It’s now the norm for organisations to offer multiple customer support channels to meet diverse communication preferences and facilitate faster interactions. However, a growing body of research, including the COPC Inc and AusContact Association 2021 Customer Experience Survey, released in February 2021, provides organisations with insights that may re-define their channel management strategies. The primary takeaway: humans prefer interacting with humans but will use other channels if they are effective.
Are these results surprising? Not particularly. But they are worth exploring as they do give organisations pause for thought in terms of the journey they create for their customers and which channels are best suited to handling specific issues.
This year’s Customer Experience Survey was unique as it was the first time AusContact and COPC Inc asked Australian customers – rather than industry professionals – for their perspective. The report’s new focus comes at a critical time when many organisations evaluate the changes they’ve made to customer service while face-to-face operations were limited.The majority of survey respondents aged 18 – 44-year-olds (52% of respondents) felt that COVID-19 changed their interactions with organisations; however, this dropped to 1 in 5 (21%) people over 45. Encouragingly, only 1 in 10 people said these changes had negatively impacted them.
We prefer human-driven customer support channels but will use digital if we have to
Webchat, chatbots, self-service portals and apps have been valuable in supporting customers over the last 12 months. However, consistent with previous studies in other countries (as reported in Forbes, Destination CRM, and HBR), this report confirmed that our desire to speak with a human hasn’t waned.
The report firstly explores the customer service journey.
Respondents who had contacted an organisation in the previous three months to resolve a single issue, –
- 81% tried to find an answer online before using another channel to contact the organisation.
- Further to this, 66% had to use multiple channels to solve a single customer issue. The majority of these people were ‘forced’ to use numerous channels because of a pre-defined customer service journey or the issue’s complexity.
- They were most likely to use the phone (31%), email (29%) or a messaging system(14%) such as Facebook Messenger, WeChat or WhatsApp to engage with customer service.
In contrast, just over half of the respondents (58%) had a customer query resolved using one channel. Self-service had the highest single contact resolution rate (53%); however, this could be because self-service queries are usually less complex.
What’s the best channel strategy?
These results raise interesting questions for organisations designing their channel strategy. Should they be led by customer preference, the type or difficulty of the issue, or internal ease of delivery?
There is one statistic that tells us the most about communication preferences.
When asked: ‘If you knew that your customer service issue would be resolved regardless of the contact channel, which would be your preferred contact method?’ 31% of respondents said email, 29% preferred phone,13% selected webchat, and 10% chose self-service.
While the data shows that preferences have moved slightly away from phone and email towards self-service, in-person, messaging systems and video chat, email and phone still maintain their popularity.
Why do we prefer to interact with humans for customer service queries?
Our inclination to use human-driven customer service channels comes down to several factors: age, digital confidence, complexity, context, and speed.
Firstly, certain age groups prefer phone contact– specifically those aged over 55. Experience has told them that speaking to a representative will resolve their issue, so why risk using a new digital method they maybe aren’t confident with, when picking up the phone works perfectly?
Secondly, despite advances in AI, chatbots and self-service portals are often unable to process complex or multi-part issues, particularly if the problem requires the use of information that deviates from a defined set of criteria. Human brains can understand and solve multi-part issues by asking questions that sit outside a pre-defined set, and sort this information into categories.
Humans can interpret the context of a problem and give contextual feedback – this is important for complex issues. A good example is someone having problems setting up a modem – a human customer service representative can ask the customer questions about what they’ve tried to do before, what the modem looks like, and which lights are flashing on their device.
Furthermore, technology like chatbots cannot gauge emotion and don’t have the soft skills necessary to calm anxious customers. When customers make an insurance claim following a road accident or a house fire or make a significant financial investment, it can be comforting to hear a human voice.
Finally, despite call queues and email response times, speed plays a role in providing and receiving information. Research on speaking and listening shows that humans speak at around 125 words per minute and can listen at a rate of 450 words per minute. In contrast, the average typing speed is 41 words per minute. Picking up the phone to relay your problem and receiving a verbal solution can be quicker than typing it into a chatbot or messaging service, particularly on a mobile device
What does this mean for organisations evaluating their human-driven customer service channels?
The AusContact and COPC Inc survey has made it clear that human-driven customer service channels such as phone, email and webchat deserve prime position in an organisation’s channel strategy. Any investment that is made in training and technology will be returned in customer loyalty and satisfaction.
While other channels such as chatbots, apps and self-service still have a critical role to play, organisations must find ways to offer a human touch throughout the customer journey.
Research by Harvard Business School into customer service in a financial services environment revealed that organisations could reduce customers’ anxiety and build trust simply by offering them the option to connect with another person during self-service, SMS or chatbot interactions. If the customers didn’t take up the offer and engage via the phone, the presence of the offer still reduced their anxiety.
Lastly, in addition to tweaking their service channel strategy, organisations need to take time to regularly acknowledge the critical work that their customer service team members are doing,with a well-deserved ‘thank you.’