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The latest thinking from Eckoh

Multi-Channel or Multi-Flannel?
Tuesday, 27 September 2016

There’s been a lot of coverage in the customer service and contact centre media around companies being urged to ramp up multi-channel and omni-channel service for customers.

Multichannel or flannel 900

It’s the new marketing buzzword and retailers all being told to make sure they offer as many channels as possible to customers, but make sure they are all joined up.

Just recently I bought my colleague some shopping vouchers from a well-known fashion retailer as a birthday present. There was a problem where the vouchers weren’t actually attached in the empty email I received.

I went back to the website which informed me that I had 30 minutes to cancel my purchase before I’d need to go through the mill to get a refund. Went to the contact us page as surely it was just a small error that could be rectified by an agent. No phone number… anywhere!! Okay – webchat conversation… ‘busy’. No idea how busy, just ‘busy’. Email? Yes, but if there is no phone number and the webchat is ‘busy’ – how long will it take by email to get an answer.

Well, unfortunately my answer was ‘cancel order’. So the company lost business and ultimately went right down in my estimations as it put so many barriers up for me to contact them.

Unfortunately, this is just one of many scenarios where channel hopping to buy goods and services is not joined up and doesn’t reflect customer’s normal buying behaviour.

Why do some companies make it so difficult for people to contact them?

Although ‘omni-channel’ as a term has been bandied around for over 2 years, how many retailers actually provide a ‘seamless omni-channel experience’? I can think of only a couple in my head where I get from A to B without delay and can use an app linked to a webchat that gets me an agent conversation if necessary without a hitch or having to repeat my reason for contacting them. But this is far from the norm.

But am I alone in my thinking? It appears not. Eckoh recently commissioned an independent survey. The majority of customers (73%) had to repeat details of their complaint in separate interactions during the resolution process despite businesses claiming that they offer a ‘multi-channel’ or ‘omni-channel’ service that improves service.

Asked to rate channels of communication, 47 percent of respondents said that they found the phone most annoying. One in ten respondents said that they had waited for approaching half an hour on their most recent call for help and a third of respondents said that they had had to wait for between 10 and 15 minutes.

Respondents also cited heavy waiting times on phone calls; complex telephone menus; ‘Catch-22 menus’ that don’t take account of the callers’ requirements and eventually disconnect the call; and companies that fail to feature phone numbers on their ‘contact us’ page.

Despite this, 32 percent of respondents said that they found the phone the most useful way of communicating with a service provider, outstripping all other methods and demonstrating that when well executed, phone-based services are the method of choice for consumers. The majority of respondents routinely use more than four personal communication channels, from a list that includes Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, WhatsApp and texts.

So where are businesses going wrong?

In too many cases, shoppers find that their service providers are implementing ‘multi-flannel’ strategies, better at hindering communication than improving it. Companies without a coherent customer service infrastructure are, in the eyes of the customers, at best falling short of expectations, and at worst are seen as deliberately obstructive.

For instance, email was named by 32% as the most frustrating method of communication. Websites (16%) and online chat services (5%) fared a bit better. Online chat was rated the best and most convenient method of contact by 26% of respondents, followed by Twitter (21%), email (16%) and websites (5%).

So which type of companies are the most difficult to connect with? Respondents ranked the following as the five worst industry sectors:

  1. Mobile operators
  2. Utilities
  3. Broadband providers
  4. Pay TV firms
  5. Retailers

What can businesses do about this?

There’s no doubt that companies need to execute better when it comes to multi- and omni-channel. Not only are there customer retention risks but there are serious problems with the validity of customer data if businesses don’t do a better job at uniting the various contact streams. Multi-channel shouldn’t mean parallel lines. It means shared intelligence and converged service.

The purpose of these new approaches to customer service is to improve efficiency and provide faster resolution of customer queries, enabling customers to mix and match channels for convenience. However, a surprisingly high number of companies run their channels almost entirely independently, which means that customers find themselves duplicating effort without a speedy resolution.

Customer frustration is mainly connected to wasted time and repetition. One respondent to our poll stated how it appalled them that they have to repeat even a straightforward query each time I call or email or use the website. They were frustrated that nothing joins up, despite claims about ease and convenience and criticised them for being pretty cavalier with their personal data.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. There are many companies that do an outstanding job of integrating their communication with customers. Staying ahead of the curve requires commitment, expertise and resource and there are many companies that still have customers who are probably better at joined up multi-channel communication.

We’ve worked with many companies that want to make their customer channels more seamless and offer a better customer experience.

Customers are extremely adept at organising data across multiple channels, and their expectations are high. Even our recent poll shows that the average UK consumer now uses around seven different electronic communication channels, many of them consolidated in one mobile device.

Take a look at our Omnichannel Engagement eGuide. If you’d like to know more on providing a true Omnichannel experience, contact us on 08000 630 730 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 


About the Author

Tony Porter

Tony Porter

Head of Global Marketing

Tony has over 30 years’ experience in sales, marketing and business development and currently leads these activities for Eckoh in both the UK and US markets and across all sectors. Tony’s role focuses on helping contact centres to improve their customer engagement, making them convenient and secure for consumers to use. He understands the challenges organisations face around PCI DSS compliance and how to make the Omnichannel contact centre experience a satisfying reality. He is a regular speaker at events on topics such as PCI DSS, GDPR, contact centre technology, IVR solutions, self-service, secure payments, marketing and business development.

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