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Latest 30 Oct 2019 | Customer Service

Why Unichannel Outperforms Omnichannel in the Quest for Excellent Customer Service

Let’s face it, customer service is often mediocre. 

And that’s being kind. In reality, it can be pretty terrible—we’ve all interacted with brands, and while you might occasionally have a positive interaction, that’s not the rule. You’re more likely to end up stuck on the phone for an hour listening to hold music, occasionally interrupted by a recording that reassures you that “your call is important to us” and “your patience is appreciated.” Yeah right

To remedy this problem, I see a lot of brands gravitating towards an omnichannel solution. They try to serve their customers on every possible channel: WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Twitter DM, Apple Business Chat—the list goes on. Wherever their customers want to contact them, they’ll be there to help them out. 

But I’m skeptical of this approach. Launching a bunch of new support channels is exciting, but does it serve your customers? One of my favorite sayings is: You can create a huge amount of motion in a business without making any progress. While customers might appreciate being able to contact you however they want, that won’t mean much if the quality of support they receive is worse because your agents are spread too thin across too many channels. Instead of providing great service, you just end up providing mediocre service everywhere.

Launching a bunch of new support channels is exciting, but does it serve your customers? One of my favorite sayings is: You can create a huge amount of motion in a business without making any progress. While customers might appreciate being able to contact you however they want, that won’t mean much if the quality of support they receive is worse because your agents are spread too thin across too many channels. Instead of providing great service, you just end up providing mediocre service everywhere. 

But don’t just take my word for it—recent research findings from McKinsey show that brands have struggled to achieve their omnichannel visions, especially amid a proliferation of digital channels. According to the analysts, “Trying to implement digital care channels prematurely can significantly increase both the number of transactions and the cost per transaction.” Translation: By jumping straight into omnichannel, support teams are decreasing efficiency and increasing cost. 

Take a good, hard look at your support channels. Are they propelling you towards your business goals? Or are they just making a lot of motion without going anywhere?

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Instead of omnichannel, try results-oriented support

At the end of the day, the success of your CX program is not going to be evaluated on whether you managed to implement a support channel on Apple Business Chat. It’s going to be evaluated on your results: Were you able to provide support that made your customers happy at a price point that made sense for your business? (My team is developing a tool, the Service Index, to help you determine just that.)

The reality is, you can only accomplish so much at one time. Your brand doesn't have an unlimited pot of money. You only have a certain amount to spend on agents and software—your challenge is to work within these constraints to deliver the best service you can for your customers. And chances are, you can deliver better service on one channel than five—at least to start with.

Not to mention that you can measure your success better if you start small. If you launch multiple projects at once, you’re going to have a tough time working out which actions lead to which results. Far better to start with a single project, get it up and running, understand the results, refine it, and only then layer on further initiatives. I’ll delve into the process in the next section. 

"...chances are, you can deliver better service on one channel than five..."

How to set up new channels or programs for success

Get your priorities straight from the beginning

What is your customer trying to do and how can you make it easier for them to do that? 

Take the case of Aer Lingus. They recognized that during bad weather and other disruptions the airline’s customer service team is always overwhelmed with questions about flight status. For them, the solution was not to serve their customers over more channels but to serve them better on their existing ones. They built a bot that could handle a simple flight status request into their existing Facebook Messenger support channel. This enables their customers to get answers more quickly and frees up their agents to deal with more complicated issues. 

Start small—but do start

As tempting as it is to wait to see what other companies are going to do before you launch a new initiative, resist this impulse. Everyone has to get started somewhere—the sooner you do, the sooner you can refine your strategy based on the results and data you collect. Start simple, adding one new project or channel at a time. Get your agents comfortable with the change, provide exceptional customer service, and see what it does for your brand and customer base. 

Use a stairway approach and measure your results

It’s great if omnichannel is your end goal. If you’ve determined that omnichannel support is the most effective way to serve your customers, then I’m all for it. But understand that you can’t jump to omnichannel in one or two steps—you need to create a progression to get there.

Your stairway will have several steps. Typically, you’ll want to try to take the actions that are low-effort, high-impact first. At each step, measure your progress and show business results so you can understand what’s working and what you may need to adjust. This doesn’t mean that you can’t work on more than one thing at a time—you can be preparing several projects behind the scenes—but it’s important to only launch one new initiative at a time so you can clearly evaluate your results.

You can’t solve the problem of bad customer service by doing more of what you’ve always done, just across more channels. It’s important to examine what is—and isn’t—working and take a results-oriented approach. When implementing a new initiative, whether it’s a new channel, process, or chatbot, it’s crucial to work in a progression. Launch one thing at a time so you can precisely measure your results. Omnichannel might not be the answer for your organization—and even if it is, you need to start with successful unichannel approach to begin with. 

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