The majority (53 per cent) of consumers say they prefer to deal with service providers either face-to-face or over the phone, increasing to 62 per cent in more complex and emotive situations such as making a complaint or trying to correct a complicated problem.
Echo Manager Services, which commissioned the report, warns that those businesses looking to reduce customer service costs risk a fall in customer satisfaction rates if they rely on technology not backed up by the option of expert human contact.
The research finds that for the most popular form of contact, over the phone, 29 per cent of consumers say they would move their custom elsewhere if they experienced poor customer service.
Some 12 per cent feel they would be upset or angry, 8 per cent wouldn’t recommend the company to others and 4 per cent would actively discourage others from using that particular company.
The biggest customer service frustrations cited by customers are being kept waiting on hold (56 per cent), automated call answering (17 per cent), overseas call centres (7.5 per cent) and inarticulate or poor-quality staff (3 per cent).
Monica Mackintosh, customer services director at Echo Managed Services says that many companies are putting in place ‘arms-length systems’ such as web self-serve and automated call answering to both offer customers speed and convenience, and reduce operating costs.
‘But our research findings highlight that despite the wide variety of channels open to customers, there is still a huge demand for customers wanting to talk to real, highly-skilled and empowered human advisers,’ she adds.
‘While it’s important for businesses that regularly deal with customer enquiries to remain competitive, they need to find the right balance between cost saving and efficiency and ensuring they continue to provide exceptional customer experiences. Get it wrong, and customer losses will end up being more expensive in the long run.’
Despite the longing for human contact, digital channels do still of course have an important role to play and are being widely embraced by customers, particularly in more simple situations.
For example, web self-service is the most popular method for paying a bill (35 per cent) as is email for requesting information (27 per cent).
Mackintosh adds that a positive experience creates a wide range of strong emotional responses from customers.
Despite customers’ gripes, when asked in what way they believe that good telephone service improves their experience as a customer; 22 per cent said it increased trust and reassurance, 16 per cent said it gave them a sense of loyalty, 10 per cent felt valued and cared for and 7 per cent felt less stressed.
‘To alleviate risk, businesses must use human insight to complement the speed and convenience that technology can provide, but also understand when each contact channel is best used and when human contact is required,’ Mackintosh says.