As mobile phones and social media become part of every consumers daily life, Contact Center dynamics are also going through enormous changes. Studying the Microsoft ‘2018 State of Global Customer Service report’ (which is based on surveys of 5,000 consumers across the United States, United Kingdom, Brazil, Germany, and Japan) we can clearly see some trends and draw some interesting and actionable conclusions.  1. Customer service directly drives your business growth

To start with, an overwhelming 98% of the respondents in the United States (and 95% Globally) indicated that customer service ‘influenced brand choice and loyalty That’s nearly everybody. And, not just that, 62% of U.S. respondents said they had stopped doing business with a brand due to poor customer service.

We are all aware that customer service is critical in these days of multiple competing choices – but a lot of medium to large businesses are realizing now that Customer Service and Contact Center interactions can no longer just be services by phone-based voice call center. 

Apart from over half of the respondents having a higher expectation from customer service, nearly half (47%) in the U.S. have a more favorable impression of a brand that responds to customer service questions and complaints directly over social media.  (The global percentage is even higher at 59%.) 

Interestingly, however, just supporting social media is not enough. When asked how many channels the respondents have used for customer service, a surprising 54% of U.S. respondents said they had used 3 to 5 channels. The number globally was about the same percentage.  What does this mean? This indicates a convergence of customer service across multiple channels – social media, email, chat, website, and of course the traditional call centers. And given that mobile devices cell phones are ubiquitous, every customer interaction should be mobile friendly, as well as allow for the ability to switch back and forth between the multiple channels available to users in the new age.   

2. Voice Channels cannot be ignored 

There is still some way to go before we move away from call centers though (versus the use of alternatives like chat, email, social media), especially in the U.S. customer service space. The survey shows that a large portion (44%) of respondents in the United States prefer phone or other voice channels (The global average is 39%.). This is followed by Live Chat (23%) and email (16%). But, in a sign of the future change to come in this area, the average of respondents above 55 years who prefer voice channels for customer service is 50%, while it is only 29% for 18 to 34-year old respondents. The younger generation, as expected, prefers non-voice channels, and as the generation matures, the number and percentage of people looking for customer support across multiple channels, including non-voice, will increase dramatically. 

Not just that, the younger generation is far more comfortable with new and emerging technologies, and we are seeing more integration of newer technologies – like Artificial Intelligence, personalization, screen sharing, video chat – into the customer contact experience to make the interaction more productive, faster, with easier access to customer history, and a richer contact experience.  

3. … but online channels are growing  

Think about this – whenever someone today needs help, where do they go first? In the past, customers would look for an 800 number, get on the phone, and get in touch with the organizations call center immediately. What do they do today? They first go online and search for help, typically hoping that the organization they are trying to get service from will have the answers available online. In fact, the survey shows that most U.S. participants (61%began with self-service when they had to engage with a brand or organization for customer service.  

But that also means that organizations must have their online presence geared up for their customers. They need to optimize the help/ FAQ sections so that it is easy for customers to get to the answers they are looking for. They must have active Search Engine Optimization programs so customers reach the relevant pages in fewer clicks. Organizations need to have help available across social media, chat and other platforms to not just answer queries, but also pick up on complaints and sentiments of any customer service issues which may have been raised in discussions or posts 

4. How online customer service affects the call center dynamics 

Industry estimates indicate that for a typical call centerfor example, the cost per interaction ranges from $35 to $50, and it is far lower at $8 to $10 per session (source: IBM Blog) for online/ chat interactions.  So once online support is established, call center average costs may go down, but it brings up another often-overlooked issue. Given that customers first look up and get their requests serviced online, it logically means that when they do call into a contact center, it is usually to get answers to more complex questions or resolve more complicated issues. This, in turn, means that call center agents must be professional, have a deeper knowledge of the required domain, and be able to handle situations requiring more information inputs and judgment. It also means that the customer may already be impatient as they have already tried multiple online solutions and expect the agent to have the background information about them, and their problem, and therefore expect a quicker resolution to their issue.  

Not surprisingly, then, the survey indicates that 39% (the largest share) of customers feel a knowledgeable customer service representative is the most important aspect of a good customer service experience.  And a very high 70% of U.S. respondents expect a customer service representative to know their contact, product and service information/ history. 

In conclusion 

Customer service expectations continue to increase, and in fact, is becoming a very critical factor in differentiating an organization’s brand, and therefore to gain and retain customers. But meeting these expectations, while managing cost and service levels, requires investments in technology and a redesign of how service is being provided. Organizations need to make this investment. Alternatively, in the new era of global connectivity and thirdparty solutions, they can outsource these services to providers who have already incorporated these practices in their services, and potentially operate at a lower cost. In either case, in the modern competitive world where pricing and product may not be the most important differentiator, customer service is fast becoming the most important element. And one of the most important aspects of customer service is a contact center that can expertly manage both online and voice interactions with customers. 

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