When customers get in touch with a contact center , 40 percent expect the representative they speak with to already know about their attempts to resolve an issue through other channels, such as a Web site. That's one of the findings about customer choices in the age of multiple customer service channels in the 2012 Customer Channel Preference Survey, conducted by customer service software provider Nice Systems.
The survey, which quizzed nearly 1,200 people ages 18 to 65 in the U.S., the U.K. and Australia, found that, on average, customers are using as many as six channels to obtain answers or resolve issues with a company.
Web Site, Contact Center
Possible channels include Web site, live chat with a representative on a Web site, a Web-site based virtual assistant, online communities, live representative via phone, service kiosks, branch offices, phone, e-mail, standard mail, interactive voice response, smartphone apps, text messaging and social networks.
A Web site remains the most popular channel, with smartphone apps and social networks quickly rising in popularity. Unsurprisingly, consumers ages 18-30 are driving the use of self-service channels, while those aged 46-60 use fewer channels and, while expanding into Web and e-mail, prefer assisted channels.
The contact center is described as having a "tier 2" status, since about half of the respondents said they will try that route if they cannot find what they need on the Web site.
In the age of instantly available data, the rising expectations by customers is a big challenge for companies. NICE Chief Marketing Officer Benny Einhorn said in statement that "the empowered customer who uses more channels, more often, is in effect creating a big data challenge and opportunity for businesses." To get the most out of these interactions, he said, organizations should try to "shape the interaction as it happens" by providing a consistency across interactions and channels.
Expect 'Better Level of Service'
The survey also found that customer satisfaction by channel was not uniform across industries. For instance, only half of customers of financial services companies indicated satisfaction with a live phone representative, while as many as 81 percent of respondents in other industries found satisfaction through that channel.
The travel/hospitality and insurance sectors are increasingly using all available channels to interact with their customers, while the healthcare industry is behind in multi-channel use. Customers of financial service companies use smartphone apps more frequently than customers of other industries.
The survey noted the decreasing level of satisfaction with interactive voice response (IVR), those sometimes seemingly endless menus of phone-delivered choices. One of the biggest reasons customers use IVR -- 60 percent of respondents -- is to reach a live representative or to employ the option where a live representative returns the call.
Brad Shimmin, an analyst with industry research firm Current Analysis, said customers' growing expectations about the information companies should have on hand, across channels, was something "even large companies are struggling with."
Customers' expectations, he said, are driven by the belief that "they've given up a certain level of privacy to their information and, in return, they expect a better level of service" across channels.
Based in Ra'anana, Israel, Nice Systems provides solutions for the enterprise and security sectors in three main areas -- improving business performance , decreasing financial risk, and enhancing safety and security. For enterprises, its products offer customer interaction management solutions.