5 Tips to Make Your Customer Service Digital-First

Fifty-eight percent of callers start their customer service journeys online. Yet, most companies can't pass context from customers' digital journeys to voice agents, which means that agents have no idea which actions customers have already performed to self-serve and they could suggest actions that callers have already tried. Also, voice agents have little incentive to educate customers on how to self-serve with the aim of avoiding future calls.

Companies won't necessarily succeed because they offer digital customer service; however, they are sure to lose customers and market share without it. You have to make it easy for customers to connect with you on the channel of their choice, which more often than not is a digital channel.

Here are five steps to offer digital channels to your customers.

1. Engage customers over web messaging.

All demographics are comfortable using text-based interactions. Start by adding messaging to your web and mobile website and mobile app. Think beyond customer-initiated chat and proactively offer chat to your customers at points of struggle and abandonment.

Discover customer journeys that start beyond your owned websites and add web messaging at these touchpoints. Companies like DISH Network and Columbia Sportswear let customers chat with them right from Google Maps and Google search. Messaging features like as carousels, suggested replies, and photos let customers buy, schedule, and troubleshoot without switching channels.

2. Interact with customers over broader channels.

Complex inquires and those that require empathy, like disputes or financial counseling, are still best handled via voice. But this doesn't need to mean analog voice. Add digital voice, or click-to-call to your website to let customers start a VoIP call from their laptops or mobile phones. This lets agents seamlessly move chat interactions to voice. It also empowers agents with customer context and insights into customer digital journeys prior to the call, as additional context.

Add third-party messaging and video, depending on the demographics of your customer base and regulatory requirements of your industry. Some industries, such as fashion and beauty, have already been successful at using messaging to drive conversions on social channels like Instagram. For other industries, such as travel and hospitality or financial services, consider cobrowsing to share documents or to help onboard new customers.

3. Push your customers to be digital-first.

Typically, 10 percent of customers will choose to interact over digital channels instead of making phone calls. Once your digital channels are operational, start tracking agent efficiency and customer satisfaction metrics. This lets you manage staffing and concurrency and benchmark the effectiveness of these channels against your traditional customer service channels.

4. Introduce automation to deflect repetitive, low-value work.

Use intelligent automation to prioritize inbound messages based on intent and route them to the right skilled agent queues. Analyze common requests to assess whether they can be automated via a bot or knowledge base article.

Move beyond the basics by using decision-tree-based bots to triage and answer inquires, collect and record user and issue information, and smoothly hand off to agents. With bots taking care of a significant portion of the repetitive inbound volume, agents can deliver more complex and engaging customer service.

5. Invest in deflection strategies.

Phone is the most expensive means of delivering CX, while messaging is the most cost-effective. Start driving customers from phone to messaging by deflecting interactive voice response (IVR) interactions with an offer to chat. The interaction, customer details captured in the IVR, and customer context are passed to chat agents who can pick up the conversation. This allows digital agents to multitask and improves experiences by eliminating long phone queue wait times.

Being successful with digital-first customer service isn't only about technology. Design strategies to promote your digital channels everywhere that's appropriate to communicate with your customers: on your website or mobile app; via IVR messages; through email blasts; on billing statements. Have voice agents tell your customers about the availability of digital channels at the end of each customer call and relax agent metrics to allow them time to answer customer questions. It's a journey that, if you choose to take, will make you more customer-centric in the long run.

Kate Leggett is a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research.