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Opposing tensions

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Research highlights tricky juggling act of pleasing customers in a multi-channel environment  
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Customer contact preferences deliver mixed signals

Does the advent of social media and an increasing choice of communication channels for customers hold any good news for companies?

Absolutely. For marketing directors, the aim is to create engagement with the brand. The more they can achieve this, the better, hence the proliferation of Facebook fan pages and corporate Twitter accounts which increase opportunities for the brand to engage with consumers.

Our research project ‘The Future Consumer’ has encouraging news for marketing teams because it found that customers, especially under 25s, want to interact with brands more. On average, young people said they have interacted with brands about 6% more than over 25s in the last year. We found that multi-channel consumers interact with brands more as a result of having increasing channel choice and communication opportunities.

Our research shows that we are very much in a multi-channel contact environment and that customers clearly want a choice of contact channels so they can decide which to use depending on their needs or situation and even to a degree their personality type.

What challenges are posed by a multi-channel environment?

There can often be very different and competing drivers within the customer service and marketing areas of an organisation and this poses a particular challenge.

Marketing success will be measured in terms of increased engagement, so encouraging customers to embrace new channels (whether it is to follow a brand on Twitter or to become Facebook fans) frequently forms part of a multi-contact marketing strategy which creates more touch points for customers.

However, from a customer service perspective, success lies in balancing two things: increasing customer satisfaction but also in doing it in the most efficient manner at the lowest possible cost.

Multi-channel consumers want more, not less, communication with brands and the key challenge for customer service is that this communication comes across all channels, traditional ones such as voice, as well as new channels such as social media.

There is no evidence in our report that customers are substituting voice calls with email or social media contact. The demand for voice not only remains strong, but it is as strong among under 25s and even under 18s as it is among older consumers. So as we add new channels, the old ones don’t go away and there is clearly a cost implication in resourcing all these channels.

How can businesses reconcile a desire to switch to new lower cost channels with consumers’ demands for a choice of both old and new channels?

There is a real challenge here. There was a general expectation that newer, lower cost-to-serve channels, would to some extent have replaced much more expensive ones such as voice by now. In reality, organisations are adding new channels but still retaining old ones which means they must support multiple channels. Meanwhile, customers are becoming more demanding and want to swap communication channels at will. This means that the customer experience has to be seamless across channels which requires integrated and management information systems and multi-skilled agents - there are clearly cost implications.

In the future, complexity and cost are likely to increase so customer service departments must evolve very rapidly. This must start with a realisation that mass migration from traditional channels to new ones is wholly unlikely. Businesses need to create new service models that embrace flexibility. They also need to understand how customers use each channel and when and how to leverage each in order to derive maximum benefit. Our latest research provides significant fresh insight on these points.

What are the prospects of resolving internal conflict within organisations over customer contact strategy?

It must begin with a common agreement across an organisation that customer contact is unequivocally a good thing. This has to lead to a resolve that customers must enjoy the best possible experience regardless of which contact channel they use because there is a clear causal link between purchase decisions and the quality of a customer’s interaction.

A change in mindset is required so that business leaders cease to equate contact purely with cost and acknowledge and measure the wider benefits that engagement brings. A holistic approach which keeps the customers’ needs and desires firmly in view can give rise to a new contact model which is more apt for the consumer of the future.

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