Want to annoy your customers? Removing your phone number from your website is a good place to start.

New research from analyst firm Telsyte shows Australians still prefer to pick up the phone and speak to someone directly, despite an increase in digital customer service interactions.

Telsyte’s survey of more than 1,000 Australians and New Zealanders found 70 per cent of respondents prefer to call an organisation and speak to a human when given the choice.

However, the popularity of voice does not indicate a reluctance to use digital channels. The report, titled The Shift to Human Experience: Consumer Interaction Preferences and Challenges for Industries in Australia & New Zealand, suggests that the tendency to pick up the phone stems from limitations of self service digital channels.

Customers are happy to use digital channels when they deliver a better level of service, but as soon as they encounter difficulties they want a live agent to step in — with all the relevant context — and resolve the problem.

The report argues businesses must be able to bring digital channels into the customer contact centre, remove silos and be context-aware across channels.

James Walford, director of business development – digital and innovation at Genesys, which commissioned the report, said it’s important organisations don’t overlook the human element in customer service.

“While this new report shows a willingness to adopt new communication channels, voice is still a critical component of the customer experience. The right digital business transformation process will blend digital channels with human interaction to support the needs and preferences of today’s customers,” Walford said.

“It’s important that businesses don’t think of any channel as an individual communication tactic. As with other platforms, web chat should form part of a broader customer interaction ecosystem, marrying human interactions with technology.”

Telsyte he report, titled The Shift to Human Experience
Source: Telsyte

Early success for emerging channels

The report revealed consumers are experimenting with newer forms for communication including web chat, chatbots and other customer facing automated systems.

Of these emerging channels, online chat was found to be the most popular mode of communication, with 20 per cent of respondents identifying it as a preferred method for interaction. Of those who choose to use online chat, over half (55 per cent), believe they get better service this way, and it helps them to interact with the company where and when they want.

Seven out of 10 prefer to deal with people rather than robots. But there is a growing acceptance of automation and artificial intelligence. Between 30 and 40 per cent of consumers expect an increase in the use of both virtual agents and interactive voice response systems.

Telsyte managing director, Foad Fadaghi, said it’s a timely warning to businesses that despite the lure of automation, relatively few consumers have had exceptional experiences with automated systems and more consumer education is needed.

“Consumers are becoming more open to AI and automated systems, but have had limited positive experiences so far, making the human touch even more critical in this time of transition,” said Fadaghi.

High levels of churn

Organisations are paying a high price for bad customer service. Nearly one-third of customers walked away from a brand as a result of poor customer service in the past 12 months. Over half (57 per cent of those surveyed) also share their dissatisfaction with friends and family who (52 per cent) will then also stop using the company all together.

And it’s more common for customers to stop using a company’s service rather than vent about it on social media.

Source: Telsyte
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