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Customer Preference: Web Self-Service or Live Agents?

Despite the growth of self-service websites and a plethora of new consumer communications channels, customers still want the option of speaking to a real person in a contact center, according to a new survey conducted by British Telecom (BT) and Avaya. But as consumer queries become more complicated and the number of channels they want to be able to use become more plentiful, many organizations are struggling to keep up with the new demands placed on their contact centers.

The research, “The Autonomous Customer,” shows that an overwhelming 90 percent of smartphone owners still expect to use contact centers in the future. Meanwhile, more than half (56 percent) of those surveyed think the subjects of their calls are becoming more complicated as the vast majority (81 percent) of them do their initial engagement with organizations online.With the recent explosion in communication channels available for people to contact companies, almost two thirds (60 percent) of the people surveyed admitted they regularly change and mix the channels they use. However, given that wealth of choice, even the most connected generation of consumers see a call as the most obvious way of resolving an issue, particularly when it comes to complex queries.When it comes to managing these queries, many organizations are still falling short of the mark. Despite a massive 86 percent of consumers saying a good experience on the phone will make them more loyal, more than two thirds (69 percent) said they felt that agents try to rush their calls to an early conclusion. Worse still, an astonishing 90 percent of high-earning consumers said they were subjected to suggestions that they might be better off trying the Web site.

Andrew Small, global head of customer relationship management, BT Global Services, said, “For many consumers, calling the contact center is the favored way to resolve the most complicated queries. The vast majority of people have used the Internet to do their own research first, so by the time they pick up the phone, the organization they’re calling is either close to a sale or close to a fail.”“This survey shows how vital it is for contact centers to have a pool of highly-trained agents who are capable of solving complex issues,” said Small. “By connecting these agents with the latest social media and unified communications tools, contact centers can share their knowledge across multiple sites – including homeworkers – to create ‘networked experts’ who are much more able to satisfy inquiries from increasingly demanding customers.”

Supporting those arguments about convenience, the survey showed that 83 percent of people tend to buy more from companies that make things easier; while 44 percent said convenience was more important than price. Perhaps not surprisingly, three quarters (76 percent) of consumers said a free phone number would go down very well indeed.Gary Bennett, BT account director, Avaya, said the research is in line with what Avaya customers most frequently require from a technology provider.

“Consumers expect resolution to simple tasks often without the need for two-way communication – a self-service approach,” said Bennett. “But when there is a critical element to the contact – the ‘sale or fail’ scenarios – the customer’s choice of communications channel is critical, and companies have to be ready to communicate with their customers via any channel they choose. This requires more complex communications systems, but by adopting a multichannel communications strategy, organizations can easily tap relevant experts and bring them into complex queries. The result is that customers get agents who truly see their entire picture, and can respond to them in the manner they’ve chosen. That’s true customer service.”

The survey also highlighted the importance of consistency and flexibility across different communication channels with 60 percent of respondents liking the idea of speaking to exactly the same agent by email and telephone. Technology clearly has a key role to play, and 74 percent were irritated at having to repeat identity details when they had already keyed them in, whereas almost half (48 percent) liked the idea of using speech recognition to identify them by their voice.

Originally posted at: http://voice-of-the-customer.tmcnet.com/topics/voice-of-the-customer/articles/147386-customer-preference-web-self-service-live-agents.htm

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