A Blueprint for Digital Channel Preference in Your Unified Customer Engagement Strategy

In an age when technology is advancing communication, remember this: The customer journey through digital channels (such as, web, chat, video, social, mobile) differs largely from traditional channels (such as, phone, mail). Digital platforms offer customers a high degree of self-serve, and this naturally leads to less dependency on human resources. Traditional channels still have an important role to play, but become more dependent on human participation when the complexity or sensitivity of the customer engagement support increases.

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How has technology evolved, to support an optimized customer experience? New innovations and a paradigm shift in customer buying behavior has created the need for interaction channels that enable (or empower) customers to self-serve instead of being served. More and more customers prefer going online to seek information because it is simpler, more convenient and requires less effort (one of the most popular customer experience measurement s of success). Consequently, businesses are not only creating digital channel strategy because it’s best suited for their sales team or reduced cost to serve, but because it’s what customers now expect (or demand). Most businesses have trouble, however, keeping pace with the rapidly evolving landscape, powered by new technology players that pop up faster than that old whack-a-mole game. Customer experience-driven enterprises need business process management (BPM) partners to offer guidance and execution support of a unified digital channel strategy, with consistent and adaptable customer experiences across multiple channels and devices, and across all business functions.

‘Digital Channel Preference’: A Blueprint

Simply providing a new channel with no consideration of audience, situation, or other internal factors, will never create the required service delivery transformation. When building a digital channel strategy, keep in mind these three focus areas:

  1. Customer preference – What is the customer’s preference for channel? Preference can be influenced by demographics, past experiences, or urgency of response. This can be very different, and not all channels are always required. According to the recent IDC report, “Identifying Missed Opportunities to Improve Customer Experience,” the most important characteristic to ensure consumer satisfaction in communicating with a company is ease of use/simplicity of process. Overall, when asked about the most important characteristic to ensure satisfaction when communicating with a company, 34% of survey respondents chose ease of use/simplicity of process, 24% of respondents chose cost, and 19% chose a friendly person (personal interaction).
  2. Customer situation – What is the context for choosing this channel? (such as, location, environment, mood) Does the channel link to an activity users are undertaking, and at the time required to make contact? According to IDC, communication channel preferences vary depending on the type of interaction they are seeking. For example, 76% of respondents selected a voice call as one of the top two ways to report a problem with a product or service, and 75% selected a voice call as one of the top two methods for inquiring about an issue with a purchased product or service (billing question, tech support). However, when researching a new product or service, responding to promotions/coupons, or providing a review of a product or service, respondents preferred to use web self-service over any other method. Access the report for more details.
  3. Customer task – What is the inherent nature of the query? Some situations will require a human interaction, as it provides a reassurance element to the conversation that can be difficult to create through digital alone. While the preferences in the IDC report paint quite a varied picture of how customers prefer to interact, data overall suggests that social and self-service channels are growing in comparison to traditional channels like voice. BPO buyer survey data indicates that as a share of overall interactions, social media will grow from 5% to 9% of overall interactions, and web self-service will grow from 12% to 15% of interactions over the next two to three years, while traditional channels like agent-based voice will decrease as a percentage of overall interactions. Access the report for more details.
    With any change in process, there will be development time, costs, and integration with other systems. A business case should be created in advance of the changes to ensure that all functions within your organization understand the requirements of implementing the changes and also the effect of the change to their area. According to IDC, customer channel expectations and preferences have an impact on consumer buying behavior. Respondents indicated that it is important to communicate with a company using their preferred channel, with 71% indicating it is very important and 24% indicating that it is somewhat important. When asked how the inability to communicate using a preferred channel would affect their buying behavior, 55% of respondents said they would use the product or service much less, while 21% would stop using the product or service completely.

Good business process management partners will help their clients understand customer channel preference. Take for example HGS’s support of a government client that turned over a large part of its customer service from traditional to digital channels. Using the strategy and technology we made available to them, the client began to link together different systems. This enabled their customers to start to make travel visa applications by phone, which then led to self-service. In April of this year, customers began to complete this process from a smart phone (though customers who encounter a problem can still speak to a person). Ultimately, the client has saved significant time, money, and physical infrastructure, while at the same time creating a much simpler process for customers.

A word of caution: What you want to create is a channel that your customers choose to use through their preference—not because other channels have been removed or made more difficult to interact with. A customer’s ease with digital channels is influenced by several factors, including age, education, personal experiences, tech savviness, and the task that needs to be completed. According to IDC, the 45–65+ age range valued simplicity of process and ease of use more so than the 18–44 age range, while the younger demographic leaned toward a friendly interpersonal interaction for optimal customer satisfaction. The importance of ease of use increased with education level, with 41% of graduate or professional school graduates selecting that response and 39% of respondents earning more than $100,000 annually selecting that response.

Companies need to still factor in traditional channels, underpinned by a sound knowledge of customers and their journey. This unified engagement strategy will enable an experience that keeps your customer in control, and when delivered correctly, enables a win-win for both the customer and your organization .