The Beginner’s Guide to Customer Service Tools: Everything You Need for Your Digital Channel Strategy

By Elaina Ransford

In any industry, there are a few basic tools that all veterans in the space will consistently rely on — a toolbox, if you will. Customer service is no exception to this rule, particularly for digital native brands or companies with digital native customers. Choosing your first set of customer service tools will set the stage for your entire customer service strategy, meaning that picking the right ones is of the utmost importance.

This guide will help you understand how different customer service tools fit into strategies using different digital channels. Within each strategy, we will outline what you should fill your toolbox with, taking into consideration:

  • Scale
  • CSAT
  • Team Management

The best customer service toolbox will be filled with platforms that improve both customer and agent experiences.

Step 1: Choose Your Channel Strategy

Twenty years ago, there were only two mediums for customer service — phone and in-person. Today, however, companies have numerous communication channels to choose from (spoiler: simply doing them all does not work!), and that is why before you start choosing your customer service tools, you need to choose which channel(s) you want to invest in. These are the most common, along with their pros and cons:

  • Phone: Phone is still the most common channel for customer service, but this is largely due to legacy systems. Increasingly, customers prefer to contact customer service through other mediums, in order to avoid long hold times, talking with a frustrating robotic voice system (IVR), and being transferred from agent to agent. Indeed, 57 percent of customers would rather contact companies via digital customer service channels rather than use voice-based customer support. According to Microsoft, 90 percent of consumers expect an online portal for customer service. This is all to say that if you do offer a phone-based customer service channel, make sure that customers also have digital options for contacting you, and that you have the means and infrastructure to scale your phone service without long hold times or reliance on robotic voice systems.
  • Email: Most companies start out using email for customer service (it can be as simple as a catch-all ‘support@X Gmail account’). However, while this can work well at the beginning — as long as you have a person monitoring the email — it is not scalable. For instance, when MoviePass’ subscriber base ballooned from 20,000 to 3 million in a matter of months, the company’s email-based support system was not adequate for handling an accompanying influx of (often time-sensitive) tickets. Customers today expect rapid responses without a lot of back and forth. The sheer manpower that it takes to manually manage thousands upon thousands of email tickets is often not worth the investment.
  • Messaging: Messaging is often the best customer service tool for digital native brands. Messaging channels encompass in-app messaging, messaging apps like WeChat, and web-based messaging. Many companies will use both mobile-friendly messaging and web-friendly messaging for customers who wish to chat from their desktops. The reason that many companies opt for messaging over other channels is that it allows for a high level of automation through bots and automated routing. According to Forrester, more than 50 percent of customers would like to be served by a chatbot, if there is an option to escalate the conversation to a human. This is largely what helped MoviePass with that aforementioned scaling problem.
  • Live Chat: Many messaging-based strategies include some level of live chat for VIP/loyalty customers, urgent issues, or tickets that are escalated from a bot. However, just as phone-based service can become extremely costly to staff, live chat is likewise less sustainable when dealing with scale.
  • Social Media: Customers tend to turn to social media to air their grievances. Because of this, many companies have set up dedicated customer service social pages (usually on Twitter) to try and minimize negative exposure and help customers resolve their issues. This can be a great customer service tool to have, but keep in mind that’s it’s by no means sufficient as a foundation for a customer service strategy. For example, not every customer will have social media or be comfortable with its public nature. Additionally, it can be very difficult to integrate social media customer service with the other channels that you will need to invest in.
  • Self-service: These days, 70 percent of customers expect a company’s website to include self-service options. While self-service features such as knowledge articles and bots can be excellent tools for reducing ticket volume and improving CSAT, self-service can only do so much and needs to be supplemented by additional communication channels. 

Step 2: Invest in the Customer Service Tools That Are Right For Your Strategy

Some companies rely on a combination of web-based self-service and live chat, others use messaging with the option to escalate to phone, and many rely on in-app messaging, social media, and email. Different combinations of the above channels will be more or less effective for companies with different customer bases and use cases. The important thing is to choose the channel that allows for the best customer experience, agent experience, and overall customer service excellence. Gartner predicts that 89 percent of businesses are expected to compete mainly on customer experience — so make sure that you’re setting yourself up for success by choosing the right customer service tools and channels.

As you decide which channels are right for your needs, the top three considerations that you should pay attention to are:

  • Agent Dashboard: Can you get a clear snapshot of your customer service operations at any point in time? Do you have visibility into robust analytics on performance? Are your agents able to see priority issues and backlog in real-time? The quality of your agent dashboard is an important aspect of any customer service platform.
  • Automation: You may not need any level of automaton right now, but assuming that your customer base will continue growing, there will be a tipping point after which relying solely on human agents will not be feasible. Because of this, it’s important to evaluate the automation and self-service capabilities that a customer service platform offers.
  • Escalation Channels: Regardless of the extent to which your company relies on automation and self-service, there should usually be an option for escalating to a live agent. Nothing is more frustrating for customers than getting stuck in a feedback loop with a robot or circular self-service.

Even the best customer service team is only as good as the customer service tools they use. As you develop and scale your CX strategy, make sure you’re giving your agents and customers the best tools possible.

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