Consumers in fast-growing economies are setting the standard for customer contact, leading the way in expecting to communicate with organisations in a number of different ways, and to switch between communications channels as their conversation progresses.

These findings are revealed in a new global report commissioned by BT and Avaya: “Autonomous Customer 2015: On hold for Intelligent Customer Service”. In its fifth year, the independent report covers 10 countries and is based on the responses of 5 500 consumers.

The phrase “autonomous customer” describes consumers that access online information to research and investigate buying decisions. They use web sites and mobile apps to “self-serve”, preferring to stay in control and interact with organisations on their own terms.

Globally, 70% of those contacting organisations through social media expect a response within 15 minutes, with two-thirds expecting their social media comments and queries to be answered through the same platform.

Consumers in India (88%), UAE (87%) and Indonesia (80%) are far more likely to turn to Facebook for service than in the UK (53%), Belgium (48%) or Germany (40%).

Similarly, video-chat is a common expectation in India (81%), China (78%) and Indonesia (74%) compared to the UK (52%), Germany (45%) and Belgium (40%).

“Organisations have to align themselves with rapidly changing consumer expectations,” says Dr Nicola Millard, head of customer insight and futures at BT Global Services. “Transactional websites and mobile apps – along with social media – put organisations in the position of having to support customers 24/7. The digital world lives ‘in the moment’ and puts consumers in control. Customer service has to follow suit.”

Crucially, customers want to be able to move seamlessly from channel to channel when it suits them. Most in demand is being able be communicate with customer support while online (71%), typically web-chat. Also popular is the ability to switch from social media to the telephone (63%) and the ability to move from Web chat to telephone (62%). Only one in three feel organisations currently make it easy to switch between channels.

“Autonomous customers invest time and effort to make a purchase decision. When they hit an issue they can’t resolve, they want an answer from the organisation there and then,” says Garry Veale, president: Europe at Avaya. “Expectations are high. Three quarters of consumers expect a customer service agent to be instantly aware of their details and history, across all channels.”

There are rich rewards for organisations that strike the right customer service balance, as autonomous customers are shown to buy more from organisations that are easy to deal with; leading to repeat spend and brand loyalty.