By Rob McDougall, President and CEO
Upstream Works Software

I’ve been reading a lot recently about the importance of contact centers learning and understanding customer preference. According to industry magazines, predicting customer preference seems to be the thing to strive for today. The theory behind it is that customers have a specific channel that they prefer to use over any other when communicating with a business. It may be the phone; it may be email; it may be chat. Understanding your customer’s channel preference is the key to being able to communicate with them in the most effortless way. Or is it?

I always try to look at things from the customer’s viewpoint rather than the business’ perspective. And in the contact center, the great thing is that we are all customers as well as practitioners. So I can infer my own wants and desires and extrapolate them to the industry. I don’t want to communicate strictly on one channel all the time. I want to deal with your company on the channel I choose, at that particular moment. If I send an email to you, it’s logical for you to email me back. If I phone you, it’s logical for you to phone me back. My preference for receiving communications in this case is set purely by how I contacted your organization in the first place.

But my inbound contact preferences don’t necessarily reflect my outbound contact preferences. Strictly speaking, I prefer to receive emails – even if I phoned you recently about an unrelated matter. Well, unless it’s really important, because sometimes I delete company emails without really reading them. So a phone call may be better. Of course, I would need to know to expect a call, because – I won’t usually answer unknown numbers. So maybe a text message would be better. Unless I’m driving and it’s urgent. So, well, it’s complicated.

I don’t really care how you get back to me as long as you meet my needs. If I phone in with a request for some very specific information, maybe an email back with the answer might be best. But in some cases it might make more sense to contact me a different way. I might send in an email question that really needs to be handled live, so a chat or a phone call may be the right medium. And later, I might want to confirm by text because I’m on my dock. Or in a car (a passenger of course!).

The point is, my preference for a communication channel is going to be situational – depending on what I’m doing or where I happen to be or what the subject of the contact was in the first place. It’s not related to the fact that I usually call (for example) because I may have called you about a completely different sort of issue. My preference is related to the medium I used to contact you at the time; it’s related to what I’m doing; and it’s related to what I’m trying to achieve.

So what, in short, is my preference? My preference is to be able to contact you on ANY channel I feel like, whenever I feel like it. And to not only get great contextual service, but to continue the conversation I was having with you on that other channel that other time I contacted you about that other stuff.

My preference is multimedia. My preference is omnichannel. Better learn to adapt because I’m not sure you’ll be able to predict.

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