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A lot of TalkTalk about nothing? - Why traditional channels will never become obsolete.

This week TalkTalk announced plans to respond to changing customer expectations by increasing its support of chat. The new move is expected to reduce call volumes significantly; as a result more cynical critics have suggested this could be seen as a move to reduce costs in the contact centre.

TalkTalk’s Head of customer service, Sholto Mee explained "Our customers don’t always want to have to pick up the phone or send an email when they need help online. They want fast help, in real-time, while they are on-site. We believe that digital customer service is the future, and we want our customers to be at the forefront of that revolution."

Over the next 12 months, TalkTalk claims it looks to quadruple the number of customer service enquiries it handles via online chat agents. With over 4 million customers, I feel this goal may be a little ambitious. It might very well achieve this on paper, but is that target fit for purpose? The online interactions need to be meaningful, which is no mean feat over online chat – how will TalkTalk measure success in this respect? Simply moving the majority of customers to chat doesn’t necessarily make the customer experience successful. Chat sessions are preferable to most customers, but when certain security measures or identification protocols means customers need to resort to the phone anyway, it often adds to the frustration. So it begs the question; are chat sessions going to be replacing calls or driving them?

Over the last year we’ve seen ‘multichannel’ move from somewhat of an industry buzzword to a reality. Our recent research shows nine in ten contact centres are offering more than three channels and just under half offer more than six. There is clearly a growing consensus that many customers prefer to self-serve online, but at the same time that doesn’t mean the need for quality in other channels isn’t just as important.

The real key to investing in a multitude of channels is not simply offering them, or making sure they are of quality, but that they’re joined up effectively in a way that means the customer can switch seamlessly between channels and always experience a human interaction – ideally having to repeat themselves as little as possible. After all, good and quick creates a great experience, but rubbish and quick creates an abysmal one.

Meeting customer demand for immediacy and ease-of-access.

Investing in social and digital channels might appear to meet the customer demand for immediacy and ease-of-access, but many businesses are now realising that simply adding more channels to the mix does not effectively address this need. Are they making life easier for the customer or simply annoying people more efficiently and risking their image quicker? If these new channels don’t provide customers what they are asking for – and many self-service options fall a long way short of this – they are actually going to be self-defeating.

It’s vital that the customer experience is geared around what the customer really wants, not just how they prefer to have it delivered. Being able to offer choice and convenience are the key drivers for investing in digital; but if you can’t always resolve an issue via those channels, it’s just as inconvenient for customers – and if they have to resort to using the phone to get the information they need, you’ve also eliminated their sense of choice.

When newer channels fail…

Traditional channels may be second best for some customer demographics, but when newer channels fail, they are often the only choice – so it is vital that all channels have the investment, support and structure to perform optimally. This means having a 360-degree view of the customer journey - our research showed a massive 90% of contact centres do not have a clear picture of the customer journey across all of their contact channels. As this is absolutely imperative in creating an effective multichannel strategy, it is clear the industry is falling short.

Customers don’t simply expect a range of channels, but consistency and continuity between them. Failing to deliver a joined-up experience will not only have a negative impact on the customer experience, but it could also drive up call and email volumes alongside increased levels of customer frustration.

Unless contact centres are able to identify the pain points in the customer journey, for example incomplete information on the company website, or failure to respond to an email within an acceptable timeframe, then the multichannel contact centre is going to disappoint customers, increase repeat contacts and negate cost-effectiveness.

To find out more about the findings of our multichannel research, read the full Multichannel Maze Report.