November 10, 2005, 12:00 AM

Integration imperative for multi-channel customer service, study finds

Companies that handle customer service effectively across phone and web support it with common processes and technology, a Forrester report finds. And increasingly, they’re leveraging in-bound online queries to boost revenue.

Customer service queries that use the Internet versus traditional phone contact are on the rise, according to data gathered by Forrester Research Inc. A new report, “23 Best Practices for the customer service center,” notes that this year almost half of consumers aged 25 – 54 – 44.8% -- use e-mail to contact customer service, with 3.4% doing so at least once per week. The use of online chat also is rising, with 10.2% using it to contact customer service organizations.

With individual customers using more than one channel to resolve issues and seek information, it’s incumbent on marketers to ensure consistent responses across channels. “Each customer service rep, whether responding to a customer online or via phone, needs access to all prior interactions, especially those relating to a particular issue,”’ says report Author Chip Gliedman.

Gliedman notes the potential impact of this issue on large and far-flung companies such as HP. “Depending on the mode of communication, a customer interaction can be routed to a call center in the caller’s country, or to an e-mail/chat response group halfway around the world,” he says, “If the same customer interacts with HP using more than one channel, the message must be the same,” he adds, noting that the company uses common technology and processes across channels to support an integrated approach to customer service.

The report also founds that online customer service has grown from a call-deflection strategy to more closely mirror best practices in traditional telephone customer service. The study found that one top objective among companies surveyed is to better use online customer service interactions to increase revenue. The study notes that as contact center management is more comfortable with leveraging inbound phone calls for up-sells and cross-sells, the same concept applies to the web, e-mail and chat interactions.

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