Article | 9 min read

Digital-first customer service – it’s good for customers and the bottom line

Phone-dominant service solutions are no longer sufficient to meet customers’ needs. Enterprise companies can improve the customer experience and cut operational costs by expanding their digital service offerings.

By Teresa Anania, Vice President of Global Customer Success

Last updated September 7, 2021

The way customers expect to interact with businesses has changed. Service has moved from customers calling at the first sign of trouble to wanting to communicate with businesses on more convenient digital channels they’re already using in their personal lives – email, live chat and messaging apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. Customers also expect support to be available 24/7 via self-service and AI solutions such as chatbots.

Phone-dominant service solutions are no longer sufficient to meet customers’ needs, and the pandemic has only increased their demands for digital support offerings. Businesses that were already providing digital-first experiences for their customers before COVID-19 were better equipped to offset surges in customer requests when phone lines were jammed and connect remote teams at the frontlines of the customer journey. Digitally savvy leaders are setting the standard for a good customer experience and, as a result, customers have come to expect that same quality of service from every brand. Today’s customers have little patience for businesses with limited digital channels, with 80% reporting that they’ll go to a competitor after more than one bad experience, according to Zendesk’s 2021 Customer Experience Trends Report.

What’s more, McKinsey found that service organisations that use technology to revamp the customer experience can reduce cost to serve by 20% to 40% and boost conversion rates and growth by 20% – meaning digital customer service experiences don’t just lead to more satisfied customers, but also a better bottom line.

How to build a successful digital-first service strategy

1. Meet customers where they are

Enterprise companies saw customer requests over WhatsApp alone grow by 284% in 2020 What’s more, mid-to-large-size teams with leading CX results are at least 1.5 times more likely to use messaging.

Customers want to interact with businesses over the same channels they use with friends and family. Messaging is fast, personal, convenient, secure, and asynchronous – in other words, conversations can happen in real-time or at the customer’s leisure. Unlike web-based live chat, customers can troubleshoot while tuning in to a Zoom meeting or doing washing, and agents can resolve multiple issues simultaneously, increasing their overall throughput.

It’s also possible to keep the conversation thread for later. This includes previous interactions customers had with the brand (including conversations with bots, reminders, updates and other notifications), giving agents context to personalise the experience and meaning customers don’t have to repeat themselves. Another advantage of messaging is its rich interactive conversations, which aren’t always feasible via email and other traditional channels.

2. Scale smarter with self-service and AI

Customers have adopted a “Google it” mantra when it comes to customer service. They check a company’s online resources first when they run into trouble and prefer self-service because it’s quick and convenient. In fact, mid-to-large-size companies have seen nearly a 40% increase in knowledge base views from customers since the pandemic. From FAQs to troubleshooting tips, your team can produce a range of different self-service content pieces that can drastically reduce call volume.

Beyond the knowledge base, a chatbot can highlight your self-service options by recommending help centre content to customers and point them to quick answers over email, messaging channels, a product or checkout page, and more. Since bots don’t need to sleep or take a break, they can deliver instant support, 24/7. Especially in a world where the highest volume of e-commerce sales happens after standard working hours – between 8 and 9pm – bots can reduce the need for agents to work unusual shifts.

When bots take repetitive questions off a support teams’ plate, they free agents up to focus on tasks that require a human touch. Chatbots can also protect agents’ time by gathering information from customers upfront, like order number or location, and immediately connect customers to the right agent for their issue.

When the pandemic changed eating habits and takeaway became the only way Americans could enjoy food from restaurants, it’s not surprising that Grubhub received an influx of customer requests. One way the team was able to scale quickly? It bolstered its self-service options, such as by enabling diners to obtain refunds without the help of an agent.

3. Provide a choice of digital channels upfront and reserve calls for complex issues

While support requests over messaging spiked over the past year, more traditional service channels like email and phone plateaued. Customers want a choice of digital channels and get frustrated when the only option is calling and experiencing long wait times.

Relying primarily on the phone is bad for business, too. Resolving support issues via social media can be up to six times cheaper than a voice interaction. The phone limits agents to helping only one customer at a time, within confined contact centre hours. This makes it hard to scale existing resources, increases cost per contact and slows down first resolution time. And 73% of customers say fast resolutions are the number one indicator of a good customer experience.

Messaging’s asynchronous nature enables agents to help multiple customers simultaneously and, when paired with a chatbot, it can become an “always-on” channel. Businesses can reduce first response time by providing a choice of digital channels upfront and reserving calls for sensitive and complex issues to give agents time back to offer more meaningful support.

Take Ugg’s Click and Reserve programme, which enables customers to reserve stock in store before purchasing. This process traditionally required customers to call the store and wait while employees checked for the item. Now digital-first, customers receive an email or text confirmation as soon as their reservation is ready. “The more experiences you can offer on digital devices, the better chance you have of keeping the customer happy”, says David Williams, Director of Online, EMEA for Deckers at Deckers Brands. “Digital is the glue for it all.”

“The more experiences you can offer on digital devices, the better chance you have of keeping the customer happy.”David Williams, Director of Online, EMEA for Deckers at Deckers Brands.

4. Bring it all together with one view for agents

Savvy businesses have known for years that customers want a choice of channels beyond the phone. Meanwhile, having voice as your primary support option hampers agent productivity. But adding more channels to your mix is just the first step towards building a great experience. Digital leaders create a consistent and personalised communications journey across those channels, both online and offline.

Agents are less efficient when they have to toggle between tabs to view incoming conversations across channels. They need a 360 customer view to arm them with the complete history of a customer’s interactions across channels and key context, such as a customer’s contact information or account type. This ensures customers don’t have to repeat information every time they switch channels or wait on hold while agents search for the details – never a good thing. In fact, high-performing enterprise teams have three times more agents working across multiple channels and are 5.8 times more likely to say they give agents a single view of important customer context.

5. Create processes that promote collaboration and knowledge sharing

CX integrations with partners like Zoom and Slack saved the day when companies suddenly shifted to remote work, yet collaboration remains a trouble spot for businesses. Consider this: 90% of leaders report that their agents can easily contribute to their knowledge base, yet agents tell a different story: only 57% say they can conveniently discover knowledge base articles. One common misconception is that if organisations hire more people on the support team, then the team will get more done and customer satisfaction will go up. But creating an environment that facilitates open collaboration and knowledge sharing, is a more impactful way for businesses to improve productivity and scale.

Enabling agents to collaborate with each other and other teams through collaboration tools helps avoid repetition, lag time and confusion. And empowering agents to document and share their knowledge can save their teammates a future headache and, even better, help customers faster. Taking it a step further, an AI-powered knowledge base can suggest relevant help articles within tickets to reduce first response time and flag outdated content to keep knowledge fresh.

6. Connect the data dots across the organisation

Despite having many customers, bigger businesses need insight into each of them. But at large companies with sprawling customer bases, customers often feel like another ticket in the queue. Customer data is often siloed and scattered across systems, meaning agents can’t access it to personalise interactions.

Whether it’s a CRM, e-commerce software or marketing automation tool, businesses need customer support software that integrates easily with all the tools and applications their teams depend on. Rather than a rip-and-replace approach, tools like Workato enable businesses to seamlessly sync data between cloud-based applications throughout their organisation. With customer insights at their fingertips, agents can anticipate customers’ needs and further personalise service.

Accessing data across all those tools from one location also goes a long way towards improving efficiency. It transforms time-consuming retrieval processes into a one-click step, saving agents from having to toggle between systems and spreadsheets.

7. Build resilience for the future with comprehensive analytics

A third of CX managers at enterprise companies don’t have the right analytics tools to measure success in a remote-first world. Without timeliness in data aggregation and reporting, it’ll be next to impossible to determine where your business needs to go and how to react to future disruptions.

With customer service software that integrates with business intelligence tools, everyone in the organisation – from agent to supervisor to business stakeholders – can easily fetch relevant data at the appropriate time to improve operational efficiency. Beyond customer support, customer experience data can benefit other teams across the organisation. From the product team to marketing, this information can fuel informed, data-driven decision-making that will boost customer acquisition and loyalty, as well as profitability.

Take Siemens, Europe’s largest manufacturing company for industry, energy, healthcare and infrastructure. When COVID-19 led to a 30% increase in ticket volume, Siemens’ support team quickly created reports so its executive leadership could understand what was happening, make data-driven decisions about how to respond and take proactive action to prevent backlogs in the future.


Customer service transformation made easy

Transforming customer service doesn’t have to be complicated. Elevate your customer service by deploying Zendesk’s full-service omnichannel solution. Provide agents with a unified workspace that connects conversations across channels with customer data from other sources via out-of-the-box or customised integrations. Deliver more personalised support at scale, while increasing productivity and cutting costs. Start your free Zendesk trial today.