their frustration. Instead you can try increasing your volume just a little and then quickly work to bring the intensity down a notch.

Reflect and validate.

When customers are upset or frustrated, they might not be able to take in what you say—even if it’s the right answer. Listen first, let them calm down, and then try to help them.

Acknowledge.

Customers need to feel heard, so tell them that you understand the reason for their call.

Summarize.

Listening can be a tough skill to learn if you’re not already expert at it, but it’s an important one to master when it comes to the top job skills for customer service agents. You’ve got to listen to a customer in order to repeat back to them, using supportive language, what you’ve heard them describe.

Communicate hold time.

Even if you’ve just handled a call really well, you can lose a customer by leaving them on hold too long, especially if you haven’t set their expectations first.

Email support: You are not a robot


There’s some overlap here with live chat and social media support, but honing your writing skills is especially important when providing email support. The email response is arguably the most structured response, and the one that requires the most precision. You must write with clarity and brevity, and take the time to proofread and correct any mistakes.

To provide great email support, you’ll need to:

Use templates, not boilerplates.

For efficiency, you’ll want to use templates that include some pre-written text. Here at Zendesk we call them macros. Templates are like guidelines—not hard and fast rules to live by. You’ll want to personalize your answer before replying to customers.

Inject personality into responses.

It’s okay to use your own voice and approach, even as you reflect your company’s persona and philosophies. Think about how you might make your signature unique, or having different ways to close the email, depending on the tone and resolution of the interaction.

Timeframe matters.

Emails need to be answered, especially a first response, within a defined timeframe. A great email support agent will also prioritize response by urgency and how long they’ve been sitting, and a great customer service platform, can help make the job easier.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Similar to phone support, it’s great to mirror a customer’s language or phrasing, when appropriate, to show them that you understand and acknowledge their issue, and to create rapport.

Chat support: Multitasking is a key skill


Providing great live chat support requires a cross of phone and email skills. Chat is conversational and real-time but requires strong writing skills.

Here’s what every great live chat agent needs to pay attention to:

Tone.

Tone can be hard to decipher over chat, especially since the statements can be short, quickly-fired, and incomplete. Choose your words carefully. A good rule of thumb is to use a gentle, informative tone—and an emoticon if your tone might be unclear.

Multitasking.

Live chat agents are usually expected to handle more than one chat at a time, which is a skill in itself. Great multitaskers don’t lose sight of the bigger picture, though. Handle too many chats and your customers will be waiting too long between responses. Don’t forget that you can put a chat customer “on hold” if you need more time to find an answer, but as with phone support, set their expectations!

Reading cues.

Sometimes it’s harder for customers to express themselves by writing, so don’t read too quickly and jump to conclusions.

Social support calls for speedy deliveries


Providing social media support requires some combination of all of the above. When live chat isn’t available, customers turn to social media for an uber-fast response. The skillset required to provide customer service on social media is generally a bit advanced, and often saved for more senior or specialized customer service agents.

The following skills are crucial for social media support:

(Almost) always respond.

The worst thing to do is not to respond to a customer’s social post—especially when they need help. Even if you can’t answer right away, make quick contact and let them know when, and what channel, you’ll respond on. Providing speedy responses means you’ve got to be adept at knowing how to quickly address a customer in a polite tone. It’s everything we’ve discussed here, but shorter and faster.

Don’t take the bait.

The exception to “always respond” is when you are confronted with obvious attempts to create an altercation in a public space. Most organizations know they can’t afford to have a customer service agent who makes mistakes on social media. The damage can be far-reaching.

Differentiate.

Social media contacts sometimes walk a line between something that should be handled by support and something that should be handled by marketing. A skilled agent will know what should be a ticket, and what to forward on.

A Guide to Multi-Channel Customer Support

How to Hire the Best Customer Support Reps

Today when we say “multi-channel,” we’re no longer talking about snail mail or fax machines as support channels. Instead, a multi-channel support strategy includes some combination of traditional phone, email, or live chat support alongside social media and self-service offerings.

Why? Because customer service is not a 'one size fits all' solution, and different people prefer different methods of support.

When Zendesk looked at customer satisfaction by channel, traditional phone support just barely edged out over other channels. So how can you figure out which channels (your) customers prefer and build a strategy that allows you to provide a consistent level of service across each channel?

Our guide to multi-channel support will help you to:

  • understand the support challenges facing companies today
  • learn the key benefits of a multi-channel strategy
  • determine which channels your customers actually want
  • make the most of your multi-channel support

How to Conquer Your Fear of Phone Support

Phone support is the black sheep of today's multi-channel support world. Poorly trained staff, misguided processes, and confusing phone systems have all eroded the user experience. On the business side, legacy systems were complex, expensive, and took a long time (and a lot of help) to set up. These factors worked against small and midsize businesses, in particular, who need to be able to quickly scale as business expands.

Yet research continues to show that consumers often prefer the phone to other channels. A phone call makes consumers feel acknowledged, and it's a sure-fire way to get their problem resolved, faster. Still, many smaller and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) shy away from offering phone support.

The truth is that phone support is both a vital and practical part of a multi-channel support strategy. And advances in Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology now make phone support both affordable and easy to manage.

In this article, we’ll look explore:

  • some of the common misconceptions people have about phone support
  • research that explains why phone support so important for SMBs
  • how easy it is to set up a call center using an integrated VoIP system
  • tips for training and coaching new phone support agents
  • the most important metrics to track to make your phone support effective

Why phone support gets a bad rap

Many people have nightmarish stories about navigating an interactive voice response (IVR) menu, or being stuck on hold only to have the call dropped. The experience makes a liar of that soothing, upbeat voice assuring them that their 'call is very important.' While IVRs, hold music, and menus intend to help callers navigate support options, they often have the opposite effect.

Add to these frustrations the fact that phone support is often outsourced. Staff at large call centers may not feel empowered to truly help customers, and may feel disconnected. The whole situation leaves consumers with a bad taste in their mouth.

Customer horror stories are exacerbated by old technology. A small or midsize business evaluating the potential of phone support just sees a poor user experience and difficult implementation. Phone support doesn’t seem worth it. In fact, phone support seems like a last resort.

Go for quality, not quantity

Unfortunately, many large phone support organizations focus on minimizing downside rather than maximizing satisfaction, which is why phone support is often arduous. A McKinsey Quarterly article exemplifies this strategy through its findings at a wireless telecommunications provider. After rigorous analysis, the telecommunications provider considered raising service levels to the "delight breakpoint" or reducing them to just above the "patience threshold." Customer-lifetime-value economics pointed to the second option.

Yet for SMBs, which don't often encounter the same volume-related challenges that large organizations do, helping customers reach the "delight breakpoint" can be a powerful weapon in the fight for market share. Great service helps create brand advocates—loyal customers who evangelize a company's product(s) to others. Brand advocates help businesses grow without increasing sales and marketing spending. It’s a mistake a lot of companies make—under-investing in customer-retention spending. Research revealed that brands who increase customer retention rates by as little as 5% can increase profits by 25-95%.

In fact, a Deloitte study showed that brand advocates spend more than twice as much as regular consumers on average. In this way, providing exemplary service to an existing customer base can help small and midsize companies see a return on customer support investments.

Before you can create brand advocates, you must communicate with your customers on their channel of choice.

Customers (still) prefer phone conversations

In Forrester’s “Global 2011 Consumer Preference Report—Contact Centers” study, phone conversations trumped email interactions by a ratio of nearly three to one. To explain this, the study asked respondents to prioritize what they desired in a customer service interaction. Quick resolution and human interaction topped the list:

  1. "I am able to interact with a customer service representative quickly."
  2. "My query is resolved quickly."
  3. "I am able to interact with a person."
  4. "I am able to access the information I need to resolve my query myself."
  5. "The customer service representative is based in this country."

The reasons provided by the respondents are perhaps the most revealing takeaway from this study, especially as time marches on and live chat, social media, and self-service options continue to evolve and claim larger (and fluctuating) portions of the multi-channel pie.

More recent findings confirm that voice is still the primary channel for customer service, and findings from our internal Zendesk Customer Service Benchmark in the third quarter of 2013 revealed that the phone actually yields the highest customer satisfaction rating. Compared with service provided via email, chat, web self-service, Twitter and Facebook, a whopping 91% of customers were satisfied with service provided via phone.

How phone support should operate

Effective phone support should be simple. Telephony systems should be intuitive, and help speed resolution. And operational efficiency requires a blend of well-trained, empowered staff using intelligent, well-designed tools.

Here's a look at how phone support should ideally operate:

Calls are fielded in-house. Research shows that in-house employees are more knowledgeable, dedicated, and have less turnover than outsourced agents.

Agents have resolution authority. Research also shows that empowering agents to make crucial decisions on their own speeds resolution and increases job and customer satisfaction.

Your phone system facilitates productivity. A phone system should have the following features or functionality:

  • Seamless integration with other channels: Syncs with a customer support platform to prevent data loss, to show agents past interactions, to automatically log call information in tickets or to attach call information to related tickets, including tickets generated from other channels.
  • Easy to install: Up and running in minutes, not days, with no complicated hardware or outside help needed.
  • Affordable: No setup costs, with commitment-free, pay-as-you-go billing.
  • Automatic call routing: Routes calls to the next open agent so that customers don’t deal with confusing or complex menus.
  • Voicemail: Allows customers to leave voicemails during off hours or when all agents are busy; voicemail messages should let customers know when they can expect a return call.
  • Reporting: Presents relevant key performance indicators (KPIs) in an easily digestible format.

Let KPIs drive decisions. Phone systems with a great reporting dashboard should give you call stats that allow you to tweak performance and spot trends.

Collect customer feedback. It’s helpful to send out regular surveys that measure customer satisfaction and to invite feedback that will help you improve.

Phone support can and does operate this way for many SMBs—especially using new technology. It’s no longer an uphill climb to set yourself up for ideal operation.

Implement a call center in minutes

There are four key steps to implementing phone support, detailed in the sections below:

  1. Choose a phone system
  2. Set up the system
  3. Implement a trial period
  4. Go live

Choose a phone system

There are three main types of phone systems:

  • Legacy: Analog phone systems delivered through traditional phone lines
  • VoIP: Digital phone systems delivered via the Internet
  • Integrated VoIP: VoIP systems that link to a customer service platform

Legacy systems have historically involved expensive hardware and professional setup, and don't scale easily. VoIP systems are more flexible because of their web delivery, and don’t require any hardware beyond a computer and headset. However, traditional VoIP systems lack one key component: customer support software integration.

Integrated VoIP systems work in tandem with customer service platforms by linking calls to customer data. Calls are logged in tickets and attached to customer profiles, making it easy to cross-reference a new call with all old conversations—whether they happened on the phone, via chat, or otherwise. Integrated VoIP systems also offer:

  • In-browser or handset calling: Agents can take calls using either a computer and headphones, or an IP phone
  • Scalability: The system can adjust to changes in volume by adding or subtracting lines with minimal effort

Ideally, you should be able to try a VoIP system for free, and with no up-front commitment.

Set up the system

With the right phone system, setup requires limited configuration and no outside help. You’ll want to establish:

  1. Available hours: Start with your current business hours and evolve according to customer feedback.
  2. Hold message or music: It easy to start out with a simple, universal soundtrack and then adjust, if necessary.
  3. Maximum hold time before voicemail: As a starting point, two minutes is a good rule of thumb.

Focus on making the customer experience as simple and straightforward as possible. If you use menus, limit options to only those that are absolutely necessary for ensuring proper call routing. Let friends and employees test the process before pushing it live to customers.

Start with a trial period

It's important not to overwhelm support staff when trying phone support for the first time. We recommend a one-month trial period, divided into two-week phases.

Phase 1 - Opt for a slow rollout to a handpicked set of customers. Begin by emailing them a short message about the new service. Use these first two weeks to ease staff into the support process (see the section on training and coaching below). Conduct weekly meetings to gather feedback. This feedback can help you tweak initial processes before the second phase.

Phase 2 - In the second half of the trial period, take a closer look at volume and issue type using the system's reporting dashboard. Use this information to gauge staffing needs.

Part of the trial period is determining which customers you should support. This is a crucial decision that depends largely on business goals and product type. For example, consumer goods businesses typically support all customers via phone, whereas service companies may offer phone support to only a particular customer subgroup, such as those with billing issues, or more complex technical problems.

Go live

To take your phone support live, announce the new support option via email. Also ensure that the support number is posted on your website, and any relevant social media profiles, if voice support is available to all customers. It’s important to clearly communicate your support hours or to clarify the type of phone support you’re offering (e.g., billing inquiries only). Sometimes a new channel of support needs to be marketed before it gains traction, but it’s best to be prepared for a surge in volume once you go live. Zendesk saw a 40% increase in weekly calls after posting our support number on our site.

Train and coach agents for success

Taking calls for the first time can be nerve-wracking. Agents never know what a customer will say, and every call is different. That’s why the best way to train an agent for voice support is to take things slow. At Zendesk, new agents don’t answer calls for one to two months after they're hired.

Once live, phone agents do a lot at once: actively listen, soothe customers, create tickets, and research answers—often at breakneck speed. Agents should feel confident before flying solo, so here are a few tips to help ease them in:

  • New agents should receive standard onboarding and product training, followed by more intensive training on the tools required to provide support.
  • Before diving into phone support, agents must be adept at creating tickets, searching for product information, and using your customer service software. For this reason, it's a good idea to have phone agents begin with email support. This gives them time to learn, research, and dig into your product and tools. You want their online tasks to come as second nature as agents listen to customers.
  • Next, have agents listen in on calls and shadow other phone agents to see how they speak and respond to customers.
  • Always check in with agents before putting them on the phone and don’t push. It’s important the agent feels comfortable.
  • When the agent is ready, have them start by handling voicemails. Without the pressure of a live call, the agent can take time to listen and figure out what the customer needs. Then they can research the answer before returning the call. Someone with more experience should be listening or available to jump in with coaching or support.

Always give your agents the green light to put the customer on hold if they need more time to find an answer or to ask for help.

Once your agents are comfortable, give them the authority to make decisions. Trust agents to handle calls without having to put customers on hold to ask for a manager's permission or approval before continuing with a resolution.

Stats you should be tracking

Once support is live, it's important to track KPIs to ensure that everything is running smoothly and to detect troubling trends. The phone system's reporting dashboard should aid this process by keeping track of a few key stats, including:

  1. Total call volume – Total number of calls in a given time period. Look out for drastic swings up or down. This is a signal that there might be a problem.
  2. Per-agent call volume – Total number of calls per agent in a given time period. Look out for parity across staff in the same role. This should remain consistent over time or increase slowly.
  3. Average call time – Average time agents spend on the phone across all calls. Aim to keep this low, while focusing on customer satisfaction. Quick is nice, but pleased is better.
  4. Average turnaround time – Average time it takes to resolve an issue. Generally, the faster, the better. Try to or exceed match other channels.
  5. First-call resolution rate – Percentage of issues resolved on the first call. Higher is better, but complex issues may necessitate multiple interactions—judge accordingly.
  6. Abandonment rate – Percentage of calls abandoned before answering. This rate should be as low as possible. Lower the maximum wait time if abandonment rises, and work on speeding resolution by having staff ready to jump in and help out during times when this rate spikes. If you find it spikes with regularity, you may need to add additional staff.
  7. Average speed to answer – Average time agents take to answer a call (including hold time). Try to keep as low as possible. Voicemail should be set to trigger a few seconds after the average time.

Don’t be intimidated. If you’re unfamiliar with these stats, start slowly and use basic call volume and average call time to determine appropriate staffing levels. Then revisit the remaining stats in a few months, once you’re more comfortable.

Ask your customers how you're doing

The ultimate measuring stick for phone support is customer satisfaction, so whenever possible, find ways to gather feedback. Great phone systems and customer service software will provide a simple electronic feedback mechanism, but it may also be necessary to seek more advanced methods, such as callback or email surveys. Remember to ask your customers for improvement opportunities. Then, as trends emerge, prioritize and implement the suggestions that make the most sense for your business.

Conclusion

We live in a fast-paced, multi-channel world where customers expect an immediate response. Smaller companies have to compete with their larger competition, which underscores why phone support is an ideal tool for SMBs looking to increase customer satisfaction and drive word-of-mouth marketing. Thanks to advances in technology, it's now possible to lower your costs and to manage multiple channels from a centralized platform. And this, in turn, makes it possible for any business of any size to offer first-class support.

To learn more about Zendesk Voice, a simple integrated VoIP solution, visit www.zendesk.com/voice

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Master High-Tech, High-Touch Customer Service

With Micah Solomon

Social media, self-service technologies, and smartphones have created a challenging new landscape for businesses when it comes to managing the customer experience and delivering exceptional customer service.

This 1-hour webinar with customer service expert, author, and business keynote speaker, Micah Solomon will teach you how to harness the power of technology to build emotional connections with your customers, while retaining the best of classic service techniques — and, as a result, generate fierce customer loyalty. Micah explains through real-life examples how to implement the eight unbreakable rules of social media customer service (including how to effectively address customer complaints on sites such as Yelp, Twitter and TripAdvisor), as well as how to design compelling self-service options to help today's customers help themselves. This webinar will leave you with tips and tricks that agents and managers alike can put into practice today to deliver best-of-class customer service.

Micah Solomon is a top professional business keynote speaker, bestselling author, customer service and marketing strategist, and consultant on customer service issues, the customer experience, and company culture. He has been termed by the Financial Post a 'new guru of customer service excellence.' An entrepreneur and business leader, he authored the new business bestseller, High-Tech, High-Touch Customer Service, as well as the earlier book Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit. His expertise has been featured in Fast Company, Inc. Magazine, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, CNBC, Forbes.com, and elsewhere, and he created and helms the 'College of the Customer' website.