Tips for taking customer service omnichannel

Customer Service
Coaching is critical for effective person-to-person customer service, but retailers have much to do to improve and integrate the digital channels. Image: michaeljung / iStock Getty Images Plus Getty Images

The modern contact center is an essential concept, but retailers have much to do to improve and integrate the digital channels that must now work in tandem with traditional voice components.

People prefer electronic customer service to the phone, and retailers like the cost savings from live chat, email, online forums and social media. Yet phone remains the dominant means of customer service, according to Cynthia Grimm, VP, client development, CX Solutions.

“The state of customer service is generally poor today,” said Colin Taylor, CEO and chief chaos officer of The Taylor Reach Group. “Everyone has a horror story about calling their cable, wireless or utility provider.”

It’s important to note the four key customer service channels: voice, live chat, online forums and social media.


Voice is the most expensive and most prevalent. It is the default for customers with a nuanced question or in need of a quick answer.

“Best practices for voice centers include robust interactive voice response (IVR) with self-service, tiered agents,” said Taylor. “These should have different skill sets to support calls of varying complexity.”

Live chat

Online chat provides “the most bang for your buck” in the contact center, Grimm said. “If it is done well, we show high levels of customer satisfaction with online chat, which is much less expensive than voice, primarily because an online chat agent can usually handle multiple chats at one time.”

But the number of simultaneous chats should be limited to two or three per agent, otherwise customer satisfaction drops, she added.

Online forums

Self-service through online forums, FAQs and the like is the least expensive channel for customer service—and a great opportunity.

“Communities are a valuable and underused service asset,” Taylor said. The ability to use brand advocates to resolve basic and easy inquiries can significantly reduce costs and improve credibility, engagement and loyalty among the community members. The increasing number of online forums, advice and review sites add complexity for service providers. “It is certainly becoming more challenging for companies to monitor all of these,” Grimm said.

Social media

Companies are shifting responsibility for monitoring and responding to social media engagement from ad agencies and marketing departments to the contact centers. It costs less and can provide better responses. “Some organizations have a shared responsibility with marketing and ad agencies responsible for content and promotions, but as soon as someone criticizes the product, someone from the contact center can swoop in and respond quickly,” said Grimm.