Enterprises have been warming to digital transformation, but it’s crucial that they maintain a human element in their customer interactions, according to a study Verint published last week.
Researchers surveyed more than 24,000 consumers and 1,000 businesses across 12 countries for the study, which received support from Opinium Research and IDC.
Among its findings:
- 80 percent of respondents prefer human customer service interactions to digital ones;
- 83 percent believe that speaking to a customer service rep on the phone or in-store always will be important;
- 79 percent of consumers prefer the human touch to remain a part of customer service when engaging with brands and service providers;
- 68 percent of consumers believe they’re more likely to negotiate a better deal in person than online;
- The more complex the customer service request, the greater the reliance on human interaction — 34 percent of customers prefer to go in-store for complex inquiries and another 33 percent prefer to connect by phone; and
- 18 percent of respondents would renew products or services even if they weren’t the least expensive option because of good consumer service in-store or on the phone; only 13 percent would do so after receiving good customer service on digital channels.
Businesses are planning to invest most in live chat and mobile apps and least in branch and phone contact, the survey also found.
Organizations have to balance digital and human customer engagement to thrive and survive, but finding the digital tipping point is a complex task fraught with hazards.
“People like to connect with people,” said Dave Capuano, global vice president of integrated marketing at Verint.
Finding the right balance won’t be easy, he told CRM Buyer. “This is where leveraging the voice of the customer comes in — using it as a mechanism to understand what their experiences and expectations are. That will vary based on who they are.”
Finding the Way
Organizations “need the ability to understand the customer journey if they want to make smart decisions and respond accordingly,” Capuano remarked.
A customer “may start with self-service but know they want to connect with a person to complete their interaction,” he said. “For enterprises, understanding that expectation and journey is key.”
Some companies have been successful at integrating AI into their service operations, and it’s certain that more will go that route.
However, those that don’t give customers human alternatives “risk vocal and viral hits to their brand,” warned Rebecca Wettemann, a VP of research at Nucleus Research.
The most successful service organizations will adopt a tiered service model and leverage AI both to improve the ability of human agents and to address Tier 1 — high-volume, low complexity — service requests directly, Wettemann told CRM Buyer.
“There’s a lot left unsaid here, and I’m not sure the methodology used in the survey was valid,” said Denis Pombriant, managing principal at Beagle Research. “What’s the demographic breakdown of this survey?”
People using and advocating for human touch are Baby Boomers, he suggested.
“Younger people prefer using phones for their Internet access capability to track down answers or to access self-help videos,” Pombriant told CRM Buyer.
“Notably absent in this is any discussion of customer moments of truth,” he pointed out, referring to “a time when the customer has a legitimate right to expect some form of action from a vendor.”
The survey is applicable to “product companies selling something through a single transaction, as opposed to a subscription company selling service by the month,” Pombriant said. “In general, subscription vendors have no trouble with service; they make themselves always available for good reason.”
Traditional companies “need to adopt some of the subscription vendors’ attitudes towards service, because the customer has been trained to expect a higher level,” he suggested, as customers go where they are treated best.
Human interaction will continue “for a long time to come, whether it’s dealing with complex issues or customer preference,” noted Capuano. “Businesses get in trouble when they try to force a customer to engage in a way they don’t want.”