By 2025, 60% of customers will seek service in third-party sources of information not owned by the company, according to Gartner.

Currently, younger customers already use third-party information sources more frequently than older consumers, suggesting that this trend will increase as their share of the total customer base grows.

A Gartner survey of 4 831 B2C customers from November through December 2021 found that 66% of millennials and 56% of Gen Z customers reported using a third-party source before contacting official service channels, compared to just 25% of baby boomers who did so.

The survey also found that 58% of younger customers (millennials and Gen Z) indicated they trust third-party information sources as much as company-provided information because they find the information easier to use or less biased.

“To resolve service issues, customers are increasingly turning to third-party sources of information, such as on YouTube or Reddit,” says Eric Keller, senior director: research in the Gartner Customer Service & Support practice. “This will further complicate service journeys and erode the control service and support leaders have over experiences. However, this trend also brings opportunities to help customers access trustworthy, peer-to-peer support with limited investment from the company.”

While companies have historically exercised greater control over information regarding their product or service, legislation coming out of the growing “right to repair” movement challenges organizations’ ability to keep certain service information behind company walls.

This will result in customer service journeys that will grow in complexity, and customers will be unable to separate their experiences on third-party channels from their experiences on company-owned channels. This could lead to a lack of opportunities to engage in value-enhancing activities, next issue avoidance, and upsell activities.

“Third-party channels will prove to be a double-edged sword as adoption rates increase,” says Keith McIntosh, senior principal: researcher in the Gartner Customer Service & Support practice. “On one hand, peer-to-peer support allows for easy-to-follow language that leads to fewer inbound contacts. On the other hand, third-party channel resolution distances the organization from its customers, minimizing the access to real-time customer data.”

To best adopt third-party channel strategies and avoid customers having a higher-effort resolution journey, Gartner suggests customer service and support leaders take the following actions:

* Include issue resolution through third-party sources as a key pillar of the company’s self-service strategy. For example, this can be done through SEO optimisation of content customers see on third-party search websites.

* Update internal knowledge management to educate reps on which third-party channels customers use, what information they find there, and how to handle the “baggage” or perceptions they may bring to service interactions based on those third-party experiences.

* Partner with internal stakeholders (e.g., legal, communications, marketing, product and sales) to evaluate the opportunities and/or risks of integrating third-party content into company-owned channels or directly linking to third-party content.