Digital Customer Service or a Human Touch?  What DO customers WANT?


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Much of current investment in customer service is focused on expanding capabilities in digital service channels and artificial intelligence.  Recent customer service studies, however, have illustrated the need to focus on the human element of customer service.  Read on to find out the important findings of these studies.

Accenture Strategy’s Global Customer Pulse Research found that 88% of customers use digital channels at some point in their shopping journey.  While 41% want even more digital options, only 36% of customers believe that digital channels are better than human interactions.  

Adding digital service channels to the customer’s menu of choices is obviously designed to drive loyalty.  But what if all these new customer options are not doing that at all?  Accenture’s study points out that even with the myriad of available service channels, only about 25% of customers were willing to recommend a business to others and a whopping 65% decided to take business elsewhere.  These numbers are staggering given the investment in more expensive technologies that have been added to the customer service foray in recent years.

So what is going on?  Accenture suggests that organizations who are increasingly relying on digital may be abandoning the human personalization that leads to up-sell and cross sell opportunities.  58% of customers still prefer to deal with a human to get a quick answer to a question and when service issues arise, 73% prefer human interaction to a “digitized voice and blinking cursor”.  Even Consumer Reports is weighing in on this issue, identifying the biggest complaint in customer service as the inability to speak to a real person when a problem surfaces.

Does this mean we should not invest in digital channels?  Certainly not, but it does point to it being necessary to give the customer choice of digital and human in their journey, particularly when it comes to conflict and complaints and complex interactions.  Equally important is the ability to switch channels midstream should an issue become more complicated.

A similar report by Verint on The Digital Tipping Point notes that when given the choice of how customers like to interact with organization, picking up the phone (24%) or going in store (23%) are still the most popular options.  Surprisingly, popular social apps such as Facebook and Twitter do not fare well in this study.  Only 3% of consumers indicated a preference for contacting via social and mobile apps.  Why do customers prefer a human element within customer service?  Verint’s global study indicates that it is because they are more likely to negotiate a better deal and receive good service.

A very notable graph in the Verint study shows significant disparity between customer service channels businesses are planning to offer and customer’s preferred communication channels.  Live chat (32%) and mobile apps (27%) score highest on future investment while the consumer’s preferred options – in branch and telephone contact – show little to no future investment increases.

What does this mean for you as you plan your strategy for 2017?

Here are 5 Steps to Take:

1.     Look at recent customer service studies in more detail.   Some point to differences in varied industries that may be important for you.  (study links here)
2.    Talk to your own customers and find out what they want.  While studies are important, they cannot compare to ‘Management by Walking Around’ and customer survey data for your own business and market.
3.    Realize that there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution.  Customers are increasingly demanding multiple channels and more importantly a choice of channel for different contact/transaction types.
4.    Know your customer’s journey and plan a strategy for contacts along that journey.  Every business, even similar businesses in the same market have their own unique branding and customer strategy.  Make sure your customer service is aligned with that branding and strategy for every contact point.
5.    Invest in the human side of your customer service through customer service training and communication training!  Realize that customer engagement in linked to employee engagement.  Invest in your employees and they will invest in your success!

It is a complicated customer service world out there sure to become even more complex in coming months and years.  Instead of being overwhelmed by what you cannot do, focus on specific steps to maximize the impact of your digital and human touch points.  This will build your success and your profits in 2017 and beyond!

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Teresa Allen
Teresa Allen is a nationally recognized customer service speaker and customer service author. Allen is owner of Common Sense Solutions, a national training and consulting firm focused on bringing common sense to business and life. Allen is author of Common Sense Service: Close Encounters on the Front Lines and is co-author of The Service Path: Your Roadmap for Building Strong Customer Loyalty.


  1. The part of the brain you think with, the cortex, is very important, but it’s certainly not the only part of the nervous system that determines our behavior.

  2. There’s lots to like in your 5 steps. At the end of the day, delivering optimal CX is both omnichannel and situational – what the customer requires in a given situation, how the customer prefers the interaction, and when the customer needs it.

  3. thanks Teresa, quite an insightful post.

    Personally I tend to approach how I contact companies individually, I frequently contact Amazon via Webchat though other companies I prefer the history and ‘audit’ of emails.

    It all boils down to how much trust there is in the brand. If I don’t trust them I will always make sure I have everything in writing, where if I have a lot of trust in them I will happily pick up the phone to them

  4. Colin,
    This really demonstrates how important it is to offer service in a multitude of channels for different types of customer contacts. Thanks for sharing!

  5. The part of the brain you think with, the cortex, is very important, but it’s certainly not the only part of the nervous system that determines our behavior.


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