Get Self-Service Right or Risk Losing Customers

Many consumers avoid using speech automated systems when calling customer call centres and prefer to use the Internet as their first port of call. In fact, one-third of consumers surveyed struggle to see any benefits to using an automated contact centre service, representing a rise on last year’s figures. Most consumers also believe companies only use automated services in their contact centres to save money. Furthermore, two in five people claim they are unhappy with the automated systems’ ability to deal with queries.

These are some of the highlights of the 2009 Alignment Index for Speech Self-Service report released today by Dimension Data, the $4.5 billion specialist IT services and solution provider, in conjunction with Cisco, and Microsoft subsidiary, Tellme Networks Inc.

The report, which compares and measures consumer, vendor and enterprise perceptions of speech systems, reveals that of 2000 consumers polled across six countries* some 40% – up from 36% in 2008 – said they avoid using speech systems “whenever possible”, while 50% said they use the Internet as their first choice for interacting with a business or organisation.

And with only 25% of consumers saying they would be happy to use speech solutions again, organisations are not winning their hearts and minds.

Martin Dove, Dimension Data’s global managing director for Customer Interactive Solutions, says there’s a disconnect between why companies install speech self-service solutions, and the value that consumers experience.

“There’s no doubt that organisations have turned to speech automation in a move to save money. However, nearly half of the organisations we surveyed said they had a genuine desire to improve the service they provide to their customers using speech recognition systems.”

Dove believes that organisations using speech recognition systems should ensure their design makes a positive difference to their customers. “Understanding customer needs, and what increases their levels of satisfaction is what makes this research important.”

“The research tells us that 40% of consumers prefer to use traditional touchtone services rather than systems which require them to verbally answer a series of questions. On the positive side, we are seeing that where the system is designed with the customer in mind, satisfaction levels are high.” explains Dove.

When using automated systems, over a third of consumers that were polled are most frustrated when a human agent requests they repeat themselves after they’ve already provided information to the automated system. And 19% of consumers say that they are most annoyed when the system doesn’t recognise what they’ve said.

On the other hand, companies that have deployed speech recognition are fairly optimistic about the long-term viability of such systems for customer service. They believe the path to improving customer satisfaction with speech recognition lies in making it easier for consumers to use the systems

Looking at consumer behaviours, the report statistics indicate that attitudes toward customer service among the younger age groups are changing. Over half of consumers between the ages 16 and 34 use an online channel for their customer service needs, and this will continue to place more pressure on companies to design customer service solutions that provide choice, accuracy and speed.

“Over half of young consumers use the Internet as their first port of call when it comes to customer service. Compare this to just over a third of consumers over the age of 50, and it’s clear why demographics are critical to understanding how to design solutions to be more effective,” adds Dove.

Compared to results of the 2008 Alignment Index for Speech Self-Service, Dove says this year’s statistics confirm that companies are not inspiring confidence in the minds of consumers when it comes to the use of automated speech recognition systems.

“With only a quarter of consumers saying they would be happy to use a speech recognition solution again – a significant drop on last year when the figure was over one third – if organisations continue to ignore customer needs when designing speech recognition services, consumers will choose to turn to other means of communication. Even worse – they’ll choose another company to deal with.”