CX Insight Magazine

January 2021

A Practical Guide to Right-Channeling in 2021

By: Execs In The Know

In 2020, most organizations found themselves in a reactive mode out of necessity. Other than the obvious actions organizations were forced to take, like moving almost 100% of staff to a work-at-home (WAH) environment, many organizations also found themselves in the position of “fasttracking” many strategic initiatives. In fact, survey results from the Customer Experience Management Benchmark (CXMB) Series 2020 Corporate Edition (scheduled for release in February 2021) saw 50% of respondents surveyed indicating their organization had fast-track one or
more initiatives. Most notably was the acceleration of digital transformation and channel shifting strategies, with 67% saying they are actively trying to shift traffic to self-service channels.

This probably comes as no surprise and as we now move into 2021. At this moment, right-channeling (versus “channel shifting”) is the focus of many organizations, with leaders determining if their current channel strategy best supports their customers. Although 2020 presented many challenges, forward-thinking leaders are pivoting from a reactive to proactive approach, leveraging learnings from 2020 to thoughtfully move to the next phase of their channel strategies.

So, what is right-channeling? It is not simply about contact deflection in the interest of cost savings or as a response to resource constraints. It is not even only about the customer’s perception of their channel preference. Right-channeling is about designing service journeys so customers are routed to the channel most likely to provide the best possible engagement, experience, and resolution. At times, this may even be at odds with the customer’s perceived channel preference, so organizations must make it a priority to ensure that customers’ experience in the “right channel” far outweigh the perceived benefits of the customer’s initial channel preference. And as we all know, customers will not give organizations many chances to get it right, so the foundation and design work is critical with far reaching implications beyond shifting traffic out of  necessity. Additionally, 2020 has likely forever shaped how customers interact with brands, so the strategies developed prior to 2020 are likely now obsolete.

This article will provide a roadmap for what should be considered as you continue to pursue right-channeling in your own organization, and the considerations related to people, process, and technology.

First, some important statistics to set the stage:
Source: CXMB Series 2020 Consumer and Corporate Editions


  • Over 70% of consumers attempted to use SST in 2020.
  • SST first contact resolution was only 52% compared to 74%with human-assisted channels.
  • SST top two box customer satisfaction was only 60%.
  • Consumers are seven and a half times more satisfied with SST when the issue is resolved.
  • Consumers who do not get their issue resolved with SST are 15 times less likely to use it in the future.


  • Over 78% of consumers said they interacted with a chatbot.
  • Chatbot customer satisfaction is low at only 50%.


  • Over 70% of consumers used multi-channels to solve an issue.
  • One out of five consumers who used multi-channels started in SST but only one out of ten were able to resolve their issue with SST (turning to human-assisted when it did not work).
  • When forced to use multiple channels, issue resolution is about 30 points worse than when consumers choose, and dissatisfaction is seven times worse.
  • Only 10% of companies surveyed believe they do a good job of providing a seamless and easy experience as customers transition between different channels and solutions.
  • Over 40% of companies surveyed responded that they have initiatives to create greater consistency across channels and increased ease as they navigate across channels.

The bottom line is that while many initiatives were fast-tracked in 2020 to automate and/or shift traffic to self-service channels, performance and capabilities are still not meeting customer needs in many cases. Additionally, although one of the main objectives is to reduce human-assisted volume, the reality is that poor service design can drive increased contacts, as illustrated in the example:

Although more consumers attempted to use SST in 2020, 68% say they would still prefer to speak to an agent. So, as companies look to right-channel and embark on the next stage of their service journey design, it is critical to honestly assess current capabilities, close the gaps, and build the foundational elements that are required. Companies that do not do this run the risk of damaging the customer’s experience to the point where they will be reluctant to utilize the channels that are best suited to resolve their issues.

Critical Components to Right-Channeling

Before we get to the specifics, let’s use a home remodel as an example to set the stage. It is quite possible to add on to or renovate a home in a piecemeal fashion, without knowledge or thought given to long term goals like how the homeowners utilize their space, the market
(customer) demand, and return-on-investment (ROI). While sometimes successful, often costs exceed budget and the end result does not meet expectations. In short, no one wins, except perhaps the contractor.

While many organizations quickly implemented automated and self-service solutions in 2020 as a direct result (and necessity) of the pandemic, now is the time to take a step back before investing further in digital transformation and right-channeling efforts. One size does not fit all, and just because you can deflect or automate does not always mean you should, particularly if the experience and resolution capabilities are poor, or your customers are not ready for it. So, like remodeling a home, there are no shortcuts to achieving long-term success and satisfaction.

  1. ESTABLISH AND ALIGN ON OVERALL CORPORATE AND CX DIRECTION. Senior leaders must all be on the same page with the long-term CX objective, and it must align with the organization’s overall corporate direction and mission. All stakeholders must know where the company is headed to ensure service design and channel strategy is aligned with it. If all stakeholders do not know where you are headed, it is difficult to build and execute the plan that will get you there.
  2. GET SMART(ER) ABOUT YOUR CUSTOMERS. What you think you knew about your customers at the beginning of 2020 may very well have changed. To design and create service journeys that enable resolution, engagement, and loyalty via the right channels, you must know who your customers are, what they want, and what their digital behavior might look like. This may involve:
    1. Defining personas and customer segments – Who are they? What is their level of comfort (and use) with digital channels?
    2. Interaction types by persona / segment – Why are they contacting you? What is the level of complexity of their issues and what is the breakdown of those contact types?
    3. Channel preferences – Even if your eventual service design might not match to each customer’s preference, it is important to understand their current preferences so you can set the right expectations and ultimately deliver greater value. Eighty-two percent of companies surveyed believe they have a good understanding of which channels customers prefer to use, yet only 37% believe they offer support in preferred channels. The only way to know this is to ask them directly based on interaction types. It should be noted again that your customers’ preferences may be directly influenced by your current channel availability and/or performance. If customers have a bad experience in a channel, they will be reluctant to try it again.
    4. Experiences – What is their current level of satisfaction with you by channel and by interaction type?
  3. IDENTIFY AND PRIORITIZE SERVICE JOURNEYS. The work needs to be done to identify all service journeys and prioritize those with the greatest impact. This means identifying which journeys are most important related to cost and value to the organization, the complexity involved in improving the journey, performance (volume, satisfaction, and resolution), and how important the journey is to the customer. All service journeys are not created equal, and the ROI to the company and the customer must be carefully considered to determine where to invest resources and budget.
  4. MAP AND DESIGN PRIORITIZED SERVICE JOURNEYS.Many organizations were forced to implement/expand new technologies and channels in 2020, sooner than perhaps they had planned. It is more important than ever to now take the time to map the journeys prioritized in Step 3, based on and agreed upon direction and a solid understanding of customer personas, preferences, and experiences (Steps 1-2).
    1. Current state mapping – Before getting to a design phase for the desired state, it is important to understand where you are. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes and map their end-to-end experience for each prioritized journey, including their entry point, the resolution point, the ease (or difficulty) navigating across channels, experience with self-help or human assisted channels, consistency of experience and information, and overall effort involved. Where are the gaps? Where can the journey be simplified? Is technology or agent skills/knowledge lacking?
    2. Desired state mapping – This is where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. You have mapped your current state – now where do you want to go? What should your service design look like for each journey and persona, and which channel approach allows you to not only resolve customer issues better and faster, but also create opportunities for you to engage with customers and drive loyalty? According to this article McKinsey & Company, “a best practice is to design primary service journeys for each segment, using contact volume distribution and persona profiles that differentiate by digital behavior to determine engagement strategies and the necessary investments in each channel. For customers who are more tech savvy, the goal might be to promote online self-service and automated tools for basic tasks such as payments and installation updates. For those that require a highly skilled live agent, the right engagement approach can turn a potential issue into an opportunity to strengthen customer relationships.”
    3. Examples of questions you might ask yourself as you are designing these journeys and determining the appropriate channel approach:
      1. If a digital or self-help channel is best suited for that journey, how do you ensure customer reaches that channel first, but also has ability to easily navigate to a live channel if needed?
      2. Can you be proactive, identifying issues before they occur and reach out to customers before they contact you? For example, many retailers are experiencing longer than usual shipping delays. Instead of waiting on customers to reach out for status, they are sending automated texts or emails with regular status updates.
      3. Are there more complex service journeys that require specialized support and therefore need to be routed to a specific team immediately?
      4. Do you have opportunities for personalization depending on the journey? For example, consider a long-term customer who has purchased the same item consistently – perhaps there are opportunities to offer them a discount on their next contact.
      5. Perhaps routing based on sentiment analysis is an option, where your technology can identify an upset customer (or key words) quickly and either route to a specific team or provide agents support in how best to help them.
  5. IDENTIFY THE FOUNDATIONAL ELEMENTS REQUIRED. To implement your right-channeling approach and service design strategy, more than just channel development is required. You must carefully consider each of the following:
    1. Culture – Related to Step 1 (aligning on corporate and CX direction), your culture must match your strategy. All levels of the organization must be on the same page and understand the objective.
    2. People – While your strategy may be focused on automation and digital transformation, you cannot underestimate the “people” side of the strategy. Although you may be shifting interactions to digital channels, your people will play an important role. For example:
      1. Organizational structure – Many organizations still operate in silos. Leading companies will make a shift to a more holistic approach, with cross-functional teams working in tandem to create and manage CX.
      2. Agent skills – As discussed in the McKinsey & Company article referenced earlier, the role of the agent will continue to evolve. As agents handle more complex interactions, the skills required will change. Empathy will be more important than ever, they will need to require even greater problem-solving skills, and will likely need to be more technologically savvy to work with multiple systems and technologies. Additionally, as WAH will likely continue, this implies agents who can work remotely and more independently are needed.
      3. Management and supervisory skills – As agent skills evolve, so too will management and supervisor skills. Supervisors must be effective at managing remote agents. They must also be skilled at understanding data and connecting the dots to
        drive performance.
    3. Process – Underlying operational processes are critical to the success of any service design and channel strategy.
      1. Measurements and data – You cannot manage what you do not measure. So, meaningful targets must be established, data must be readily available, and robust analysis consistently conducted. The ability to measure performance at the channel level and end-to-end will be necessary.
      2. Performance improvement approaches – A solid approach to identifying performance issues (across channels) and a structured methodology for implementing corrective actions is critical.
      3. Change management – With the rate of change only accelerating, a solid change management and communications process is a key component.
      4. Workforce management – For human assisted channels, organizations need to recognize that these interactions may take longer to solve. This needs to be considered when staffing and scheduling.
      5. Quality monitoring and coaching – With staff working at home, the quality process is important, along with effective coaching.
  6. IDENTIFY AND BUILD TECHNOLOGY INFRASTRUCTURE. Obviously, technology is a significant driver of any channel strategy, and the return must justify the investment. But assuming you have done the work to identify the right channel strategy to maximize engagement/experience/resolution, these technologies could come into play depending on budget, strategy, and priorities:
    1. Omnichannel infrastructure focused on seamless navigation across channels and easily accessible data by agents.
    2. New or expanded human-assisted channels, such as chat or mobile.
    3. New or expanded SST channels.
    4. AI-powered chatbots (agent and customer-facing) – Fifty-seven percent of the organizations surveyed for the CXMB Series 2020 Corporate Edition said they are most invested in chatbots/AI, followed closely by Robotic Process Automation (RPA).
    5. Sentiment analysis, which is something that is nice to have depending on strategy.
    6. Cloud-based routing.
    7. Ability to proactively identify issues and push updates/information.
    8. WAH tools and technology like security, remote coaching/training, quality monitoring, and screen capture.
  7. TEST AND REPEAT. Change is happening at a rapid pace, so organizations need the ability to design and test quickly. Referencing the previously shared article2 from McKinsey & Company, “tactics such as design thinking and ideation sessions with customers can structure these interactions; industry best practices show that customer-experience labs, which are built like innovation centers with customers and employees jointly designing journeys, can support the quick implementation and live-testing of prototypes with customers. This rapid, iterative approach can be summed up as, Test, fail, adapt.” Regardless of where you are with your testing capabilities, the point is to ensure you have the ability to test before launching at a large scale.

2021 – A Defining Moment in CX

Designing service journeys and right-channeling takes work. The good news is that 2020 should provide organizations with significant learnings and data to innovate, refine, and accelerate. Customers are interacting with brands very differently, and this will have a lasting impact. Although the shift to self-help channels has accelerated for many, the importance of the “human factor” has never been greater. To differentiate as an industry leader in 2021, organizations must take the time to understand where their customers are, identify the pain points and design journeys that lead to fast and frictionless resolutions, while also enabling engagement and personalization.





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