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How to adopt newer customer support channels and reduce your contact center costs

Pradeep Vasudev

July 19, 20229 min read

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The modern customer expects to receive proactive support, immediate resolution, and dedicated attention round-the-clock. In fact, for 90% of Americans, the customer service experience is the primary deciding factor in whether or not they will do business with a company.

As a business, one of your keys to success is continually optimizing your costs while not compromising the quality of service provided to your customers. One of the main factors to consider in reducing contact center costs is better understanding your customer support channels. 

But before we delve into developing a plan of action to expand customer support channels for your business, let’s discuss some cost-effective customer channels and how to implement them effectively.

5 cost-effective alternatives to conventional customer support channels

Traditionally, customer service was dominated by one channel — phone calls. Over time, businesses realized that live support is costly and restrictive in terms of the kind of service that can be extended on it. 

According to a Gartner study, it a good idea to include self-service channels to complement phone support. Phone support, in fact, should be leveraged sparingly for high-value, urgent contacts only.

“While there will always be live service, that type of service should be treated like a precious resource and reserved for opportunities that significantly move the dial on outcomes the customers and the company care most about.” 

- Devin Poole, Senior Director, Gartner

Even though phone calls are a preferred service channel for many people, customer satisfaction scores for cases resolved over calls average at about 44%, which means both your customers and you are not getting the ideal results with this channel. 

A graphic that shows customer satisfaction rates on different customer support channels.

New customer communication channels can cater better to customer concerns while also helping you reduce costs to the company.

1. Social media

Channels like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have become an easy and powerful platform for one-third of customers to voice their brand concerns. Social care is now the mainstay for modern businesses since it is:

  • Real-time

  • Affordable

  • Easy to adopt.

2. Messaging platforms

Modern messaging platforms have presented themselves as ready-to-use support channels with easy adoption for customers and businesses. They can:

  • Provide support for business accounts, along with business-specific features (greeting messages, verified badge on WhatsApp)

  • Maintain conversation history for better transparency

  • Safeguard personally identifiable data.

3. Live chat 

Live chat is, undoubtedly, the modern version of phone calls with over 70% customer satisfaction as a customer service channel. Modern consumers prefer chatting with agents owing to several reasons:

  • Quicker response times when compared to conventional channels

  • Live conversation provides a better customer experience and improves trust

  • Can be used as smart triggers based on the customer journey, purchase history etc.

Other than these advantages, live chat also aids your self-service initiatives to improve resolution times for your support team.

4. Email

Many companies consider email a must in their customer service offering because it provides an almost universal customer reach. It is also regarded as a customer service channel apt for busy customers who prefer checking and responding to support replies at their convenience. Email provides the following benefits:

  • Hassle-free integration with other channels like chat and voice support. 

  • Enhances CSAT for customers looking to have their issues written, documented, and traceable over email. 

  • Improves CX for customers looking to describe their concerns comprehensively and have agents provide step-by-step solutions. 

5. Text messages

Despite SMS’s (short message service) waning popularity as a support channel, it is still used by businesses to get in touch with customers who are not tech-savvy. Apart from being extremely simple and personal to your customers, there are other benefits to using it:

  • Can be used without the internet

  • Very low tech-savvy dependence

  • Does not require a dedicated app/account.

How to choose the best customer support channels for your business

As discussed, you need to find the middle ground between your and your customers’ preferences. If you are not sure where to start, we’ve got you covered. 

We’ve created a quick checklist with three critical parameters:

  • Adoption

Research shows that customers choose support channels based on two things — issue complexity and channel responsiveness. While expanding your channels, try to include channels that are popular among your customer base.

  • Technical feasibility

The channels you think would be best for your customers might be difficult to integrate into your product, so check with your engineering team if it is feasible to implement them before proceeding with your adoption efforts.

  • Cost-effectiveness

Channels that seem to reduce your immediate operational costs might end up being counter-productive in the long run, so make sure to crunch your numbers before zeroing in on your final choices.

9 ways to adopt newer customer support channels seamlessly

Once you’ve decided on your new preferred channels, it's time to incorporate them into your customer service operations. To make your adoption process a little easier and aid your efforts to reduce contact center costs, check out some constructive ideas below. 

1. Leverage agent expertise to improve resolution times 

Every agent in your team might possess specialized customer service skills. For instance, some of your agents might be good at working with tickets from a particular channel or might be fluent in multiple languages. Through automated routing, you can assign agents to cases they are best equipped to handle. So the first step is to understand your agents’ skills and leverage them smartly so you can operate more efficiently as a team.

2. Hire blended agents and train existing agents on new channels

A “blended agent”  is someone who can handle tickets from multiple channels simultaneously with equal effectiveness.

Hiring blended agents that are proficient in handling both your existing and new channels means that your adoption efforts will be swifter and more streamlined. Also, ensure that your existing agents are fully trained to handle the new channel(s) so that you’ll have maximum flexibility while assigning tickets to your agents.

3. Communicate about new channels to your customers 

A good part of the success of your channel migration depends on your customers’ awareness of it, so make sure they are informed well in advance about your adoption initiatives. 

You can even evaluate a new channel by conducting a dry run with a small customer group before rolling it out to all your entire customer base so that you can understand how effective it is in solving customer complaints.

4. Encourage adoption by incentivizing early adopters 

One way to amplify your adoption efforts is by rewarding customers who are with you from the start by acknowledging them. This way you can improve your brand’s trustworthiness and retention in the long run, as customer loyalty programs improve the likeliness of your customers making another purchase by 75%.

5. Implement IVR deflection

IVR deflection helps customers placing inbound calls to quickly switch to an alternate channel based on the nature of the query or availability of agents. This particular arm of routing is becoming indispensable to brands that wish to seamlessly move incoming calls to other channels that are less expensive or demanding than phone calls.

You can leverage this technology to divert an incoming phone call to channels such as live chat, instant messaging, or text messaging. In addition to reducing your costs upfront, IVR deflection also reduces call waiting times and provides faster means for your customers to resolve their queries, improving customer satisfaction.

6. Set up SOPs to ensure fair evaluation of agent performance

A standard operating procedure (SOP) document helps your agents clearly understand what they can and should be doing to keep service operations running efficiently. Also, evaluating your agents’ performance using standardized criteria ensures good visibility over individual contributions and how you can perform better as a team.

7. Improve the quality and quantity of your self-service content 

It goes without saying – customers in this day and age will try to resolve issues independently before reaching out to your support team. 77% of American consumers admitted to using self-service portals in 2017, and the number is only poised to rise. 

A good place to start would be to maintain a solid knowledge base of your product and harness the power of AI to surface contextual solution articles for each customer.

“Digital self-care channels (blogs and community forums) already allow companies to direct 30%- 50% of contact volume to online self-serve tools, representing a massive opportunity to prevent low-value contacts and save resources.” 

- McKinsey

8. Adopt omnichannel support solutions 

You cannot talk about channel adoption and migration without talking about omnichannel support solutions, which help businesses handle queries from multiple channels on a unified platform. 

An omnichannel solution is different from one offering a multi-channel experience in one significant way — omnichannel means unified operations, which translates to lesser costs. In contrast, a multichannel operation is siloed and increases the cost of running contact centers.

9. Harness the power of AI-based chatbots 

If you’re looking to improve operational efficiency without putting a dent in your budget, an AI-based chatbot is the way to go. 

You can go a step further than most businesses and build conversational chatbots that understand the intent and sentiment of your customers and offer personalized responses.

Besides improving headcount without hiring new agents, AI chatbots can also help you provide 24/7 support with minimal human intervention.

Why emails or phone calls don’t have to be the primary support channel

We get it — phone calls have been the oldest and the most reliable customer service channel for your organization. But as technology evolves and your customers adapt to newer, more interactive channels, you need to ensure you’re up to speed with them. It is your responsibility to provide them with better options that facilitate faster resolution, either through self-service or with the assistance of a human or virtual agent.

Here are three reasons why phone calls must never be your only customer channel:

1. Calls keep your agents busy for longer

With calls, the time to resolution is by default higher than most other channels. Consequently, your agents spend more time on each case and are occupied for extended periods, bringing down productivity and affecting your workload forecast calculations.

2. Agents cannot multitask on calls

Agents on a call cannot take up any other cases simultaneously, unlike other channels such as Live Chat or social media. As a result, they can only work on one ticket at a time, making your ticket queues longer and your first response times higher.

3. It might not be the best channel for quick queries/FAQs 

Making a phone call might seem like overkill for simple queries when they could’ve been answered by a well-maintained user guide or a conversational chatbot. This remains the case with frequently asked questions, too. Your customers might not be willing to call your support for simple queries either, ultimately affecting their customer experience and leaving them dissatisfied.

There’s no doubt that calls always have and will occupy a sizable share of incoming tickets for your organization. However, relying entirely on it as the only support channel is not wise. A well-balanced combination of traditional and new customer channels such as social media or live chat would help your contact center reduce overall costs while maximizing your ROI.

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