Web Self-Service Surpasses Phone in Customer Service Channel Preference, Forrester Finds

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The phone has long been the preferred route for customers seeking support, but in 2014, Web self-service dethroned the channel from its top position. According to a new report from Forrester, consumers now rely on self-service more than they rely on phone calls, with Web self-service use rising from 67 percent in 2012 to 76 percent in 2014. The phone, on the other hand, has remained stagnant at 73 percent during the same span of time.

Consumers' growing self-reliance is a positive development for both companies and customers themselves. "Delivering service efficiently and in line with expectations satisfies customers. Companies are satisfied because costs are contained as this type of service minimizes handle times and customer recontacts and maximizes first-contact resolutions," the report states. Yet despite its promising potential, Web self-service requires some getting used to, especially for organizations that are stuck in traditional customer support ecosystems. Many are not ready to deliver service effectively across digital channels--only 36 percent have implemented multichannel integration and just 30 percent train their agents to support multiple channels.

"It's less effective to have agents focus on just one channel," Kate Leggett, Forrester analyst and report coauthor, says. "That doesn't mean that agents need to be responding to all channels at once, but it's important for them to be able to switch between chat and email, for example, when it's necessary. You want to be able to have agents that are trained on many channels so that if there's a huge volume on one of them, they can move to it," she adds.

Contact centers are facing other challenges as they transition into a new, self-service-driven business model as well. When it comes to delivering support via chat and social media, for example, companies aren't deploying a proportional amount of resources to meet demand, Leggett says. Two-thirds of contact centers offer chat support, and more than half provide service through social media, but those percentages should be higher, she explains. When these services are available, customers respond favorably--only 10 percent of chat users and 25 percent of Twitter users are dissatisfied with the support functionality of these channels.

Though satisfaction rates are relatively high, Leggett says there's still work to do, especially on the social front. "It's not that it's an emerging channel anymore. It's definitely a channel that's here to stay, but a lot of companies are not adopting best practices yet," she says.

To deliver the level of support that customers now expect, organizations must empower agents with more context relating to customer journeys, better content, and standardized tools. While customers prefer to use self-service tools to handle most issues, many still rely on phone support for complex questions, or problems that remain unresolved after they attempt to handle them independently. But one of the biggest frustrations that customers consistently express is having to repeat their question or explain their situation on multiple occasions or to multiple representatives. Seventy-seven percent of customers say that valuing their time is the single most important thing that a customer support team can do, so ensuring that agents have access to customers' entire journeys is critical.

"We're seeing very few implementations that pass the context to the agent. Most companies implement channels in silos or loosely integrate them so the agent doesn't know what the customer has already done," Leggett explains. And this isn't a technological challenge--the technology is already available, but 


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