Are organizations offering their customers too many customer service channel choices?


Share on LinkedIn


Over the last 20 years the number of customer service channels has grown around four fold:

  • Prior to 1995 service was largely provided either face to face, over the phone or via post;
  • During the years 1996-2000 we started to see the introduction of email as a service channel;
  • Then, in 2001-2004 the internet started to emerge as a channel;
  • In the period 2005-2007, chat then started to appear on the scene;
  • This was followed in 2008-2009 by the emergence of mobile apps/channels; and
  • In 2010, social media started to emerge as a new channel.

Whilst channels like postal mail may now have been largely discontinued, nowadays some companies are providing customer service to their customers across as many as 7 different channels. Moreover, as the number of channels has grown, this has caused significant resourcing and capability challenges for many firms, particularly as customer behaviour has changed and expectations around service have risen.

However, given the growth in channels, is it worth asking whether firms should continue along this path of continuing to add more and more service channels to their mix? Moreover, looking at from a customer perspective, it is also worth considering how adding to the number of channels offered impacts customers and the choices that they have to make when contacting a firm in order to obtain the service that they want.

Why do I say that? Well, consider the 2006 HBR article: More Isn’t Always Better by Barry Schwartz where he starts by saying that:

“Marketers assume that the more choices they offer, the more likely customers will be able to find just the right thing.”

In the article Schwartz discusses the pioneering work conducted by psychologists Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper in 2000 which showed that providing customers with more choice is not always better than giving them less choice. Whilst Iyengar and Lepper’s findings were focused on customer decision making when face with a range of jams/preserves, other researchers have shown that their findings apply across a range of products and services and that the provision of more choice actually leads to less action, lower revenues, less satisfaction and that there are diminishing returns to offering more choices to customers.

These studies were conducted from a marketing and product/service range perspective. But, what if we were to take their insights and apply them to customer service and the challenge of adding and serving the growing number of new channels that are available to firms and their customers?

Is there a possibility that by offering more and more channels through which our customers can choose to contact us, we are in danger of giving customers too much choice? In addition, is there a possibility that that choice is affecting how much customers engage with firms and that they may face a similar ‘choice paralysis’ when it comes to obtaining customer service?

Most organisations add more channels because that is what they think customers want. And, customers when asked will often say that they want more choice.

However, do they? And, do they benefit from more choice? Especially, if we consider their answers in light of the ‘choice paralysis’ research.

If customers do experience a degree of ‘choice paralysis’, then offering a large number of service channels (and, potentially, adding more and more over time) could be delivering a sub-optimal service channel mix for both organisations and their customers.

I think we can all agree that customers want things to be clear, simple and easy and organisations are trying hard to achieve that. But, offering more and more channels does not necessarily make things clear, simple and easy. In fact, there is a danger that it could be having the opposite effect.

As a result, firms would do well to re-consider their customer service channel mix and what the provision of additional choice is doing to both their ability to deliver great customer service and the impact that additional choice is having on their customers and how they engage with them.

Right now, a broad ranging multi-channel service strategy is very ‘de rigueur’ but it also may not be delivering the optimal level of benefit for both customers and organisations.

This post was originally published on my column here.

Photo Credit: Cr4nberry via Compfight cc

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Adrian Swinscoe
Adrian Swinscoe brings over 25 years experience to focusing on helping companies large and small develop and implement customer focused, sustainable growth strategies.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here