Customers are ready for channel shift, but only on their own terms, says Aspect Software research
Acceptance of new communication methods is high, but businesses need to present clear evidence that new channels are better alternatives to older ones.
As new methods of interaction such as Web chat and chatbot-based communication in customer service become more and more commonplace, new research by Aspect Software has found two-thirds of consumers (67%) are comfortable with moving beyond traditional channels of interaction, such as telephone, in favour of more modern channels for engagement. While this should provide encouragement for businesses embracing channel shift, there is also evidence to suggest this should be done only with the very best interests of the customer in mind.
The survey, which polled 2 000 consumers from across the UK, found just under half (45%) of consumers make use of a combination of traditional and modern channels when it comes to interacting with customer service, and just over one-fifth (22%) prefer more modern methods of communication such as Web chat. However, a third (33%) still rely on traditional channels for the majority of their queries.
Commenting on the findings, Stephen Ball, Senior VP Europe & Africa at Aspect, said: "Channel shift clearly has many benefits for customer-focused organisations in terms of bringing greater efficiency and flexibility to the customer service process, and the growing acceptance of new channels means that businesses should pursue it by all means.
"However, what this research has also shown is that consumers have complex preferences when it comes to interacting with customer service, and that the desire for a choice of different channels remains prevalent. With this in mind, channel shift needs to be nuanced, and the benefits of new channels clearly communicated to customers, before any changes can be widely accepted."
When asked about how they would react if a company asked them to abandon their preferred channel in favour of a new one, this need for validation becomes even clearer. Forty-two percent of respondents said they would accept a shift to a new channel, but only if the company can provide concrete evidence that it is more effective overall than a traditional channel. Moreover, 30% said they would prefer it if organisations respected their choice of communication, rather than trying to force them into using a new method.
Ball added: "From this, it's clear that channel shift strategies can only be successful if they consider the complex needs of customers, as well as the benefits such strategies will have for the business internally. This means taking steps to comprehensively explain any changes, which should include close guidance on how to use new channels and detailed explanations of how user-friendly they are. Where possible, organisations should also be able to provide concrete proof of the success of new methods, such as examples of queries being answered faster through Web chat or online self-service."
He concluded: "Channel shift will be key to the future of customer service, but winning the hearts and minds of customers is crucial. The use of newer, more efficient channels should be encouraged, but not without dispensing with popular traditional methods entirely. Choice is important to consumers, so maintaining this wherever possible should be a priority."