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Most People Prefer Human Interactions in Customer Service
Consumers want a blend of channels, and not just the digital ones
For the rest of the May 2016 issue of CRM magazine please click here

Think back to the last time you really needed to speak to your cell provider, bank, or utility company. Maybe you had a question about a significant overcharge, or you needed some time-sensitive advice. How easy was it to reach someone? According to Accenture Strategy’s latest “Global Consumer Pulse Research,” U.S. consumers say it is becoming harder to do so, even as companies are working to be more accessible.

As organizations invest in digital technologies and channels to support customer service, they have started to over-rely on these channels. This has given rise to “human-less” customer service, and it’s not being well received.

According to the study, which gauges the experiences and attitudes of 24,489 customers globally about marketing, sales, and customer service experiences, U.S. consumers want more human interaction when dealing with companies. Eighty-three percent prefer human beings over digital channels when it comes to solving customer service issues.

The report also found that 52 percent of consumers have switched providers in the past year due to poor customer service. In the United States, the estimated switching cost is $1.6 trillion.

Having lost sight of the importance of human interaction, companies often make it too difficult for customers to get the service they need. Many wrongly assume that digital-only customers are the most profitable, and that customer service is a cost. Consequently, they overinvest in digital technologies and channels and lose their most profitable customers—multichannel customers, who want both digital and traditional experiences, but often in very unpredictable combinations.

Almost half (45 percent) of consumers say they are willing to pay more for goods and services if it ensures a higher level of customer service. Physical or in-store experiences are also highly valued among consumers. Sixty-five percent agree that in-store service is the best channel for getting a tailored experience, and 46 percent say they are more willing to be sold new or upgraded products when receiving service in person than online.

The report reveals that there is huge room for improvement in the delivery of today’s customer service. Seventy-three percent of consumers expect customer service to be easier and more convenient than it is, and 61 percent want it to be faster. And 44 percent of consumers admit to taking to social media channels to vent about poor service.

But there are reasons for optimism as well. Eighty percent of switchers feel the company could have done something to retain them. And 83 percent say that if companies provided better live or in-person customer service, it would impact their decision to switch.

REBALANCING DIGITAL AND TRADITIONAL

U.S. companies need to rebalance their digital and traditional customer service investments if they want to improve loyalty, differentiate themselves, and drive growth. Companies abandoning the human connection will need to regain it to deliver the varied and tailored outcomes that customers demand. We suggest following these prescriptions:

Make it easy for customers to switch channels. Build customer service channels that enable consumers to fluidly move between digital and human interaction to get the outcomes they desire. As noted, multichannel customers are your most profitable customers, so it makes sense to focus on them.

Put the human element back into customer service. Rethink your investment strategy to ensure you have the right blend of traditional and physical channels where they are valued most. Customers are already telling you exactly where they value human interaction—you just have to look and listen for their cues.

Root out toxicity. Define and address the most toxic customer experiences across all channels. Focus not just on what makes a call or Web site experience bad but experiences across channels that are frustrating for customers—and that often go unchecked.

Create trust by keeping data safe—and showing that you value it. Ninety-one percent of consumers say it is extremely important that companies protect their personal information. Explain the value of the data you want from customers, and the value they get from supplying it. Consumers increasingly expect something of value, in addition to privacy, in exchange for their data. The greater the perceived value, the greater the amount of insight and data the customer will provide.

Robert Wollan is the senior managing director, advanced customer strategy, at Accenture Strategy.

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