• October 31, 2017
  • By Leonard Klie, Editor, CRM magazine and SmartCustomerService.com

The Shifting Costs of Customer Contacts

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For the past few years, contact center leaders have been operating under the notion that they need to push customers away from the phone toward other, less expensive digital channels. While that is still sound advice, current research suggests that costs for phone-based customer service interactions are actually going down, while costs for digital interactions, particularly email and web chat, have slowly been on the rise.

The average cost of an inbound phone call this year dropped to $5.25, which is down from $6.69 in 2015, according to ContactBabel’s “U.S. Contact Center HR & Operational Benchmarking Report.” At the same time, the cost per customer service email climbed from $4.14 in 2015 to $4.42 today, while web chat’s costs came in at $3.82 per session this year, up from $3.64 in 2015, the research and analyst firm found. 

Steve Morrell, principal analyst at ContactBabel, chalks the increases up to the growing success of customer self-service solutions.

“For the past two or three years, more contact centers report a decline in live telephony volumes than report an increase,” he told me. “This is not to say that the voice channel will disappear, but it seems that customers are increasingly comfortable with attempting to solve their issues themselves.” 

Customers are also increasing their use of email and chat, which contributes to the rising cost of those channels, according to the research. Morrell points out that while some elements of email and web chat can be automated, these channels typically still require some human input, and that tends to be more expensive.

It is also worth noting that the rising costs are strictly tied to agent-handled communications rather than those that are purely automated. Because simple questions can be handled easily with automation, the interactions that require live agent input tend to be more difficult, resulting in longer interactions that cost more. 

Nonetheless, Morrell appears to be optimistic that costs will come back down, particularly as companies deploy more artificial intelligence that will be able to handle more of the issues that still require live agents today. 

Morrell also notes that “technological sophistication and comfort with dealing with automated systems is increasing,” meaning that more customers will want to use automation to address more of their concerns, and more customer service agents will want to use it to help solve consumer issues.

For more on the value of automation in the contact center and how to make it work for you, read Associate Editor Oren Smilansky’s feature “The Real Benefits of Artificial Intelligence.” 

Though not yet fully realized, the goal of contact center automation is to make truly proactive outbound customer service a reality. Assisted by AI, machine learning, and similar technologies, contact centers will one day be able to identify customer issues and provide the answers to customers’ questions before they even have to ask. 

That same logic applies to other corporate entities. As one of our other features, “Sales Lead Scoring Is a Winning Formula,” points out, the sales and marketing departments are also gaining from advanced technologies like AI and machine learning to surface the prospects most likely to make a purchase. And while it’s not quite there yet, the technology is advancing at such a rapid pace that it’s not too far-fetched to imagine one day identifying the customers who will buy from you long before they start any dealings with your company. 

That, too, will impact the cost of customer interactions.


For a preview of AI and other marketing technologies that are going to make waves in the coming year, be sure to attend our Marketing Technology Boot Camp, being held in Boston at the Renaissance Boston Waterfront Hotel, Nov. 28-29. It’s a new event that is being collocated with the Gilbane Digital Content Conference. 

Leonard Klie is the editor of CRM magazine. He can be reached at lklie@infotoday.com.

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