Organisations around the world know that the human touch helps drive customer loyalty, but many struggle to balance their demands for digital and personalised customer service engagement.
Global research indicates that consumers still prefer to speak to someone in person or on the phone, but that having digital channels is important.

Conducted by customer engagement solutions provider Verint, with support from Opinium Research and research and advisory firm IDC, the research evaluated digital versus traditional customer service engagement in both the business-to-business and business-to-consumer contexts.

“The findings highlight the need to have the right balance between human and digital customer service,” says Marije Gould, vice-president: EMEA marketing at Verint.

Speaking at one of Verint’s recent Engage customer roadshows, sponsored by Logikal Consulting, Gould told delegates that younger generations are driving the switch to digital, but that 79% of those surveyed still want direct person contact to remain part of customer service.

In addition, 74% of respondents went as far as saying that they don’t like dealing with companies that don’t provide a phone number on their website, and 65% feel they receive better service when speaking to a person on the phone or in-store.

“The human touch helps drive loyalty, and customers who have had a good experience in person or on the phone behave more favourably towards brands than online,” Gould says. “Further, they’re more likely to renew their product or service even if it is not the cheapest option.

“Digital channels also require personal touch, and customers like it when service is personalised to them and their needs.”

Gerald Naidoo, CEO of Logikal Consulting, says that South Africa is seeing increased interest in improving customer service, with many organisations actively evaluating technology solutions to help them achieve increased customer retention.

“In today’s always-connected world, companies cannot afford to ignore any of the many channels through which customers want to interact with them. In fact, many have focused on one channel, leaving huge gaps that need to be filled to ensure customer needs are met.Technology is proving vital to filling these gaps.”

Verint’s research shows that the most popular way customers contact organisations in customer service situations is: 23% by speaking on the phone; 24% by visiting a store or branch; 22% by managing their account online; 14% by sending email or SMS; 9% by using mobile apps; and 3% by using social media. Whether they decide to use human or machine interaction depends on the complexity of the enquiry.

“For a complicated enquiry, customers will go into the store, while for a simple enquiry, they will phone,” Gould says.

She warned that attrition is higher among digital consumers as they are more prone to switching providers. “On average, across all sectors, 57% of customers have been with their service providers for more than three years, yet customers who prefer digital channels are more prone to switching.

“However, customers who prefer the human touch are more loyal: 58% have been with their providers for more than three years, yet only 49% of customers who prefer digital channels have been with providers for more than three years.”

Gould adds: “Eight out of 10 customers prefer their service to be personalised to them and their needs. In the digital-human interaction tipping point, businesses have a real opportunity to act now and establish, advance and evolve their digital proposition.”

Gould outlined the steps to customer engagement success: Listen to the customer, improve digital services, empower staff, evaluate the customer experience, align your organisation to optimise customer engagement and understand that transparency is the key to building trust.

The research found that transparency remains key for customer data – regardless of channel. If also found that 89% of customers want to know how secure their personal information is, while 86% of customers want to know if their data will be passed on to a third party.

“We are living in the age of the customer, where effective engagement with customer story is no longer optional. True customer centricity is reliant on a company’s ability to hear the customer’s voice anywhere, at any time, and in any format. The balance between human and digital customer service has never been more important,” Naidoo concludes.