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If Digital CX Channels Are So Important, Why Do So Many Brands Offer Them With Second-Class Service?

Article by Andrew Studee, Managing Director at Voyage Advisory

Companies are offering more non-voice channels for customer service than ever before. The only problem is, it sure seems like they don’t want you to use them.

I’ve seen this in more service experiences than I can count, but it was crystal clear in a recent interaction with my local utility companies. I was getting two power and gas bills for my new house, so I needed to make what I thought was a simple request to receive only one bill from each company.

To my relief, both service providers offered email support, so I put in a request through that channel: I have a single property, but I’m getting two bills. Please combine them.

Easy enough, right?

Apparently not. Instead of addressing my problem, both companies sent back generic responses telling me to phone support during normal business hours — the exact thing I was trying to avoid. It left me wondering why they even offered the email option.

Truth be told, digital, non-voice channels are often a mirage in the desert of poor customer experience (CX). And that’s not only a customer service failure; it’s bad business.

The Changing Customer Service Landscape

Driven in part by younger consumers and the pandemic, expectations for customer service interactions are shifting rapidly. Consider a few facts from the “Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2021” that illustrate how millennial and Gen Z buyers differ from older consumers:

●      40% of Gen Zers and millennials said they would prefer to deal with a chatbot rather than a human agent when in a hurry, compared to 28% of Gen Xers and 20% of baby boomers.

●      During the pandemic, more than a third of Gen Zers and millennials started using web chat for customer service more often, compared to only 15% of boomers.

●      31% of Gen Zers and 29% of millennials contact companies via social media. Among consumers aged 55 and over, only 10% use this channel.

With so many younger consumers demonstrating a preference for these channels, brands know they need to adapt. Amazon figured it out ages ago, even going so far as to make it difficult to find their phone number for support.

But adaptation doesn’t mean simply offering alternative channels. For better customer support, these channels need to be fully functional.

The Cost of Going Halfway

Consider the matter from another angle: What’s the cost of offering poor or limited support on non-voice channels? When I had to contact a large communication company to try to get my son’s cellphone number ported, what started out as a promising experience quickly turned cumbersome.

Although I was able to make some progress with an online agent, they had to transfer me to another online agent when things got complicated. Eventually, that agent forced me to switch to phone support. After I’d already spent half an hour on chat, I had to wait another 30 minutes on hold before re-explaining my entire issue to the phone agent. At that point, I had lost an hour of my day, and the company had paid three different support agents to deal with my issue.

So, what are the costs? First, that company should consider the damage to customer loyalty that comes with all that service baggage. When a customer feels they’re exerting unnecessary effort and spending an unreasonable amount of time dealing with a support request, they’re bound to wonder if they can get better service elsewhere.

On top of the long-term possibility of lost revenue, there are immediate costs. An experienced live chat agent can handle four to six customers at once, while a phone support agent can handle only one. That makes offering live chat a huge opportunity to boost profitability. But, as we’ve seen, many of these chat support teams don’t actually appear equipped to offer legitimate support. That means companies are essentially throwing money away to have a team that could improve the bottom line but is actually making it worse.

How To Truly Invest in Non-Voice Channels

My experiences with poor support outside of traditional voice channels are, unfortunately, more the rule than the exception. The reason? Many companies aren’t fully invested in offering this type of digital support in channels like chat, text, social media, and email. They know they need it, but they offer half-hearted Band-Aid solutions.

I’ve consulted for countless brands, and I’m often shocked to see the contrast between what they invest in their voice and non-voice channels. On the voice side, there’s so much time and money spent on interactive voice response (IVR) mapping and integration, support staff coaching, and system testing and monitoring. The chat agents, meanwhile, don’t have the same technology or detailed processes in place. Without that, a chat agent’s only function is often to route people to phone support.

In many cases, the solution isn’t necessarily about adding more technology; it’s about proactivity and intentionality. Businesses need to be as intentional about designing non-phone CX as they are about designing for phone CX, and they must establish deliberate workforce management and coaching processes to meet the additional need.

With the right processes, policies, and procedures in place, there’s no reason a company can’t provide the same level of service in non-voice channels that it does in voice. The ideal customer experience, in this day and age, has to be omnichannel.

These new forms of business-and-customer interaction aren’t going anywhere, and customer expectations for them are only going to get higher. Ultimately, businesses that treat digital CX channels with the same care as traditional ones will be poised to stay a step ahead in the years to come.