By 2026, 75% of customers who call customer service and support organisations will do so out of loneliness, not because they have a customer service issue, according to Gartner.

This will affect service and support leaders’ priority of migrating customers to self-service and ensuring rep well-being.

“Lonely customers looking to fulfill their interpersonal needs through service organisations are unlikely to use self-service to resolve their issues, regardless of how well-designed the functionality is,” says Emily Potosky, senior research principal in the Gartner customer service and support practice.

“To ensure they are not investing in suboptimal solutions, leaders must account for customer loneliness when attempting to diagnose why customers are still choosing assisted-service channels over self-service.”

Gartner research shows this trend will also impact customer service reps. For example, reps may experience longer handle times as a result of customers trying to socialize, impacting organisations’ coaching and performance management efforts.

Additionally, dealing with emotional customers is challenging and could lead to reduced rep well-being.

“Service and support leaders have long discussed the importance of emotional intelligence in the role and the need for reps to display soft skills,” says Potosky. “However, it will be difficult for reps to understand where to draw the line, and leaders may even see increased attrition from service reps who are already stretched thin from the normal emotional effort they must perform when resolving issues for customers.”

Gartner predicts that by 2024 the top cited reason customer service reps leave the service organization will be the unofficial emotional effort they need to perform with customers outside their official job duties.

Service and support leaders looking to mitigate the effect of lonely customers should consider the following:

* Use speech analytics and sentiment analysis to identify customers who are calling because they are lonely.

* Coach reps on how to identify customers who are using the service interaction for emotional support and socialisation rather than true issue resolution.

* Protect reps and their relationships with customers by empowering reps to empathetically exit conversations with these customers.

* For extreme circumstances, ensure reps have the necessary mental health or suicide prevention resources to get customers to appropriate support.

* Ensure the analysis of self-service failure points includes this trend; these customers will be difficult to migrate to self-service.