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Moving beyond the customer service call

May 9, 2014

A new survey finds that some 53 percent of consumers ages 18-34 prefer to use electronic media — e-mail, web chat, text or social — instead of the phone for customer support.

The survey of more than 700 consumers from HeyWire Business, a mobile messaging service, particularly explores the increased use of texting, seemingly the least-used option.

Around texts, it finds:

  • Over half of respondents — 52 percent — are likely to text with a live customer support agent;
  • The same percentage prefer texting to talking with a live customer service rep, instead of their current method of reaching customer support;
  • Around a third (31 percent) say it is important for texting to be an available support option, and 47 percent say texting could improve their overall satisfaction with customer support;
  • Almost half (49 percent) would be interested in a "text me back" feature, similar to the "call me back" feature;
  • Three-quarters would rather text with a customer support agent than correspond with them via social media.

But the overall survey finds consumers want more customer service options, with being placed on hold a widespread frustration. Over half (56 percent) indicate they have waited an hour or more to have a problem solved.

Seventy-nine percent are frustrated with their available customer support options, and 51 percent have only "low" to "fair" satisfaction with existing means of customer support communication. Eighty-nine percent indicate it is important to them to have different options (phone, email, text, chat) available for customer support.

"No one has time to wait," said Meredith Flynn-Ripley, CEO of HeyWire Business, in a statement. "Customers are expecting real-time responsiveness to their support issues and want solutions that provide immediate answers."

Discussion Questions:

Which are the most-promising electronic media options — e-mail, web chat, text or social — to support or possibly replace the customer service agent phone call? Should texting be a more widely used option?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

Which electronic media option seems best to support or possibly replace the customer service agent phone call?


While I believe Millennials prefer to text...

Seriously? "Over half (56 percent) indicate they have waited an hour or more to have a problem solved." I question results with figures like that as respondents saying anything, not reality.

I can't imagine many Millennials on hold for five minutes, much less over an hour....

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Bob Phibbs, President/CEO, The Retail Doctor

"Time is more valuable than money" ... more true today than ever before.

No one wants to wait on the phone to get an answer! In fact, long wait times in phone cues is a major source of dissatisfaction. And if you really want to anger consumers, have them wait in cue a long time, and then pass them to different service agents several times.

Today, consumers want choices as much as they want answers. There are times when talking to someone is the only answer and worth the wait. But with the increasing penetration of smartphones, consumers are looking for options to get both access and answers ... ON THEIR SCHEDULE. Text and even personalized tweets can be very effective.

The major advantage of email and text is that service can potentially transcend call center hours. The disadvantage is that these services still need to be staffed by qualified staff if hours are extended.

Bottom line: Consumers are looking for choice and answers. If a poor answer or no service is offered in a text message, it's just as bad or worse than a bad answer delivered by phone.

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Chris Petersen, PhD, President, Integrated Marketing Solutions

To the extent you can cost effectively offer more relevant customer service channels, yes. Phone based support isn't going away any time soon, but the availability of other channels like social media, text and email make it necessary to expand the lens for sure, particularly given how one unhappy customer can hurt a company's reputation by venting customer service problems in the public social square.

The key is in the "cost effective" part. In an ideal world, customers could text someone in customer support, post a Tweet referencing the company or make a comment on their Facebook page, and get a quick response and resolution. Today, this happens but not with the reliability you would expect of a formal customer service function. I sense companies hesitate to advertise the availability of alternate customer service channels simply because they are not ready; the function in social media in particular is probably most often not fully staffed and is instead an extension of the PR team's coverage.

The best approach is to take a proactive stance on customer service in other channels and implement processes to funnel these requests into a queue for response. Campbell does something like this. Make it clear to customers how support works and I think they appreciate the honesty.

It would be impossible to ensure instant response via social or text channels with manual processes and people — that cost would get passed back into the business. If you can automate the system and base it on an understanding of who is making the request and their overall interaction history, that would be ideal.

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Gib Bassett, Retail and Consumer Goods Industry Principal, Oracle

Gen Y/Mlillennials HATE talking on the telephone. Is that too much of a generalization? I don't think so. texting is their preferred method of communication ... so much so that our very language is changing to adapt to the abbreviated phrases like, "LOL", etc.

Also, I do have a bit of a challenge in the definition of this demographic in that we are lumping together older teenagers with adults well into their careers and family lives. Nevertheless, texting should be a more viable option for merchant communication. At least many sites now have text pop-ups available to chat. That's a good start.

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Ralph Jacobson, Global Retail Industry Analytics Marketing Executive, IBM

Ah... today's youth. They would prefer any electronic medium as opposed to speaking and actually using words to communicate. What are we setting this world up to become? People do not talk anymore. I am not sure I can accurately tell you the last time my daughter-in-law called as opposed to texting. But that is what today's youth have become accustomed to doing. And who made it that way for them? We did.

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Ed Rosenbaum, CEO, The Customer Service Rainmaker, Rainmaker Solutions

You don't need a survey to tell you that Millennials don't like to conduct business on the phone. They barely talk on the phone at all. This might be an advantage for retailers, though; e-communication gives them a better way to monitor the results of customer interaction, and work on service levels.

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Cathy Hotka, Principal, Cathy Hotka & Associates

Depends...really! It really depends on the demographic of your customer. Some prefer text, email, calls, etc. The phone should always be a fall-back. Regardless of the channel, the first part of customer support success is response time. The second is to make it easy. Easy may be a phone call, web-based support, chat, etc. The customer helps define the process.

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Shep Hyken, Chief Amazement Officer, Shepard Presentations, LLC

Let's break this down a bit, shall we? I took a quick survey of the most recent issues I have had to take to customer support. What I discovered is that most of them required a few quick questions and answers. Gonna waste my time sitting on the phone only to get the level 1 support person? No way!

What I'm finding is that when I do a web chat or text, the person on the other end has access to the answers. They don't transfer me around or make me open a ticket to get to the next level. BTW, I am FAR from being a Millennial.

On the other hand, I also had an issue that required a detailed explanation because it involved a series of events. In this case, I was desperate to speak to a person, but there was no way to get to one. The vendor gave no phone contact information. What did I do?

I tweeted my frustration and issue out and their twitter patrol person promptly provided me with access.

You guys know that I like to talk about "paths to purchase." Well in this case, I'm talking "paths to service." These too should be handled the same way. Map out the various paths to service that your consumers are likely to need/want then identify and put in place the best touch points.

And that's my 2 cents....

Lee Kent, Sharing Insights for Success in Retail, YourRetailAuthority

It appears that regardless of the electronic media option preferred there is a requirement for a live person. Texting requires a live person to provide a prompt response. Frustrations have to do with not connecting with a live person.

And I suppose that live person would have to be helpful and able to provide a solution.

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Joan Treistman, President, The Treistman Group LLC

Here are my issues/practices with remote (not face-to-face) customer services. I like to have fun with it.

1. I prefer chat & text so I can multitask. If I'm on hold on the phone, I'm not only chained to it, but I'm basically and inadvertently pressuring the response clerk for answers. With chat & text, I can do other things while I'm waiting for responses, and the customer service person can take the time necessary to get it right.
2. Perhaps it's my age, but I have difficulty understanding Philippine and Indian accents on the phone. With chat & text, that goes away.
3. Whether it's phone or chat & text, I always, always, give the service person flexibility regarding time. Always, always, when I'm asked to hold or wait, I respond, "Hey, you're trying to help me. Take all the time you need." It's AMAZING how that elicits positive responses. Here's one: "Thanks! No one ever said that to me before."
4. When I ask a boneheaded question that requires just a simple answer, I respond something like this: "When you go home tonight, you can tell your significant other that this was the dumbest call you got today." They love that stuff.
5. And finally, when they inevitably ask - as they are trained to do, "What else can I do for you?," I always say, "Yes, do you deliver pizza?" That always elicits a laugh, a shared desire for pizza, and a story they can tell others.

I use customer services a lot in my business and personal lives, and I've evolved in my approach. I just prefer to relax and make it easy for my suppliers to help me. And while I'll rarely encounter the same customer service folks again, at least I've planted the seed that we're not all jerks.

M. Jericho Banks PhD, President, CEO, Forensic Marketing LLC

If a company's customer support channel only serves to provide answers, chat has its advantages. It's immediate, responsive and conducive to multi-tasking for both the agent and customer.

But many companies see support as a profit center, not just a call center. And many customers want solutions, not just answers. Phone service provides the best way to serve and sell -- and for customers to be served and to buy.

Email is left out in the cold. It's slow, prone to misunderstandings, and low fidelity. Interestingly, GoDaddy announced last month it is dropping email support due to egregious NPS scores. It will retain phone and chat.

In any case, no mode of support will succeed without adequate staffing. Customers are just as livid (if not more) when waiting 30 minutes in the chat queue as they are in the phone hold queue. That is one advantage email with an average 48 hour turnaround still has -- the ability to handle demand surges and supply gaps.

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Dan Frechtling, SVP Product and Marketing, CMO, G2 Web Services

It isn't the platform, it's how service recovery is executed on the platform.

An ignored email is just as irritating as being lost in an infinite phone cue. The reason customers like these "alternative" methods is that the traditional methods for getting a response from a company rarely work well.

Now, the same company that can't handle a phone call is not too likely to do much better with digital complaints.

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Ryan Mathews, Founder, ceo, Black Monk Consulting

In my opinion, web chat is the most useful electronic media option for customer support; however, the numbers speak for themselves - text support is in. Millennials are addicted to their mobile devices, and are consummate multitaskers, and texting is a natural fit for this generation.

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Alexander Rink, CEO, 360pi

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