Where do your consumers leave feedback for your brand online? Are they most active on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat or on third-party review sites like ConsumerAffairs.com? For most companies, the answer is: all of the above, plus a seemingly endless number of other channels.

Welcome to the age of omni-channel customer service. Your company may have spent the past decade building a world-class call center, but in 2016 consumers expect customer service to move seamlessly between countless platforms — from in-person communication with staff to phone, email, chat, third-party review sites and social media.

Connecting these customer service silos can seem overwhelming, and many brands are understandably having a hard time. In a Harvard Business Review survey asking consumers about recent customer service experiences:

  • 56 percent reported having to re-explain an issue
  • 57 percent reported having to switch from the web to the phone
  • 59 percent reported expending moderate-to-high effort to resolve an issue
  • 59 percent reported being transferred
  • 62 percent reported having to repeatedly contact the company to resolve an issue

It may seem like the only way to solve these issues is to build a massive customer service department, but that’s a misconception. Some of our partner brands have achieved true omni-channel customer service by discovering in which channels their customers were most active, using third-party websites to collect customer feedback in one place and focusing their efforts where they mattered the most. And here’s the upside: omni-channel customer service can unearth a goldmine of valuable feedback and provide upsell opportunities that create some serious ROI.

Find where your customers are leaving feedback.

Trying to provide the same level of attention to every tweet, Facebook post of complaint with the limited resources most companies are working with can be a little like trying to fight a forest fire with a garden hose. The key is to understand how consumers are using each channel to filter out the noise and focus your resources on the two places it matters: where the majority of your consumers leave feedback, and where their feedback has the most longevity.

Where your customers prefer to communicate will vary from brand to brand. For instance, every key demographic is now represented on social media:

  • 1.6 billion on Facebook
  • 555 million on Tumblr
  • 400 million on Instagram
  • 320 million on Twitter
  • 200 million on Snapchat

However, different platforms skew toward different age groups and styles of communication. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn have significant reputation among all age groups, for example, while Instagram and Tumblr are still used primarily by younger audiences.

For maximum impact, focus where it matters the most.

Where your customers’ feedback will be the most impactful, however, is the same across nearly every brand in every industry — reviews on third-party review sites that end up on search engine results pages (SERPs). Unlike social media, the organic search channel recognizes failures and memorializes victories long past the time the comment was made. Sixty-seven percent of consumers consult online reviews before making a purchase, and they trust the verified reviews on third-party review sites nearly as much as they trust recommendations from their family and friends, which is an outsized impact for a single channel to have on your business.

Percent of global respondents who completely or somewhat trust advertising format (Nielsen 2015):

  • 83 percent recommendations from people I know
  • 70 percent branded websites
  • 66 percent consumer opinions posted online
  • 66 percent editorial content, such as newspaper articles
  • 61 percent brand sponsorships
  • 56 percent emails I signed up for

Streamline customer service by proactively collecting feedback.

Collecting feedback through third-party review sites like ConsumerAffairs.com offers several key advantages that can help you limit the amount of time you have to spend on customer service in other channels. First, because you capture feedback from all of your customers, not just those who are upset enough to leave you feedback organically, your brand gets a clearer picture of its true brand experience. Second, since you’re proactively asking your customers for feedback, they’re less likely to reach out via social media or other channels where feedback is easy to miss. Finally, third-party sites memorialize your brand’s response to consumers and commitment to customer service, which is powerful marketing. For more about how review collection and consolidation works, check out “The importance of review consolidation” by my colleague Lauren Grant.

Find valuable lessons hidden in consumer feedback.

Every comment and review is an opportunity for brands to identify problems with their products and breakdowns in their shipping or customer experience. A study by Bazaarvoice showed as many as 43 percent of 1-star and up to 23 percent of 3-star reviews contain information about product flaws. And it’s not just unhappy customers who leave productive feedback — the same study found five percent of 3- and 4-star reviews contain suggestions for new products or features.

At ConsumerAffairs, one of our brands was able to analyze review data and pinpoint problems at a specific distribution point and fire a pair of delivery drivers that were the source of much of their negative feedback. You’re standing in front of a huge volume of data from a diverse crowd, beyond what you could ever hope to gather from even the best-run focus group. For free.

Want to learn more about how ConsumerAffairs can help you tackle omni-channel customer service? Visit ConsumerAffairs.com/Brands for more information.