Communication Channel Preferences For Customer Service Are Rapidly Changing. Do You Know What Your Customers Need?

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Consumers’ preferences for customer service channels are rapidly changing. And it’s not just the younger generation of consumers — there’s disruption and change across all ages and demographics. Our 2013 data about communication channels that customers use for customer service is available in my latest report. Here are some key data points:

  • Customers want companies to value their time. 71% of consumers say that valuing their time is the most important thing a company can do to provide them with good service.
  • Voice is the most used communication channel for service. Voice, used by 73% of customers for customer service, is still the most widely used channel for customer service. However this is quickly followed by web self service and the digital channels like chat and email.
  • Chat is increasingly popular. Online chat adoption among customers has risen from 30% in 2009 to 43% in 2012. In addition, it has the highest satisfaction rating of any channel used, after voice.
  • The demise of email is premature. Email remains the third most widely used communication channel among US online adults. In the past 3 years email usage has increased by 2 percentage points, from 56% to 58%.
  • Social channels are increasingly important. Online communities and Twitter have seen increases in usage rates in the last three years. However, satisfaction remains low for these channels as companies have not invested in best practices for managing interactions on these channels.

What this means is that companies must understand their customers communication channel preference, and be prepared for them to change over time. This also means that companies mustchoose technology ecosystems that provide the business agility and flexibility to meet customer channel demands today, and in the future.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Kate, I wrote a piece having to do with holding research companies accountable for their often very poor customer service research, and their taking liberties with the interpretation of the results at http://www.customerthink.com/blog/holding_customer_research_firms_accountable_for_misleading_research .

    I read the “results” you posted differently. And looking at other research, I believe your conclusions are wrong. First, all things being equal, customers still prefer, phone and email for customer service. Second, the reason why it appears customers want other channels (i.e. Twitter, etc) is that the experiences of getting customer service via phone and email is so bad, they are willing to try anything “newer”, like social media, in the HOPE that it will be better.

    Finally, channels are largely irrelevant. People want good service, and are desperate, and will try anything different, until the point when they realize it’s not the channels that are the problem — but company practices in general.

    My advice to companies is simple. Up the game in one or two channels and you’ll win the game. Give mediocre service across a lot of channels and you lose.

  2. Forrester and other researchers have consistently found that the phone is still the more used and preferred channel. But “e-channel” usage is growing, and that now includes social.

    There was a time when email was new, but now it’s routine. Perhaps Twitter will become a routine service channel too, despite its obvious limitations.

    You raise a good point about social customer service. I think you’re right that some customers use it because the other more established channels don’t work well. That’s why I tried Twitter when I found my DSL provider’s web self-service too confusing. Using Twitter helped me quickly connect to a real person, who directed me to the best support channel and (apparently) also gave my problem a higher priority.

    The problem with this is I’ve now been trained that Twitter is a better option. If AT&T doesn’t address the reason I used Twitter (poor web self-service) then they can look forward to lots more Tweets and wasted time for everyone.

    But that’s just me. I haven’t seen an good research on *why* social channels are increasing in usage and/or popularity. Have you?

    Still, the trend seems pretty clear that consumers increasingly expect social outlets to be monitored and managed. Companies really don’t have a choice to ignore them.

    I do agree with you that trying to be great at all channels isn’t necessarily the best thing. Amazon.com really doesn’t promote phone support but gets high marks anyway.

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