Customers Contact Channels Guide

We want to repeat a popular and obvious statement - the world is permanently changing and moving forward. Have you ever thought about what a long way we have passed from the invention of the telephone to today’s level of communication technologies? For centuries, the only two ways to communicate with one another were one-to-one communication or letters, and then the telephone was invented in 1876-1877 by both Alexander Graham Bell and Elisha Gray (to avoid going deep into the historical disputes, let’s just state they have submitted their patent applications at the same time).  For more than one hundred years, call channels have been the only way to communicate with other people comfortably, without reaching them personally. And now, in less than thirty years, we have developed numerous tools and technologies to make communication faster, easier, and more comfortable. Nowadays, most contact channels are based on the Internet connection and can be run and set up on any PC, laptop, or smartphone.  But that’s more about theory than about today's topic. Our today’s goal is to understand how customer support channels work, and why customers prefer those or other contact channels. Moreover, how can the implementation of a wide range of contact channels benefit your business and what’s the point of contact meaning?  Let’s deal with it.

What are customer channels? 

Contact channels are methods and platforms that are used by customers to get in touch with a business and solve their problems, get information, and so on. As we have already mentioned, call channels have been the most popular for decades, but the wide dissemination of cheap and accessible Internet has totally changed the situation.  Moreover, the younger the target audience is, the higher percentage of them prefer digital channels. 

Generally accepted list of contact channels includes calls, email, SMS, messengers, video calls, chatbots, live chats, online forms, personal meetings, self-service channels, and other tools or, for instance, online communities such as Facebook groups or forums regarding a specific company or product. 

Each business tries to find out which contact channels are more effective and preferred by their customers. For some brands, social media play an important role, while for others email is one of the key contact channels. Anyhow, studies have shown that calls are still the most important customer support channel. 

Nonetheless, other research states that phone calls are losing their champion’s position and email communication becomes the leader, leaving calls, social media, and live chats far behind. 

How can it be? Well, you have to understand that different scientists use distinct methodologies, and various representative sociological samples, and, what is more, diverse studies can be provided in different countries with different cultures. 

By the way, we can prove a few statements: phone calls are still in favor, more customer service channels make more profit, and different target audiences prefer absolutely different customer service channels. 

Benefits of new customer service channels implementation

Higher customer engagement

No need to say that when the customer has some options to choose from and there is a choice that is preferable for them, they will be more engaged. Imagine a situation where a customer doesn’t have enough time or even the opportunity to call the customer service team, but he is pushed to do it by the fact of no alternative to the call channel. What would they feel? 

Vice versa, when customers are pushed to reach you wherever they want, they feel angry and frustrated even before the customer interactions start. 

Better customer experience

As we all know, customer experience consists of four main components, such as customer effort, customer satisfaction, net promoter score, and first-call resolution rate. There are also other components of customer experience but these four are still the most important. 

Though, customer satisfaction is established by the opportunity to use the customer service channels that are preferred by customers themselves. Customer effort is reduced because customers are no longer pushed to do actions that are effortful for them, for example, calling while at work, and so on. Net promoter score is created by the increase in customer satisfaction and reduction of customer effort. First-call resolution(even though it is not always about the call) is reached by sorting agent groups on different contact channels based on agents’ skills and experience.

Better cost-efficiency

As some contact channels are automated, you can save money on involving a fewer number of agents in the work because a great number of customer requests will no longer need human participation to be processed. 

Additionally, service can become all-around-the-clock available, which means that customers who have some routine or elementary requests can easily resolve them via chatbot or knowledge base without calling a customer support channel by phone. Moreover, such contact channels as live chat for customer service may become the last touchpoint that convinces customers to make a purchase. 

Better agent performance and motivation

Customer service teams often suffer from high turnover rates, and this is a great headache for managers. You can’t make any person process similar boring and routine requests, again and again, without automation implemented where it is needed. 

Customer communication via a customer support channel such as a knowledge base doesn’t require agents to answer such elementary questions as “How to set up the software?”, or “What is the warranty period duration?”. This means that agents will handle only requests that are really important and need human involvement. 

Customer support channels: list

Channel in customer service is the main way of communication with customers, both younger and older, current customers and new customers, VIP clients and common customers, and so on. Thus, let’s discover how each contact channel works. 

Phone calls

The phone call is one of the most popular customer contact channels all around the world. Firstly, it is the fastest way to get a really professional and issue-oriented service without a need to surf through IVRs, chatbots, or knowledge management systems. The phone call is also more personal - you have another person on the opposite side of the line so communication becomes more connected and pleasant. Moreover, calls are often used as an outbound communication line to warm leads from the customer base or close more deals. 

Anyhow, phone calls aren’t ideal - like anything else. This customer contact channel becomes a nightmare for customers in a few cases, such as no alternative to phone channel service, long call queues, poorly qualified agents, and so on. Younger customers' channel preferences aren’t in favor of phone calls, as most younger customers consider calls too effortful and uncomfortable, as well as people just hate talking to agents who sound too robotic in most cases. By the way, it doesn’t mean that if you set up a great call center where real professionals will handle customer complaints no one will love it - vice versa, people are tired of bad phone service and they would really like to get quality service.

Email

Email, based on some data, is the most preferred customer contact channel in the US. It is a very popular contact channel in B2B, but in B2C also because of its advantages - first of all, it offers asynchronous communication for both customers and brands. This means that you don’t need more than one agent to process a few customers’ requests at the same time. Secondly, email is considered a more formal online channel than messengers or live chats, and it is comfortable for customers to store everything in the same place - they don’t need to leave their work to check the message or send it. 

What makes email communication so flexible and preferred by customers? First of all, it doesn’t need any here-and-now actions, it is comfortable to use, and it can cover many needs, such as certifying documents, refund processing, sending offers, creating support tickets, and so on.

Email is also a great information channel for up-selling opportunities, or just for extra sales because you can always proactively follow up with a customer and offer him a special offer that can meet his needs, or just build customer loyalty with regular personalized follow-ups for a personalized experience. 

Live chat (or webchat)

Another one of the most preferred customers' contact channels, a chat channel is used as an integrated part of a website where customers can be linked to a human agent online. Web chat can cover many different customer requests, but mostly it is used during the pre-purchase stage of the customer journey. 

How does it work? Customers enter the website, switch between a few pages, and then they find out that they have some questions. Here the button “Start a chat” steps into a game and each customer question can be answered in a few seconds. 

Live chat is also great for international customers who can’t call you, but need a faster response than it would be if they use email as a communication channel. 

IVR (as a self-service tool)

People hate IVR systems, that’s the truth. But the question is whether they hate IVR solution because it’s just that bad or they hate its poor design. IVR systems can become really efficient in the role of self-service options that can cover numerous customer queries, such as business hours, location, discounts, support ticket creation, call routing, placing a refund request, shipping status, subscription cancellation, and ordering a callback, and many more options. 

The first tip to make people not hate the IVR system but love it is to make it not annoying and offer an option to bypass IVR quickly without a long wander through the mazes from different sections of the IVR menu. Additionally, such a feature as a voice recognition system can greatly improve the overall customer experience and satisfaction. 

Social media platforms

Social networks have invaded our lives many years ago, and now it is almost impossible to find a person who doesn’t have an account on at least one popular social network such as Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat. Social media channels aren’t only preferred channels by most younger customers, they can also be online communities for your customers. 

Your goal is to not only answer customer issues in social networks, but also to organize a positive environment to let customers build a stable community, and this can be a great part of your customer engagement strategy - nothing engages more than such an interactive single channel as social media. 

Here are some stats: customer expectations of more than 70% of Facebook users are that they will be able to message brands more with customer service issues. Around 69% of customers stated that their customer expectations of the quality of service grow if they can message a brand on Facebook. 

Chatbots

If we talk about an immediate response, chatbots are the only tools that can offer such a speed of service. Chatbots don’t need any maintenance(excluding editing in some cases) and they don’t need any human agents' involvement to be all set and work appropriately. In other words, we can say that chatbots are the future of customer communication.

Although chatbots aren’t only the fastest communication tools, they’re also the most prospective and preferred by customers. Here are the stats - 68% of customers love chatbots’ speed of answering, and 33% of customers have stated that chatbots are extremely effective in resolving customer issues. 

Chatbots may be used both on your website and in popular messengers, such as Telegram or Facebook Messenger. 

Video calls

If you want to add more personalization to customer conversations, or just create a better image in customers’ eyes, use video calls as the nearest analog of personal meetings. Such calls are great if you are selling a complicated product or solution, such as software, technical products, outsourcing services, courses, and so on. Video calling allows customers to see you, and this is the best way to build warmer relationships - such small details as the office interior, clothing of the agent, mimics, and the way he or she smiles - these factors are influential. 

Video calls are also a great way to provide a presentation of some slides to convince a lead to a final purchase decision or just to help them learn more about the product or service. 

SMS

No one of us uses SMS to chat anymore. It is expensive, not as fast and comfortable as messaging apps, and it doesn’t support free media sends. Moreover, SMS is considered outdated and too inflexible for communication, but not in customer service. 

As SMS isn’t considered a private communication environment anymore, people don’t receive tons of messages there, and this makes each SMS more visible to a customer. Thus, it is a perfect communication channel for reminders or link-sending - people will open it and even though there is still no 100% chance that they will open the link, anyhow they will like your customer care - for instance, you can send delivery or payment reminders for each customer, and automatically do it with the help of contact center software. 

Knowledge bases and FAQ

The easiest way to let customers solve their issues on their own is to give them a well-developed, intuitive, and all-covering comprehensive knowledge base and FAQs which will help them to find any needed information, manuals, guides, technical information, and so on. 

Online knowledge bases aren’t considered to be as popular as chatbots, but they are still loved and appreciated by customers. Nonetheless, the usage rate of knowledge bases is over 80% in 2022. The more important factor is that you definitely have an internal knowledge management system that is used by your agents to solve customer problems, so is it a great challenge to rework it and post it for free access on a customer portal for any customer who needs it? 

The knowledge management system is also a sign of the company’s policy of transparency because it also describes potential problems, and this means you don’t hide them from customers. It will cause no harm - vice versa, people would love to use the knowledge on their own because it is more attractive and less stressful and effortful than contacting a live customer support team. 

Conclusion

We haven't mentioned some less multi-optional communication channels, such as communities for customer service, forums, automated calls for customer feedback collection, online forms, personal meetings (too obvious, isn’t it?), and so on. As we have already stated, a wide range of customer service channels builds customer retention, higher customer lifetime value, better customer satisfaction levels, and offers real-time service across popular channels. 

Your customer service strategy should include the implementation of various channel choices for customer service, based on your audience's preferred method of communication. This is called multi-channel support, and have you ever heard that there is software that covers all contact channels and can do many more? Interesting, isn't it?

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