Your small business connects with your customers in three distinct stages. Before the sale, your marketing person oversees pre-sales communications: ads, emails, buying keywords, and other activities that entice people to purchase your product or service. Your sales team (even if it’s just one person) takes care of the actual sales transactions. And customer support is responsible for everything that happens post-sale.
That includes answering questions, troubleshooting problems, replying to complaints, managing returns, and taking care of any issues that arise once the customer is in possession of your product or has used your service.
Unfortunately, many small businesses don’t put enough money or thought into this very important final stage of customer interaction. They answer calls and emails haphazardly, without attempting to respond in a way their customers would consider timely or personal.
Offering an excellent customer experience is critical. Providing an amazing support experience helps you retain and grow loyal customers and expand your business. A recent study found at the end of 2020, customer experience was more important to customers than both price and products. And small business owners are waking up. When they shared their business priorities for the next five years, customer experience came in first.
But it can be challenging. Customers insist on being served across a broad array of channels. This includes phone and email, of course, but also SMS, social media, messaging services, and self-service channels. In a perfect world, you would service your customers seamlessly across all these channels.
That’s where omnichannel customer support comes in.
What is omnichannel customer support?
At its most basic, omnichannel customer service means you meet your customers wherever they are at whatever moment they choose. More to the point, you give them consistent service no matter what communications channel they select at a given time. If they feel like it, they can call you today with a question. They can text you a clarifying comment later tonight. Then they can email you tomorrow to continue the conversation without having to start from the beginning and explain everything all over again to a new agent.
Large companies have already jumped on the omnichannel bandwagon. In a recent report, PwC found that businesses investing in omnichannel jumped from 20% to more than 80% within 12 months. Another study found that brands using omnichannel were three times more likely to excel at customer experience and increase revenue growth. And they were four times more likely to enhance customer loyalty.
But what about small businesses? Omnichannel requires them to make a significant investment in unified communications as well as omnichannel support tools. Is this investment worthwhile for small businesses that have limited markets?
Almost certainly yes. And small businesses are already edging in that direction. Today, a full 83% of small businesses offer telephone support, with slightly fewer (77%) offering support via email. In 2021, 76% of small businesses began extending this support outside of traditional business hours, with more than a third (34%) offering 24×7 customer service.
But if your small business is still supporting customers by only phone or email (or both), it’s time to start considering more channels. Consumer and business customers alike today expect to have the option to contact you and get answers through whichever channel they prefer. This includes Twitter, Facebook, SMS, chat, and an online web portal, as well as phone and email. You should make every effort to meet their expectations.
The difference between multichannel and omnichannel
Many companies boast about providing omnichannel experiences, but what they usually mean is “multichannel.”
What’s the difference? Multichannel simply means you offer two or more ways for customers to engage with you. However—and this is the catch—those channels are not connected. Although you may accept customer support requests via chat, phone, and SMS, in a multichannel approach you can’t move a conversation from, say, a chat to a phone call. Each channel in a multichannel strategy has its own siloed tools, its own data, data storage device, and dedicated agent(s). As you can imagine, this can add up to some very disjointed customer support.
Omnichannel goes much further. By delivering a consistent and, most importantly, connected support journey for your customers, they never have to repeat their details when switching channels or agents. Everything comes together. Support is utterly personalized and consistent.
There are also significant technical differences between the two channel strategies. Multichannel support usually requires you to purchase multiple support solutions. Each support solution is independent of the others: one for email, one for phone calls, one for texting, etc. Omnichannel, on the other hand, can be supported by a single platform using unified communications as a foundation.
Omnichannel platforms built utilizing the cloud address a number of key customer services challenges small businesses face. This includes managing multiple interfaces, using multiple systems that aren’t compatible or connected and support documentation challenges. Larger companies can cope with these issues, but small businesses lacking significant IT resources can be challenged by them. Today’s cloud-based leading omnichannel platforms are intuitive and easy enough for small businesses get up to speed quickly with little IT expertise required. And because the software and infrastructure are managed by the provider, there’s no need to tie up employees with upgrade and hardware support busy work.
Tips for going omnichannel
Here are some best practices to follow to ensure you do omnichannel support right.
Manage all your support communications in the cloud
Cloud is the cornerstone of omnichannel support. A cloud-based unified communications system integrates all your support channels into one easy-to-use, graphical dashboard. Rather than dealing with each channel separately—and potentially missing important customer communiques—this allows you to monitor all channels from one place.
Another good thing about cloud-based unified communications omnichannel systems is they support today’s distributed businesses. Even if your employees work from home, they have the tools and connections to manage all incoming customer queries. Also, with cloud you’re able to scale as needed—either up or down, depending on the ebb and flow of your business.
In fact, leading cloud-based omnichannel platforms tend to pay for themselves. When you add up the saved time and cost of being able to manage all your support channels from one place, effortlessly tracking customer support journeys across channels, and allowing your support workers to easily share information, you’ll come out ahead.
Make it all work on mobile
Today, people spend hours a day on their mobile devices. They are constantly jumping from screen to screen, and don’t want anything to interrupt the flow. So, make sure that all your customer support options–chatbots, contact forms, and FAQs pages–are easily viewable on mobile devices. If your support team sends out email newsletters or feedback forms to new customers, make sure these are sized to fit nicely within all types of screens.
Align marketing, sales, and support on omnichannel
Once you have an omnichannel support plan, why not share the bounty? Most leading platforms have provisions for marketing and sales as well as customer support. If you’re serving customers on a given platform—say Twitter or Instagram—you should also be marketing and selling on that platform. By aligning all aspects of your business with an omnichannel option, you’ll greatly enrich the customer experience.
Always offer a human option
Automations–such as chatbots and interactive voice response (IVR) systems–take the burden of answering easy questions off your agents. But customers still want to speak to an actual human. That’s because many issues are complex and don’t fit into the neat categories that chatbots and IVRs offer. So, make sure customers can talk to a real person when they want to. With cloud-based unified communications, it’s a breeze to redirect communications from one channel to another in real time.
Treat every communication channel consistently
True omnichannel customer support means you offer the same quality of support on every channel. If you promise to return emails within 48 hours, make sure that standard applies to voicemails, Twitter, and comments left on the website.
Understand that “omnichannel” includes self-service
Some customers prefer resolving issues and answering questions themselves. A study by Nuance Enterprise found that a majority (67%) of customers prefer doing self-service support rather than talking to an agent. Make sure you have a self-service channel that includes frequently asked questions (FAQs), a knowledgebase of fixes for common issues, and other tools so your more resourceful customers can serve themselves.
Conclusion: Do it right
According to the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report, companies that provided omnichannel support excelled in providing customer experiences, and achieved both faster response times to customer requests and higher customer satisfaction scores. Our key recommendation: if you’re serious about supporting your customers in a holistic way, skip over multichannel and offer omnichannel support. And then do it right. This will require you to find the right cloud-based unified communications platform to manage all your channels from one easy-to-manage screen, rather than scrambling to tie together a collection of independent apps. Make sure the platform you choose can grow with you. If you take a more customer-centric approach to your support, your business is certain to expand.
There are many benefits to moving to an omnichannel support model. If done right, you can improve customer retention and loyalty, eliminate silos—technical, personnel, and data—improve response times, and increase revenues by cross-selling and upselling. Small businesses should keep in mind the main goal of omnichannel support is to transform focus of customer support from resolving complaints, to building customer relationships. That’s a big win.