Customers Still Have to Channel-Hop to Fix Woes, a New Study Finds

Whether it's self-service, email, or Web chat, the multichannel customer service concept is increasingly being embraced by customers—but by organizations, not so much. Given the choice, consumers will avoid the contact center, but according to new research, for final resolution, consumers have to navigate several channels and end up in the contact center anyway. The social media channel, in particular, seems to be the redheaded stepchild of all channels.

After surveying 1,000 consumers, management consulting firm Northridge Group found that 61 percent of consumers said that they were unable to get customer service fixes on just one channel. It gets worse—one-fifth of the respondents said that they had to traverse three or more channels to get resolution. And despite exaggerations of its imminent demise, if you really want quick answers, the tried-and-true phone channel is the way to go—over 75 percent of customers said that they use the phone for urgent matters—making it the No. 1 channel for effective service.

Social media, which is being increasingly embraced by consumers for customer service, had the lowest percentage of issue resolution and follow-up, at 13 percent and 9 percent, respectively, according to the survey. And despite near real-time interactions, just 13 percent of survey respondents said that they have gotten a response within minutes of tweeting.

Social Media=Ball of Confusion

Pam Plyler, executive practice leader of customer experience and contact center management of the Northridge Group, believes that companies aren't purposely neglecting their customers on social media, but they are uncertain and confused about strategy and are struggling in general with how to engage customers across various channels.

But when it comes to social media channels, organizations have even greater hesitation because no one knows who has their fingers in the pie. Initially, social media was in the domain of marketing departments, but it has evolved primarily into a customer service function. Confusion remains, though.

"It's about a lack of clear ownership," Plyler says. "The best-in-class companies have figured this out and have really strong partnerships between marketing and customer service departments."

Do You Dare Take the Twitter Challenge?

Another stumbling block to providing customer service on social media—particularly Twitter—is the very public nature of comments between customers and companies.

"This makes it more challenging for companies to determine when to engage, how to engage, and how to avoid creating a broader public issue," Plyler points out.

Illustrating that point is infamously unresponsive and/or unsatisfactory customer service departments from industry giants whose performances were splashed across the media. (Hello, Comcast! Hi, British Airways!)

Last week, Time Warner Cable found itself in the cross hairs of Saturday Night Live head writer and Weekend Update cohost Colin Jost. The comedian tweeted that he had been without cable for four months, as Time Warner technicians couldn't fix his problems and the company's customer service had been unhelpful. Jost's humorous, albeit angry, tweets are exactly the kind of public customer interaction nightmare companies dread for fear of a misstep, especially concerning a celebrity with a large number of followers.

Some of Jost's eviscerating tweets included:

"My new goal in life is to be the Mother Theresa of getting people to switch from Time Warner Cable to Fios. #SpiteSpokesman"

"Hey Netflix, Want to come over to my place and watch Time Warner Cable slowly die together? (CC'ing Satan so he knows to expect them.)”

".@TWC_Help or the 4th technician who came a month ago, tried five different cable boxes, then genuinely suggested that I get @VerizonFiOS."

VerizonFiOS—a chief competitor of Time Warner—jumped at the opportunity and tweeted to Jost:

"@TheColinJost Just throwing this out there: we're in full support of this plan."

Eventually, Time Warner customer service replied to Jost.

"@TheColinJost If you can follow us & DM [direct message] your account info we'll gladly look into it for you. ^MG"

Jost replied: ".@TWC_Help Where should I follow you? To Mordor? What's your exact address?"

Talk about a public relations disaster. Jost's rants made headlines, from celebrity news outlets to the venerable Wall Street Journal.

Social Media Is Your Company’s Opportunity (Really)

Despite the shellacking Time Warner and other organizations have received publicly, Plyler believes that companies should still consider social media a source of opportunity—a stage where customers share positive experiences and become brand advocates, for one.

"The opportunity here is to engage with customers and thank them for their loyalty," she says. "They can share their experiences with not only their network, but yours as well."

And frustrated customers like Jost can also viewed as an opportunity—after all, if your company doesn't know what’s broken, how can it make repairs?

"At the opposite end of the spectrum from shared positive experiences, if someone is really frustrated and is coming to the channel as a last resort, then you can understand what happened in other channels and fix those issues," Plyler points out.

Consumers have changed the dynamic of customer interactions, and companies need to get used to a role reversal. Organizations can no longer dictate how they provide service to consumers—now, customers are in the driver’s seat.

"There needs to be an understanding by companies that they are less in control than in the past," Plyler says. "The customer is driving their purchasing patterns.

"Companies can use that as an opportunity to get back to basics of delivering against customer expectations. But it's not just about delivering, but differentiating from your competitors. Companies that stand out in providing great social customer care are those that believe that if they innovate through the needs of the customer, not only will they grow but they will also be able to reduce costs because they've become more efficient."

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