• September 24, 2008
  • By Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal, Third Idea Consulting; contributor, CRM magazine

Forrester Research Finds Disservice in Self-Service

Poor call routing, failure to solve problems, and fumbled handoffs from self-service to agent interaction are some of the chief complaints voiced by customers and agents alike, and it’s hurting businesses. Automated phone help intended to help solve simple issues and lessen the workload of service reps aren’t working as planned, and nearly half of 5,000 customers surveyed still prefer to speak to a live agent, according to “Why Talking to Customers Is Ruining Your Business,” a new report from Forrester Research.

“While the trend over the past 10 years has been to try to move customers to self-service channels to reduce costs, 45 percent of consumers still prefer to speak with a customer service agent on the phone for customer service,” writes Natalie Petouhoff, senior analyst and lead author of the report. Self-service via automated phone systems ranked last among survey respondents, with only 2 percent choosing it.

Surprisingly, this state of affairs crosses generational boundaries. “In fact Boomers, Gen Xers, and Gen Yers all prefer talking to an agent to get service more than any other channel,” Petouhoff writes. Nor is it only the phone that customers prefer to self-service channels; after a live agent, the most preferred means of assistance (36 percent) for all generational cohorts is going to a store location for face-to-face help. Filling the gap between second and last are sending e-mail (6 percent); using the Web to find information (5 percent); and interacting with a live rep via chat or IM (3 percent).

The reasons for this dissatisfaction among customers, according to the report, are:

  • Self-service channels don’t always get the job done;
  • Poor channel integration leads to customer frustration; and
  • Self-service systems don’t always build trust.

“Consumers expect to speak with a human who is knowledgeable, patient, friendly, courteous, informed, easy to understand, and responsible for resolving issues,” Petouhoff writes. “Instead, consumers often encounter incorrect problem diagnosis, agent attitude issues, several transfers to ‘experts,’ long hold times, incomplete or contradictory answers, and a need to repeat information already given.”

Businesses that employ phone self-service – and there are a lot of them – are aware that they’re not living up to expectations. “Not surprisingly, more than half of the 58 business and IT leaders we recently surveyed reported that their company’s adoption of customer service agent best practices was poor/below average to average,” Petuhoff writes. The problem areas they identified include:

  • Routing calls to the wrong customer service agent;
  • Dismal knowledge management capabilities; and
  • Clumsy self-service to live service transition.

The worst specific problems in these broad areas were passing relevant information to the agent when a customer transitions to live service, and automatically generating and ranking frequently asked question (FAQ) lists; 62 percent ranked each of these as average or worse. Other notable lacks were found in agents’ ability to review customer histories, products, and services (60 percent); and routing incidents to the most skilled personnel (57 percent).

As always, Forrester’s research includes practical advice. Mapping out call flow, modernizing the contact center, redesigning agents’ responsibilities and processes, and improving knowledge management are top priorities for fixing the customer service mess. The Forrester report is the first in the “The Gap in the Customer Service Experience” series, written by an all-star cast of Forrester analysts including Petouhoff, 2007 CRM Influential Leader William Band, Chip Gliedman, Ray Wang, and Sharyn Leaver.

News relevant to the customer relationship management industry is posted several times a day on destinationCRM.com, in addition to the news section Insight that appears every month in the pages of CRM magazine. You may leave a public comment regarding this article by clicking on "Comments" at the top; to contact the editors, please email editor@destinationCRM.com.

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