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Why You Should Think Beyond the Phone

Do customers prefer a particular channel of support because it’s actually their preference, or because their other options are terrible—or nonexistent? It’s a tough call.

Expectations around response time, previous experiences, or even more powerfully, the memory of an experience, can all bias a customer away from a channel that they might otherwise be open to or interested in. You might shrug it off, but chances are you’re spending a lot of money on a channel people don’t actually want.

The phone still rings reigns

According to research conducted by Loudhouse, the phone is still the primary channel customers use to interact with customer service organizations. This is because consumers believe that voice support is the quickest way to get their problem solved. Nearly three in five (59 percent) expect a resolution within 30 minutes by phone, whereas 52 percent expect a resolution within a day via social media. The findings suggest that consumer expectations around SLAs are a primary driver behind “preferred” communication channels rather than actual preference.

The phone’s predominance is waning as use of other channels increases, but it has proven a dependable fallback when customers don’t receive a response to their first contact. Research found that when a call goes unanswered, 54 percent will pick up the phone a second time. When an email goes unanswered, 71 percent will try the phone. And when there’s no response over social media, 55 percent revert to phone support.

So, customers don’t want to give up voice support. Yet the numbers don’t suggest that they want to rely on it, either.

Social media is on the rise

In fact, according to Nielsen’s 2012 Social Media Report, nearly half of U.S. consumers use social media, and of those, a third say they prefer “social care” to the phone. 

Consider also that a 2013/14 global contact centre benchmarking report from Dimension Data reported that Generation Y is moving away from the traditional phone—it’s their fourth channel choice behind electronic messaging, social media, and smartphone apps—with Generation X close behind.

The research suggests that looking closely at your demographics may be one way to determine which of the available channels you should offer support through.

Customers want to help themselves

Going back to the idea that a customer’s preference between channels depends on the quality of experience, research also shows that as many as 91 percent of consumers would use a knowledge base or help center if it were tailored to meet their needs.

What does that mean? That customers want a good, thoughtfully designed self-service option. They want to be able to search a brand site in the same way they’re used to searching the Internet. Answers to frequently asked questions should be easy to find. And the knowledge base should be fine-tuned and optimized based on what customers are actually looking for.

Results from a consumer survey by Nuance Enterprises revealed that 75 percent of respondents think self-service is a convenient way to address problems, and 67 percent said they preferred helping themselves to having to speak to a customer service representative.

The numbers are powerful indicators of customer preference, but ultimately the channels customers want are the ones that work—reliably and quickly, and that yield a positive resolution. So if the question you’re facing is whether to offer support on all channels or only a few, the most important channels are the ones through which you can confidently provide the best support. But it’s also worth considering whether opening a new channel, such as by making an investment in a self-service solution, might allow you to save money and gain back some agent time that might be better spent on another area of support, or even to open (and ace!) a new channel.

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