Speech has always been the most natural way for humans to communicate with each other. It's faster, easier, and arguably more effective than typing messages back and forth.
And you don't need to take my word for it.
"Humanity was never designed to communicate by using our fingers to poke at a tiny little keyboard on a mobile phone," Andrew Ng, chief scientist at Baidu, the Chinese Internet giant told NPR more than a year ago.
Writing in the Harvard Business Review last summer, Gregg Johnson, CEO of Invoca, a call intelligence company, argued customers still want to talk to human beings. That's true even as businesses prioritize the digital experience, he said.
"Calls to businesses have significantly increased in response to the mass adoption of mobile phones. Filling out a form on a five-inch screen is a much clunkier experience than calling a business directly from a search result or a Facebook ad," he continued.
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And yet we all have horror stories about calling customer contact centers.
Customer Contact Center Reality Test
Forrester VP and Principal Analyst Kate Leggett said customers just want "an accurate, relevant, and complete answer to their question upon first contact so they can get back to what they were doing before the issue arose."
For simple stuff, self-service and agent-assisted digital communication channels generally suffice. Customers pick up the phone for the bigger, complex problems.
Think about it.
When you're frustrated by a defective product or lackluster service, are you more likely to detail your problem in a lengthy email or pick up the phone? Assuming it's an option, I'd wager most people would call customer service.
10 Tips for Better Customer Phone Support
Unfortunately, phone support remains a source of endless customer complaints.
It doesn't have to be that way. Here are 10 ways companies can improve their customer contact center experience.
- Accurately estimate the expected hold time. Ideally, use a virtual hold system that replaces hold-time with a return call. These systems reserve a caller’s “place in line” and reconnect the call when an agent is available to handle the call. Better yet, hire more contact center agents to cut wait time.
- Don’t make me repeat information I have already provided. Create a seamless handoff from your automated phone tree to the customer service representative.
- Listen. Start the conversation by asking “How can I help you?” Don’t presume you know the reason for my call.
- Don’t make me play 20 questions. While I want companies to respect my data, it is annoying to have to answer endless security questions to verify my identity. If my phone number matches my customer record, that is a good start.
- Don’t assume I was the one who made a mistake. Maybe the error was on your end.
- Don’t explain the obvious, like “phone calls cost more in foreign countries.”
- Be alert to increasing agitation, and pass the call to a supervisor when asked to do so. Sometimes it takes someone with more experience or authority to resolve an issue.
- Never, ever tell me there is no one higher up in the organization to resolve my problem unless you are the founder and CEO.
- Avoid saying things like "It’s our policy," which suggests rules are more important than the customer; "That could not have happened," which implies your customer is a liar; or "Is there anything else I can help you with?" … unless you have resolved the customer’s initial problem.
- Act human. Nothing is more maddening — or more contrary to the philosophy of great brand experience — than scripted responses that lack empathy, understanding, or compassion.