How omnichannel customer service gave rise to conversational support
Updated: Jan 28, 2022
by Carl Lane, Product Solutions Expert, Wix Answers
TL;DR Customer communication has changed, and support has changed with it: from a robotic functional encounter to a more human personal experience. Turns out this is good for business, too.
Customer service has gone through many changes in recent years. In the early days, the customer service center was the only point of contact between a company and its customers. But today, with the rise of communication channels like email, social media, and chatbots, customers expect to be able to communicate in whichever way they prefer, whenever they want.
So how do businesses stay on top of all these channels? More importantly, how do they keep customers happy while doing so? This transition has led to the rise of conversational support and a new class of customer service agents who are knowledgeable, skilled, and ready to converse with customers at scale.
The rise of omnichannel customer service
Customer support conversations have transformed from long, continuous conversations to shorter, more asynchronous or ‘broken’ interactions. This is because the way humans communicate has drastically changed in the last 20 years. We've moved away from phone and email communication methods and embraced chat, SMS, and social media. Conversations are more spontaneous, require less effort to start, and require a more immediate response than ever before.
Customers want to be met where they are, not to conform to the way a company chooses to work. If you purchase something on the web, you now expect to find support there — you don’t want to search for a contact number and pick up the phone. When we see a company’s ad on social media, we expect to be able to get a response on that platform too. In today’s age, word travels fast about the support experiences, both for better and worse. One bad customer interaction in your support organization can mean fewer referrals and lower NPS scores. This is amplified by the difficulty customers experience when trying to contact a company or find an appropriate resolution. When customers have an easy time getting in touch with a company, they are more likely to be understanding of any issues, leading to higher satisfaction and long term delight.
When executed properly, support can actually help businesses reach more customers while reducing costs. This is achieved through a customer experience strategy that creates connected and consistent customer interactions across channels — also known as ‘omnichannel support’. When companies only offer a few methods of communication, bottlenecks and inefficiencies can arise. When online shopping, a customer wanting to know if a shirt comes in a larger size or a different color shouldn’t have to wait on the phone for an answer. Being able to answer these sorts of questions over SMS, chat, or social media frees up resources to help more complex customer issues over the phone or email.
So why conversational support?
Customers just want it to be easy to get the help they need. Waiting on hold in a phone queue or for an email response that might never arrive creates a barrier for customers trying to get in touch — whether it be for a simple question or a more complex issue. Conversational support makes a business or brand feel more available and accessible by providing contact points in the places customers interact with a brand, extending these discussions across many channels. If you were to buy something that you had seen advertised on Instagram, it would be pretty weird if you couldn’t get a response from that same company via DM on Instagram, right? If you then needed further assistance, maybe a phone call or email is necessary to resolve my issue. However, the ability for the conversation to transfer seamlessly from one channel to another is what makes the customer feel valued and cared for by the business.
Self-service, chatbots, and interactive troubleshooters are effective ways of handling low-complexity issues — but when we really need help, we want to know that there’s a person ‘on the line’ to help me. Despite modern AI and NLP advances, humans can still quickly detect if there’s actually a pulse on the other side of the chat. Conversational support provides agents and support organizations with all of the relevant information about a customer's contact and intent. In the past, customer support has acted like a decision tree: “What's your name? What’s your email? What’s your issue?.” Using conversational support, businesses can see:
Which articles the customer read before they contacted you
How far the conversation went with your chatbot before calling
The last thing an agent discussed when speaking with this customer
This helps companies personalize and optimize their communications leading to improved long-term customer value.
Conversational agents for the modern customer service center
Agents need to be given the freedom to be creative in their communication with customers to facilitate the most valuable relationships. One of the most surprising ways to make an impact on customer satisfaction is by allowing all agents to personalize their intros and outros on calls and emails. You will see a significant drop in agent anxiety and churn as well as increased customer satisfaction, due to more natural, empathetic support.
Ticket quotas shouldn’t define your agents’ entire day-to-day. Go a level deeper to understand the agents’ effect on satisfaction, churn, and conversion rate. If you ask your agents to handle 30 tickets a day, all you’ll get is 30 tickets that have been marked ‘closed’]. If you can incentivize them to make 20 customers happy each day, you will see agents focusing on the conversation and a true solution to an issue — not just closing the ticket hoping the customer doesn’t call back. Agents that focus on the conversation to delight the user will lead to customers (and agents!) that are more likely to stay with the company over the years.
How conversational support is changing customer service
Call scripts, repetitive canned responses, ticket numbers, and generic flows are becoming a thing of the past. Humans power the most important and valuable conversations we can have with our customers. However, human resources are limited and costly and can’t be the only line of communication with customers. With the rapid expansion of self-service, agents are now becoming more specialized than generic. Self-service can now take the place of many traditionally named “Tier 1” issues like: What is the status of my request? Where is my order? How do I make a return? With this newfound bandwidth, agents can now focus on specific skills, products, or flows — rather than embodying a walking index of every possible inquiry a business could receive.
Conversational support is redefining customers’ expectations in the products they purchase and subscribe to. The support you may get from a streaming service, subscription box, or online retailer will be vastly different from the support you may get from a bank or an airline. In today’s age the difference between two competitive products could come down to this: “If I contacted this company, would they even know who I am?”
In any customer purchase experience there is an expectation of support. Companies who choose to take a conversational approach to their customers will be able to make their customers happier faster, identify their issues in a shorter amount of time, and increase their longterm value without the need to explicitly up-sell.