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More customer service interactions involve multiple channels

More customer service interactions involve multiple channels

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Give someone a technology to ask questions about your product or service, and they'll use it. Just don't make them repeat themselves.

When was the last time your company overhauled the customer support or service options on its Web site?

New research by customer service technology vendor NICE suggests that Internet sites continue to offer the most popular route for people seeking self-service to problems or questions they have about a product or service. If they don't find an answer, more of them are escalating to another customer service channel in frustration.

Indeed, most of those surveyed by NICE are using an average of six different channels to communicate with businesses of which they are customers. Those methods include Web sites, phone calls, interactive voice response, in-person visits, social network conversations, and smartphone applications.

The NICE data was gathered from a poll of about 2,000 people from the ages of 18 to 65 interviewed in November 2011 and representing cities in the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom. The questions related to customer service interactions in the following industries: financial services, telecommunications, travel/hospitality, insurance and health care.

Obviously, this data is pretty self-interested. But the NICE research underscores the philosophy that businesses need to be better about listening to customer feedback, positive or network, no matter where it originates.

In addition, customers are becoming even more fed up with siloed or segregated approached to customer service. If they have already sought an answer on your Web site, they want that interaction to be visible to a customer service agent, so that they don't have to waste more time repeating a problem.

Benny Einhorn, chief marketing officer at NICE, commented on the findings:

"The empowered customer who uses more channels, more often, is in effect creating a big data challenge and opportunity for businesses. To maximize the value of these interactions, organizations need to own the decisive moment by shaping the interaction as it happens. Service organizations that impact that moment consistently across countless interactions and continuously through the life of customer relationships will not only survive the rising tide of customers interactions -- they'll thrive."

How do different channels fare as effective customer service conduits?

While the answers differ from industry to industry, the NICE data shows that the use of smartphone applications or text messages to ask questions is growing. It is most dominant in the financial services industry, where 46 percent of the NICE survey respondents were using this method. (Think about the number of times you have had your online banking password sent to your mobile phone.) Overall, about one-third of the respondents were using smartphones or texts as a customer service method.

If you're talking about health care, however, most people want to talk to someone. Approximately 85 percent of the survey respondents preferred to use contact service centers.

Another common refrain is the universal disdain of interactive voice response systems. Approximately 60 percent of the respondents said they only use interactive voice response to figure out a way of speaking with a live agent.

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Heather Clancy

Section Editor

Heather Clancy has written for United Press International, ZDNet, Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. She holds a degree from McGill University. She is based in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure