A Phone Call with an Agent Remains the Customer’s Channel of Preference – True or False?

Ken Landoline
Ken Landoline

Summary Bullets:

  • Primary research on customer service is plentiful as companies compete to better understand customer likes and dislikes in order to implement the latest technology designed to raise customer satisfaction and gain a competitive advantage.
  • Recent contact center surveys implemented by two vendors report conflicting information about the top-ranking communication channel of choice by the consumer. However, a closer look reveals that the truth is in the timing.

In order to keep up on overall customer care industry issues and contact center technology trends, I read all the related primary research survey information I can get my hands on. Although much of this information I gather is repetitive in nature (e.g., everyone thinks service should be better, people dislike interacting with an IVR, and mobility and the cloud are rapidly changing the customer care industry), every once in a while, some conflicting information arises that necessitates a closer look. Recently, I reviewed two new survey reports. One came from Dimension Data (entitled “2013/2014 Global Contact Center Benchmarking Report”) and the other from Interactive Intelligence (named “2014 Global Customer Service Survey”).

Of primary interest to me in the Interactive Intelligence report was the claim that “although alternative channels are making inroads, a phone call with an agent is still, by far, the preferred communication channel” of interaction, as confirmed by 51% of the almost 2,000 respondents. The Dimension Data survey, based on interviews with 574 contact centers, concluded that the phone was now the fourth choice of company contact channels for Generation Y customers, or those born after 1990, garnering just 29.4% of their votes. Trumping the telephone for these respondents were electronic messaging including e-mail and SMS (42.3%), social media (36.4%) and smartphone applications (31.9%). Obviously, multiple choices were allowed. Also important to note is that for Generation X respondents (those born between 1961 and 1989), electronic messaging was a very close second to the telephone channel, 46.3% vs. 44.1%. It is true that the two remaining customer segments in the Dimension Data survey – Baby Boomers (born between 1945 and 1960) and the so-called Silent Generation (born prior to 1945) – did show a strong preference for the telephone call with an agent, 59.6% and 55.6%, respectively.

So, what does all this mean to those planning customer interaction channels for future customer care infrastructure purposes? My assessment is that while it is technically true that the telephone still represents the most popular channel of access for customer service today, it would be short-sighted to leave it at that. Everyone involved in planning customer service activities for their enterprise must look deeper into the available information and realize that electronic messaging, social media and smartphone applications will soon eclipse the telephone as the customer service channel of choice as the younger generations become more broadly represented in the marketplace and as older generations shrink in their market influence. Of course, it will be necessary to support the totality of channels for the next decade, but a strong focus should be on the digital channels and self-service applications. This will not only be important to improvements in customer satisfaction, but also to conservation of valuable enterprise resources going forward.

One thought on “A Phone Call with an Agent Remains the Customer’s Channel of Preference – True or False?

  1. There is no question that consumers will prefer self-services for information access and simple transactions, rather than depend upon talking to a live agent and explaining why they are calling. Because the majority of consumers are now using multimodal smartphones and tablets, they now can increase such self-service access, and, if they do need additional assistance, can contextually “click-for-assistance” in their choice of contact modes.

    So the bottom line is that self-services will increasingly become the starting point for customer care, rather than starting with a phone call live assistance. This approach will be facilitated by new capabilities like WebRTC and Visual IVR, which will generate greater customer satisfaction, as well as reduce labor costs for customer care support. So, it’s not that customers will prefer talking on the phone to agents, but rather only when they really need to do so.

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