Digital Service Channels Are Gaining Acceptance

Data from Forrester Research indicates that the use of email as a customer service channel is becoming a fact of life for a growing proportion of U.S. households, while live online chat, still an emerging technology, has made only modest inroads with all but the youngest online consumers. Forrester polled more than 60,000 people, segmented by age group and gender, about their email and chat customer service habits. More than half the overall population of respondents indicated some use of email, although no group used email more frequently than 25-34 year old males-7.9 percent engage in more than one email customer service exchange per week. Overall uptake of email was strongest in the 35-44 and 45-54 age groups, and slightly more popular among women than men in those age ranges, with both over-65s and under-25s the least likely as a group to use email for service. In general the older population is considered more resistant to new service channels, but the weaker turnout among younger customers is a surprise. "When you get down that young, you have some college-age kids or kids at home who probably don't have as many service needs as the next group," says Bruce Temkin, vice president and research director at Forrester. The distribution of email usage is bell-shaped along the age range, but chat-support uptake is strongest with young adults and gradually declines in use among the older respondent groups. Even among 18-25 year-old males--the strongest overall group-just 19.3 percent used chat, and of those only 3.8 percent used chat on a regular basis. That rate is almost three times higher than their fathers, however: Only 1.3 percent men aged 45-54 and 55-64 engaged in chat service sessions more than once a week. Again, however, chat uptake is higher among women in the 35-54 range, suggesting that women remain the key home purchasing agents on- and offline. "Chat [usage] was more than I would have guessed," Temkin says. "It remains a niche activity, but about one in seven have used chat for a service activity, and these numbers would be on the rise, as chat is early in its growth curve." Temkin says that companies should take seriously the fact that half the online population is willing to engage in email exchange. "I think the service companies provide customers via email is sorely lacking," he says. "These numbers say that it's a mainstream activity to send an email to request service, and the ability to actually get first-response solutions is pretty low. This is a significant activity, and companies had better get their act together." Related articles: Online Service: Better for Customers, Or for the Bottom Line? Helping Customers Help Themselves
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