ICMI Report: What Customers Really Want

According to the USAN-sponsored report by the International Customer Management Institute (ICMI), “Extreme Engagement in the Multichannel Contact Center,” when it comes to receiving service, not surprisingly a plurality of customers (38 percent) ranked “speaking directly to a phone agent” as their top preference.

What came in second? It was web self-service, at just over 28 percent. All other options – email, automated IVR (interactive voice response), communicating directly with a chat agent, self-service from a mobile device, social media and text messaging – did not even register in the double digits.

So, why is the low-tech, real-voice telephone conversation with a live agent still so popular? Also, does that higher preference relegate emerging multichannel customer options (i.e., social media, mobile, smartphone apps, etc.) to passing fads?

The answer to the former – the popularity of talking to a real person – is obvious: Customers prefer talking to and interacting with a “real person.”  They feel that their query is resolved more quickly and that they can quickly get the information they need to solve the problem on their own.

The answer to the latter – are social media and mobile app multi-channels just a passing fad? – according to ICMI is this:

“So while it’s clear that consumers believe phone calls are faster and conceivably more empowering than other channels, phone support alone isn’t the answer to increasing support efficiency.”

The other answers lie in the survey respondents’ second preferred choice — self-service on a website. That preference shows that self-service can often “outshine live agent assistance.”

So that leads to another important question: What impact does self-service have on customers? Respondents judged that self-service has the following significant impact on the following call center primary mission areas.

  Significant Impact Some Impact No Impact
Quicker Response Time 45.2% 36.0% 18.7%
Increased First Contact-Resolution 42.6% 36.3% 21.1%
Increased Customer Satisfaction 37.0% 44.2% 18.8%
Greater Customer Loyalty 33.9% 43.2% 22.9%

What about the impact of mobile and social media?

The survey questions were (1) What impact does the mobile channel have on your customers?; and (2) What impact does the social media channel have on your customers?  The statistical charts on page 8 of this 30-page report showed a response tendency skewed more towards “Some Impact” category in almost every area of call center primary mission categories described above.

Mobile and social media channels aren’t there yet

The report points out that, “as a present norm” customers are experiencing rather inconsistent service from emerging channels:

“For example, they may get amazing service through social [channels] from Company A, but are then completely ignored on Twitter by Company B. Similarly, Company A consistently delivers top-tier support through social, but then provides a horrid mobile customer experience.”

The previous, all-too-common examples are driving contact centers toward encouraging customers to return to the traditional phone, chat and email, “because the expectations are set, the rules are in place, and the anticipated experience is usually met.”

The “new quandary”

When the multichannel experience doesn’t pan out for the customer, the result is more volume for the contact center. If the result of that volume is increased customer dissatisfaction, those customers quickly vent on social media, requiring an escalating response by the contact center. This all leads to a scenario of frustration and missed opportunities to resolve the customer’s problem in one transaction.

So what’s the answer?

It might seem obvious that the best bet would be to rely solely on traditional phone contacts as the channel of choice. In fact, over 93 percent of survey respondents said they would still be satisfied as a customer if they were not offered the customer service channel they preferred.

Not so fast, though. Over 93 percent, reported that they would be more satisfied if they were offered their channel choice. And here’s the kicker: 48.8 percent said they would “be willing to move to a competitor for a product or service if all other things were equal” and if they “were offered customer service through their preferred channel.”

The report concludes:

“With all that said, it becomes increasingly clear that phone support, as with all the traditional channels, is just a component of a much greater and powerful multichannel strategy.”

Download the complete report here.