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Human contact critical for consumers

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Despite the rise in digital customer service channels and options, 79% of consumers prefer the human touch to remain a part of customer service when engaging with brands and service providers.

The results of a large-scale study by Verint of more than 24 000 consumers in 12 countries, including South Africa, shows that although businesses are responding to the increasing digital world by offering their customers new ways of engaging with them, most consumers worldwide choose using the phone (24%) or going in-store (23%) as their primary way to interact with brands or service providers.

“As consumers become more digitally savvy, organisations are considering and even implementing more cost-effective digital channels as part of their evolving customer engagement strategies,” says Dave Capuano, global vice-president, integrated marketing at Verint. “However, the message from consumers is clear. They still want human touch as an option in many customer service scenarios. This dynamic means that businesses considering more cost-effective, digitally-driven channels need to ensure they understand customers’ channel preferences and the influence they have on customer behaviour and engagement. Those organisations that tip the balance in favour of digital at the expense of traditional service may risk not keeping their customers happy in the long run.”

In terms of preferred digital customer service channels, 22% of consumers want access to an online account, 14% want the ability to communicate with a customer service agent via email, and 9% cited that they prefer to connect using mobile apps.

The study, published today by Verint Systems, with support from Opinium Research and IDC, identifies a tipping point between digital and traditional customer service with more than four in five (83%) consumers that believe speaking with a person will always be an important part of the customer service equation. In terms of leading customers on a digital journey, speed, insight and desired outcomes are the biggest factors. Over two-thirds (67%) state that customer service online and via mobile devices should be faster, more intuitive and better able to serve their needs.

The Digital Tipping Point: How Do Organisations Balance the Demands for Digital and Human Customer Service? report shows the complexity of the service requests heavily influences whether a customer will choose digital or more traditional channels, such as phone or in-store, to fulfil their needs.

Complexity Drives the Tipping Point
Consumers engage with brands and service providers for multiple reasons, and their channels of choice, whether digital or traditional, are quite often determined by the complexity of their requests. In fact, this Digital Tipping Point research reveals that when consumers have a simple customer service request or enquiry, the phone is the most popular option (22%), while email and SMS come in second place (19% each).

However, as customer service requests become complex, reliance on human interaction increases. More than a third of customers prefer to go in-store (34%) for complex enquiries, while another third prefer to connect by phone (33%). The closest digital channel for complex customer service situations is email, but only 7% of consumers opt for this channel.

The research also highlights that consumers are more likely to behave favourably towards brands following instances of good customer service in-store or on the phone. A quarter of respondents would give a positive review, and almost a fifth (18%) would renew products or services, even if they aren’t the least expensive option. This compares to 21% of those who would write a positive review and just 13% who would renew products or services following good customer service on digital channels.

What Do Businesses Say?
Alongside the consumer research, Verint also ran comparative research with businesses, asking 1019 organisations worldwide about the digital and traditional customer service channels they are prioritising and investing in. In contrast to customers’ preferred options, these businesses reported they are investing least in traditional channels, such as the phone or in-store.

When exploring attitudes towards service channels, almost seven in 10 consumers (68%) believe that they are more likely to negotiate a better deal in person rather than online. However, only 47% of businesses surveyed offer the availability to speak to someone in-store, relying on other methods of communication with customers such as Web chat and email. Businesses also acknowledged that digital customer service needs to improve, with 91% agreeing that customer service online and via mobile devices should be faster, more intuitive and better able to serve customer needs.

“This study represents a call-to-action for businesses to better understand their customers’ engagement preferences in order to better serve them,” says Mary Wardley, vice-president, enterprise applications and CRM software, IDC. “There continues to be much discussion about the rise of digital and proliferation of mobile. However, as this research shows, human contact is still critical for consumers, increasing the stakes for businesses to strike the right balance in order to effectively service and retain customers, influence sales, and heighten engagement and loyalty.”

Rachel Lane, director of customer analytics, EMEA, Verint adds: “This research across a dozen countries points to some misalignment of priorities in terms of which channels businesses plan to focus on in the future and how customers prefer to engage. The organisations that understand the needs and wants of their customers, along the entire customer journey, will be well positioned to meet customers where they wish to engage, whether in-person or via digital channels.”