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Channel Choice: More Detrimental Than You Think

Procter & Gamble, Walmart, and Walgreens are all limiting customer choice in the grocery and drug store aisle.  Why aren’t their customer service and support organizations following suit?

In line with the economic downturn, many retailers and consumer product good firms have realized that limiting customer choice can actually help drive purchase decisions.

The “Paradox of Choice” movement has evangelized this idea.  But it seems the message hasn’t trickled down to service and support…yet.

In fact, channel proliferation is the norm in the service world.  It’s become a game of keeping up with the Jones’.  The average company operates at least three or four different channels—phone, Web, e-mail, IVR—and many up to eight channels with Web chat, online forums, click-to-call, Twitter, and entries into other social media spaces.  What is the implication of this?

As our data suggests, increased risk of a poor customer experience.  For example, we’ve found that the average number of contacts to resolve an issue via e-mail is 40% higher than via phone, with each e-mail decreasing the likelihood customer loyalty up to 10%.  Customer confidence in issue resolution is also substantially lower in many of these newer channels.

In many cases, this is not the result of a poorly built channels (though my colleague, Pete, may disagree), but rather that channels are a poor fit for individual customers at a particular moment.

So what to do?  The most progressive companies we work with are helping customers make the right choices, primarily by engineering the channel selection process.  There are two approaches we see: 

1. Limiting customers’ channel choice altogether by requiring customers to enter into a single channel, where intelligent triage measures steer the customer to the best fit channel.  Intuit is tinkering with the idea of having all customers enter into Web interactions through an intelligent search avatar, which helps guide users to the right self-serve channel (forums, knowledge base, diagnostic, etc.) and to a Web chat or phone conversation depending on the complexity of the issue.

2. Directing customers to pick the best-fit channel by using language that guides customers to the right channel. Customer choice plays a greater role, but the company helps the customer make that choice correctly.  Cisco CBG uses language appealing to customer knowledge to direct newbies to step-by-step guidance and gurus to online forums. Think of it as segmenting customers for best-fit service channels.  

Where do you side on the question of customer channel choice?  Are more channels and more choice better, or is guiding and limiting choice a better option for today’s customer experience?

CCC members, refer to our customer channel preferences data for more details on channel preferences and behaviors.

Comments from the Network (4)

  1. Nick Toman
    on March 19, 2010

    Dalia, excellent post and a very timely topic. I do believe there is a far more active stake companies should be playing the customer experience to help generate the best outcome for that customer. Regarding the thoughts on whether to push or passively lead customers, I would tend to think part of that decision lies in consideration of customer knowledge and the scope of what they’re trying to do. Take the Intuit example – customers are primarily unfamiliar with the task at hand, filing taxes. This is a complex task, and the average Joe may not even know what his question to ask. Leaving more to chance seems difficult for Intuit in such situations. However, the Linksys example, while dealing with a diverse customer base, typically boils down to connecting a or troubleshooting a router, which is relatively limited in scope. Given the narrower scope of issues, my sense is they can more passively guide customers to the right channel in an online interaction. I’d be curious what read others have on this however.

    BTW, you can clearly see the guiding langauge Linksys’ uses on their support site:

    I’d encourage others to check it out. It’s very clear where the beginner should click!

  2. Customer Service Buzz » Nudge Your Customers to Low-Cost Service
    on March 25, 2010

    [...] anyone writes this off as insidious mind-games, customers subconsciously crave a little direction, as my colleague Dalia mentioned last week.  But they’d never ask for it and they might not take it if it seemed like you were giving [...]

  3. Customer Service Buzz » Four Ways to Revolutionize the Customer Experience
    on September 21, 2010

    [...] very expensive and to date are providing a poor customer experience.  This relates to the limited choice concept that I’ve discussed before—we know better than that customer, so we create fewer but better channel options for our [...]

  4. Customer Service Buzz » The Pros and Cons of Click-to-Call
    on December 6, 2010

    [...] with all these applications, there are disadvantages to click-to-call. As Dalia previously discussed, channel proliferation can often be detrimental to the customer experience. More, rather than [...]

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