Right Channeling Every Customer Interaction


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In these tough economic times, we can all agree that retaining customers is more important than ever. Forrester’s March 2008 report, “Business Impact Of Customer Experience” found that a good customer experience correlates highly to loyalty—especially when it comes to consumers’ plans for making additional purchases. When they examined how this might affect the annual revenue of individual companies, they found that customer experience quality could cause a swing of $242 million for a large bank and $184 million for a large retailer.

Today there is enormous pressure on service organizations to deliver an exceptional customer service experience with the same amount or fewer resources than in days past. The essence of right channeling is serving each customer via the most appropriate channel for that specific relationship and that specific interaction. The key to right channeling in this economy is determining the lowest cost channel that will resolve the customer’s issue quickly and to their satisfaction.

First Contact Resolution

Multi-Channel Service

When are customers the happiest? When are costs the lowest? Fortunately, customer satisfaction and low cost go hand-in-hand.

First contact resolution data from ServiceXRG shows an incident resolved at first contact costs $49.00, at 24 hours the cost is $61.00 at two days its $155.00 and the cost continues to increase the longer the incident remains unresolved. Your costs may vary but we all know unresolved incidents cost—both in agent hours and customer dissatisfaction.

To reduce costs, it is also important to review first contact closure costs by channel. According ServiceXRG, the first contact resolution cost for phone is $49.10, for email is $36.70 and for self-service is $11.60.

Empowering Agents with Knowledge

A unified knowledgebase is pivotal to right channeling. It empowers both your agents providing assisted service and customers using web self service to achieve success, quickly.

The ROI of a knowledgebase is well documented by industry experts. In September 2008 John Ragsdale, VP Research, Service & Support Professional Association (SSPA), published a report, “The ROI of Knowledge Management: Building a Business Case for KM Investments.” In his report, Ragsdale explains increasing support technician productivity is just one of the benefits. Lower interaction volumes and cost, higher customer satisfaction, additional product revenue and a faster repurchase cycle are other benefits of a KM investment.

The key to right channeling in this economy is determining the lowest cost channel that will resolve the customer’s issue quickly and to their satisfaction.

Ragsdale explains a knowledgebase drastically lowers handling time and increases first contact resolution. As average incident handling time decreases and first-contact resolution increases, Technical Support Engineers (TSEs) are able to handle more incidents per shift, allowing the same volume of inbound interactions to be handled by fewer technicians. Additionally, he states that with accurate content in the knowledgebase, re-open rates drop and the amount of agent training days required decreases.

In the category of interaction volume/cost impact, Ragsdale explains that a knowledgebase can be leveraged to dramatically reduce the costs of eChannel interactions, for example using features such as email auto-response and email auto-suggest. Additionally he points out the positive impact of knowledgebase on web self-service adoption and success.

Customer Self-Service

With its immediacy and low cost, a web self-service knowledgebase is your first line of defense in a right channeling strategy. United Airlines is an excellent example of a company that truly leverages its web self-service knowledgebase. Their customer service link is in the global header of their web site. It takes you straight to their web self service knowledgebase that offers top 10 FAQs and a list of customer service categories. If a visitor prefers they can search the knowledgebase by clicking on the search tab. From inquires about baggage policies to how to get a refund, the answers to traveler’s questions can be easily found by their customers.

With United and all good web self-service knowledgebases, there is an escalation path offered to assisted support. The escalation path to phone is also used for deflection back to the knowledgebase. They put a link back to online support above the contact information for phone support. This gives the visitor yet another opportunity to self resolve before picking up the phone.

While United escalates to phone for assisted service, many companies are escalating to chat. According to Forrester’s March 2008 report ‘The Design Of Chat Interactions’ by Adele Sage, customers appreciate the immediacy of chat interactions. When North American consumers who have used online chat were asked what they liked about chat interactions, consumers cited the following:

  • I was able to speak to someone immediately (49%)
  • The information I received from my rep was personalized to my situation (32%)
  • I had a simple question that would have been a waste to call about over the phone (27%)
  • It allowed me to get my product research done faster (19%)
  • I did not need to tie up my phone line to get my questions answered (17%)

Chat Boosts Agent Productivity

Contact centers appreciate chat for its cost efficiencies and gains in productivity. Phone agents can typically handled an average of 2.7 customer calls per hour, while a chat agent can handle an average of 11.5 chats per hour. This is a 425 percent improvement in productivity. Therefore, today a well-trained chat agent can deliver a robust service experience at a lower cost per interaction than a phone agent.

By deploying proactive chat capabilities you can also use chat to drive revenue. According to Forrester’s “ROI of Interactive Chat” report published February 2008 a Total Economic Impact (TEI) Analysis found that investment in reactive chat is likely to produce a positive return on investment (ROI) of 15 percent, while an additional investment in proactive chat capabilities will produce an incremental 105 percent ROI and millions of dollars in positive business benefits in a typical business-to-consumer (B2C).

A large financial services company has been able to utilize chat to decrease costs and increase sales. By proactively offering chat to web site visitors, based upon the visitor’s specific financial profile, profitable customers are engaged online to complete their financial transaction.

Pitney Bowes fires proactive chat invitations to visitors who abandon a shopping cart or to those who stay on a certain page for a certain amount of time with no activity. By doing this, they’ve seen an additional uptake in conversion rates of 8 percent to 10 percent.

Email as Escalation Channel

You can also leverage email as the right escalation channel from your knowledgebase. It can be very cost effective when you automate it.

A popular social media company utilizes email to manage membership and other requests. A large volume of emails are triggered by visitors asking about membership and other information about their accounts online. Since a large percentage of the requests can be responded with non-personal information, automation has played a key role here. Utilizing a Natural Language Processing Categorization Engine, integrated with an Email Response Management System, more than 50 percent of emails are handled without agent interaction with a high degree of accuracy. This has reduced the requirement for increased headcount to support the email volume growth.

The focus of driving a customer to chose the right channel to engage the customer at the start and allow that customer to be driven to the best, right channel. This is often best found by starting at the first point of interaction, self-service. From self-service, information from their searches, web page access and other data can be used to choose the right channel to offer.

David Lowy
nGenera Customer Interaction Management
David Lowy is the Senior Director of Product Management at nGenera. Prior to that, he was Director of Best Practices Consulting and VP of Professional Services at eAssist Global Solutions. David brings a wealth of experience in designing, developing, marketing and supporting high technology products and solutions in a global market.


  1. David, I would almost agree with you as to what constitutes good customer interaction. But, good customer interaction, especially in the world of self-service or expecting customers to find or help themselves in finding and/or selection merchandise or services requires people . . . enough people, people with knowledge, to be available when the customer wants the help. It matters not if it is in a store or on-line or phone.

    The fallacy and where I disagree with you, is of relying on software, no matter how good or efficient it may be, is not efficient if there are not enough people that make it so that customers do not have to wait or fumble around on in order to talk or chat with a “customer service agent” or salesperson – one in the same but spelled differently.

    There the problem, especially with FAQ pages within a web site, that what customers say they are looking for, while the same as what a FAQ may answer, is different from the words/terms that customers use. Hence, the customer has to peruse all the FAQs hoping to find if the answer they are looking for is in the FAQs.

    Going into a store or visiting a site for the first time is where customer ease of finding what they are looking for fails. People who design stores and web sites seldom look at their site from the first time visitor’s point of view. The larger the store or site, the difficulties increase in finding who to talk to or contact.

    All CRM related software systems would work 200% better if customers all had the same problems and used the same terms for their problem. Unfortunately, they don’t. ‘Tis the same as using search engines to find what one is looking for.

    I would agree with you that the best way to increase business depends on customers’ first experience with the business. When business was good, worrying about this was not first on business managements’ minds. Now, it is not good and in seeking ways to turn things around, they are now waking up to seeking ways to have it happen. I suggest they go to the FAQ sections and find the answers to their problems. Then, they may have a better understanding of what their customers have been facing for years.. When they have that understanding, they will find ways to make customers’ first time experience better . . . and that is what will help increase business.

    Thanks for a very interesting article stating what the goal is. I hope it happens.

    Alan J. Zell, Ambassador of Selling, Attitudes for Selling
    Recipient of the Murray Award for Marketing Excellence
    Attitudes for Selling offers consulting, workshops and speaking on all business topics that affect sales.
    I can be reached at [email protected] or through his web site http://www.sellingselling.com

  2. I am a demanding consumer and an entrepreneur obsessed with utilizing customer care technology and "crowdsourcing" to create the most effective and efficient support experience possible. As such I have seen knowledge bases in action for over the last 6 years in helping consumers and support staff.

    We have indeed found that well engineered knowledge bases can provide a great source of content to allow customers to help themselves and to help ensure support staff are all singing off the same song sheet across all support channels.  The problem has been that the “song sheet” often does not adequately evolve to capture the valuable insights of the people using, designing and developing the products and services the content is targeted to support in pre-sales and post-sales activities.

    What’s more, expanding support to include community generated content generally does a poor job in getting people to succinct, thorough and accurate content that a company will stand behind.  However, as a secondary source for getting answers or for soliciting opinions and open-ended dialogue, communities can provide a valuable  component of any overall support strategy.

    What’s needed is to leverage the crowd’s wisdom in a way that allows companies to provide the best content for each consumer’s particular needs. Maybe we should call it "right channeling crowdsourcing." Towards this end goal we are first to put the community in the knowledge base and believe we will also be first to "right
    channel crowdsourcing" with our upcoming release of our Fuze Social module.  


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