Balance Online Customer Service Carefully With Human Interaction
Customers typically represent a widely diverse range of backgrounds, ages and preferences, but when it comes to how they want to interact with retailers for service requests, they have more in common than you might think.
A recent worldwide study of more than 24,000 consumers and 1,000 businesses makes it clear — consumers everywhere, of all ages, highly value the human element in their customer service interactions with brands.
The research was commissioned by Verint from June 23 to July 20, 2016, in association with Opinium Research LLP, a U.K.-based research company, and research and advisory firm IDC. Interviews were conducted among more than 24,000 consumers and 1,000 businesses in Australia, Brazil, India, France, Germany, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa, U.K. and the U.S. They were carried out online, in the local language for each country, and respondents received an incentive to participate.
The survey is a broad one and reflects customer experience with a wide range of organizations, from insurance companies to banks, and travel companies to online and brick-and-mortar retailers. Here are some key findings for all market segments:
- Eighty-three percent of respondents said they prefer human customer service interactions to digital alternatives.
- For all age groups, the phone emerged as the most popular way to contact organizations and service providers, according to nearly 24 percent of consumers in the study; visiting a storefront was next at 23 percent.
- Those who receive more human or traditional customer service display more positive behaviors toward brands.
- The more complex the service request, the more likely consumers are to prefer human interaction to digital channels.
- Two-thirds of consumers and 91percent of businesses feel customer service online and via mobile devices needs to be faster and more intuitive to serve end users.
The Digital Tipping Point
The study was designed to answer how businesses can strike the right balance between digital and human customer service. The results — summarized in a report titled “The Digital Tipping Point: How Do Organizations Balance the Demands for Digital and Human Customer Service?” — serve as a guide for retailers working to find the right blend of humans and technology for customer service.
Consider this: When the study asked businesses what channels they're planning to invest in, live chat (32 percent) and mobile apps (27 percent) scored the highest. The businesses also reported they're investing least in traditional channels — branch and telephone. Clearly, they plan to guide customers to a digital experience, but at what cost?
Online Retail Bucks the Trend, but …
Not surprisingly, the online retail sector does buck the trend of human service preference, with 60 percent of respondents wanting to interact via their account online or through web self-service. Yet, even millennials in the category leaned favorably toward phone conversation. Fifteen percent of them said they prefer to speak with someone on the phone, higher than the 12 percent of total respondents for online retailers. At the same time, though, millennials showed the highest favoritism — 9 percent and 10 percent, respectively — for social media communication and online chat.
For brick-and-mortar retailers — defined as supermarkets, grocery stores and clothing stores in the study — 61 percent of respondents said they prefer to speak to someone on the phone or in person when it comes to a customer service request.
The complexity of the request plays a role here. While 64 percent of consumers said they would use digital channels for a fairly simple customer service activity, like changing account details or investigating new products and services, the reliance on human interaction becomes greater as the requests become more complicated, such as asking a question about a bill or requesting a refund.
An Important and Timely Reminder
With nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of all consumers polled saying they believe it's more convenient and they get better service when engaging with organizations on the phone or in-store, it’s clear that organizations need to carefully plan how to balance digital and human engagement. As this unbiased study shows, with every purchase and every need for service, there are times and circumstances when there's no substitute for talking with a real, live person.
Dave Capuano is global vice president of integrated marketing for Verint Systems Inc., a global leader in Actionable Intelligence.