Right-Channeling Isn’t Rocket Science…But You’ve Got To Do It Right

In a recent 1:1 magazine article, experts debated whether or not firms should try to change their customers’ channel behavior. One was quoted as saying:

“If you asked me two years ago if we should push customers to specific channels I would have answered yes….but I see some emergent behavior in the online world that shows me that customers are much more mercenary than they used to be. They won’t go to the channels you want them to go to….to say we can have relationships that are so strong we can influence channel behavior is tough right now.”

That’s not stopping firms from trying, however. On his Rattling The Kettle blog, the author shared an email he received from his bank, which tried to persuade him to stop getting paper statements and receive them online. The benefit it tried to sell him on? “Live the clutter-free life by replacing your regular statement with an electronic one.” The blogger’s reaction:

What a GREAT DEAL!!! I can’t believe [my bank] is willing to give me paperless statements for FREE! What a great bank, not charging me to receive my statements via email!

Seriously, if you want me to authorize you to stop sending me paper statements, as required by federal law, PAY ME.

You want to cut costs, fine. But, please, stop treating me like a f*ing idiot who will jump up and down and salivate when you dangle a shiny email in front of me. You want me to waive one of my legal rights in order to benefit your bottom line? Give me something in return. [My] credit union gave me $5 to end paper statements. Since you’re not as nice as them, I’ll need you to at least double that. You can just deposit directly in my account. Thanks.”

My take: You can change your customers’ channel behavior, but there’s a right way and time to do it and a wrong way and time to do it. The bank cited in the story above must have smoking something when it sent out that email. What will consumers who have been receiving paper statements for the past 20 or 30 years do when they get their first statement through email? PRINT IT OUT. End result: No reduction in clutter. Just one less envelope in the mail box.

The blogger (a fellow Cranky, no doubt) was absolutely right — the bank needed to provide a financial incentive. Ingrained behavior is hard to change — even if there’s a better way to do something.

But it’s not the only way — getting something faster as a result of doing it online can be a compelling benefit. If an interaction or transaction will take three days to be resolved, but can be done immediately online, then some consumers will change their channel behavior. But there are two considerations here:

1) There may be a good reason why the customer is transacting offline. Firms should be cautious about trying to right-channel an interaction in the middle of that transaction. I recently called a firm I do business with for some information and was told — before being given my information — that I could have done this online. My reaction: “Yes, I know — and if I was somewhere where I could have logged on and avoided wasting MY time talking to you, I would have.” (OK, I didn’t really say that).

2) You set future expectations. If a customer can perform a transaction and have it completed in real-time, then why can’t other transactions be done immediately. For a good example, see the post that talks about the 30-day hold that Alain’s bank put on his online account opening.

The lesson: Right-channeling is a feasible and smart strategy, but — like any good strategy — it must be beneficial for both the customer and the firm. It just needs to be deployed at the right time with the right customers.

Done right, right-channeling won’t negatively impact customer loyalty. After all, wouldn’t you want the firms you do business with to provide you with easier and faster ways to do business with them (and to make sure you know those ways exist)?

Done right, right-channeling is about customer advocacy. Not “the customer advocates for the firm”, but advocacy as in “the firm acts in the customer’s best interest, and not just its own bottom line, and the expense of the customer.” (A big reason why I hate the NPS, Denise).

Done right, right-channeling is about improving the customer experience.

It’s not rocket science.

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