Tweeting may be cool, but the phone will always rule

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Kcom has announced the results of research into the future of UK customer service. The study revealed that despite a predicted growth in consumers use of digital channels (0% currently, growing to 9% in 2016), the phone will continue to be the dominant method of interaction with organisations (73% currently, 49% in 2016).

The joint research with the Customer Contact Association (CCA) which aimed to identify trends in customer service for the next five years also found that, whilst consumers will increasingly use digital channels to make complaints, they will continue to pick up the phone to make purchases.

The CCA and Kcom study demonstrated how important providing a personalised interaction is to consumers. Respondents cited two priorities for service improvements – speed of call resolution (86%) and effective call routing to an agent with the right knowledge (73%).

Technologies such as automatic voice recognition offer a cost-effective solution to personalising service without adding to staffing costs. This can enable businesses to segment customers and improve service levels as well as increasing the opportunities to upsell services and products and drive business value.

”The reality facing organisations is that you can’t be everything to everyone. New digital channels are emerging, and while consumers are starting to use them, the telephone is still the main method of communication and will continue to be for the foreseeable future” commented Mark Pritchard, Business Development Manager of Contact Centres at Kcom, “Automation technologies can help contact centre managers to segment their customers and tailor the service they deliver, thus improving the overall customer experience and increasing retention rates.”

The range of ways customers want to communicate with a brand, their desire for a personalised service, particularly in the current economic environment, means contact centre operators face the challenge of doing more with less. Contact centre operators reported a reduction in budgets of up to 20% compared to 2008 levels, making it impossible to provide a wholly bespoke experience to each customer. Budget constraints have been further exacerbated by the growth in the number of interactive channels which brands are required to monitor and respond to.

“The challenge of meeting customer expectations continues to grow and contact centre owners will be forced to make some tough choices in the coming months and years. Automation can significantly reduce the cost of servicing customer enquiries, but it must be applied intelligently in order to realise its true potential and demonstrate value to the customer,” said Pritchard.

Thorough understanding of the customer base as well as analysis of the nature of inbound enquiries means that the consumer’s expectations can be more easily met. For example, in the case of low value simple transactions, the whole process can be automated and sped up dramatically rather than callers queuing to speak to someone.

Speech recognition technology can also be used, not just to replace live calls, but to analyse conversations as they happen. Agents can then be alerted if there are a lot of calls occurring due to product faults, for example. This kind of analysis will enable organisations to ensure that product offers, pricing and service levels remain in line with customer expectations.

“This research shows that man plus machine is the most effective way of driving customer service standards up. The organisations that take this in to account will reap the rewards both in terms of operating costs and improved service” continues Mark.

“The next five years in customer service will be driven by the desire to personalise the customer experience and improve satisfaction. Technologies such as data analytics and automation will play a substantial role in supporting this objective.” concluded Pritchard, “Whilst many organisations will be tempted to diversify the channels by which customers are able to contact them, the phone will remain the primary method of contact and investment should reflect this.”

The study also showed that contact centre performance is considerably better than the public and media perception would suggest. CCA Customer Experience Council benchmarks show that average customer satisfaction is 84% based on 467 million calls across nearly 40 CCA member organisations. Abandonment rates are down to 5%, and first contact resolution is as high as 83%.

“The work which we’ve undertaken with Kcom demonstrates that while there is an ever growing variety of communication channels between organisations and their customers, the phone will remain the primary method of interaction for some time to come. Technologies such as voice recognition will undoubtedly play a huge part in improving customer service in UK contact centres” said Anne Marie Forsyth, Chief Executive, CCA.

Forsyth continues, “The reality is customers want service to be simpler and slicker, whilst organisations struggle with the complexity of managing multiple contact points. Successful organisations in the future will provide the right blend of self serve and conversation supported by good technologies that can provide quick and easy access to knowledge workers. The skills required to manage this growing complexity, often on a global scale, will be essential for success in an increasingly competitive market place.”