Do Your Customers Want To Telephone You For Service?

I was speaking with clients today about their views on telephone customer service. One believed that his customers liked calling the call center to solve problems with a “human touch”. His colleague countered that telephone customer service is simply too expensive to be giving away that “human touch”.

I think they are both correct. And they are both incorrect. Why? Because I believe one of the most common customer servicve misperceptions is that customers prefer to telephone you.

It’s true that the most commonly used customer service channel is the telephone. According to Forrester’s North American Technographics Customer Experience Online Survey, Q4 2009, 69% of online consumers used the telephone to speak with a customer service agent (followed by 55% who emailed customer service and 55% who used a company’s Help or FAQ section.)

It’s also true that telephone customer service has the highest satisfaction compared to other online customer service channels, at 69%. Only 60% of people who used email for customer service were satisfied and 56% of those who used Help or FAQ’s.

These are compelling numbers. But do they mean that people want to call? Or do these numbers mean that alternative online customer service channels are absent or lackluster?

Here is another compelling number: 72% of US online consumers prefer to use a company's Web site to get answers to their questions rather than contact companies via telephone or email; roughly half this group strongly prefers self-reliance.

I’m not saying that telephone customer service should be replaced. Far from it; there are times when consumers have complex questions or an emotional need such as reassurance that only the telephone can satisfy. But much of the time, the telephone is simply not customers’ first choice. The telephone is also not always the most cost effective choice. Telephone customer service is typically $6 - $12 per contact. There are potentially significant savings to be realized through channels such as click-to-chat, virtual agents, co-browsing, or improved self-service. Not to mention customer satisfaction.

Comments

Most recent research?

Where can I find the latest research you cited in this blog post? According to Forrester’s North American Technographics Customer Experience Online Survey, Q4 2009, 69% of online consumers used the telephone to speak with a customer service agent (followed by 55% who emailed customer service and 55% who used a company’s Help or FAQ section.)

I can only seem to find the 2008 Q4 results on your website.

Thank you,

Rachel Hughes
Digitas

Most recent research

Hi Rachel,
If you have access to Technographics, this data is in the NA Technographics Cusotmer Experience Online Survey Q4 2009. The 72% figure is published in "It's Time To Give Virtual Agents Another Look" - actually, the published data is that 28% prefer to use the phone. The usage/satisfaction data is in a report called "How To Create A Social Customer Service Strategy" that will be published shortly.
Diane

click to talk - lower phone customer service costs?

Great post Diane -

Relative to the concern over phone costs, it might be interesting to highlight the notion of "click to call" functionality, whereby phone calls are routed directly into existing contact center numbers — which minimizes costs and maximizes existing reporting and routing capabilities. Agents receiving calls in this context see real-time information — such as customer's name, the Web page where the call originated from, and past account information. The whole idea here is to offer more personal, efficient assistance than standard toll-free calls. The abundance of customer information often means faster calls, which obviously lowers your cost there. Personal, interactive live help in this context can drive overall revenue as well as simply increase overall customer loyalty.

Tucker
ATG

click-to talk - lower phone customer service costs

Hi Tucker,
Thanks for your comments. I agree with you. In addition to saving costs, click-to-talk brings some wins in the customer satisfaction column. From a customer perspective, one of the biggest pain points is being forced to tell and re-tell the reason for a call. Click-to-talk's ability for agents to see real-time consumer information can help here. The other consumer pain point is waiting on hold. Click-to-talk definately alleviates this. And, with apologies to fans of 1980's movie themes on folk instrument, lessening the risk of listening to Christopher Cross' "Arthur's Theme" on a pan flute can only benefit everyone.
Diane

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I wonder how much of this is

I wonder how much of this is cause and effect.

In a lot of cases, when I know a company has a bad phone system, I may be more inclined to e-mail them, but that's more a result of them not having adequate phone resources.

I certainly think getting somebody on the phone delivers faster results, but if its a non urgent issue or querie, I'm more likely to send an e-mail. For me I suppose it all comes down to how good a company's telephone system is.