5 Myths Customer Service Leaders Must Dispel

Customer service and support leaders have accelerated investments in digital channels and capabilities in recent years to offer customers a better service experience while also lowering costs to the organization. Channels like virtual customer assistants (VCAs), chatbots, and mobile-based messaging are becoming staples of modern service organizations' channel portfolios. In fact, nearly two-thirds of service organizations have deployed or piloted these technologies so far. However, customer behavior and use of such channels are evolving just a rapidly as service organizations' implementation of them.

Meanwhile third-party alternatives, such as YouTube and Reddit, are increasingly influencing customers' upstream service journeys, and new competitors are raising expectations of what a good service experience looks like. Combine this with the fact that demographics continue to shift each year toward younger, more digitally native customers.

To better understand what customers want today and how they behave during customer service interactions, we surveyed more than 4,000 customers around the world, asking them how they interact with and feel about various customer service channels. Our research revealed five myths about customer behavior to which customer service and support leaders are clinging. Service organizations must understand and address these myths to realize value from their digital channel investments and deliver great service experiences to customers.

Myth 1: Customers will readily adopt and resolve using digital channels if provided and promoted.

Self-service frequently offers the quickest path to resolution for many customer issues, so leaders often assume that if self-service is available and promoted, customers will consistently choose to use it. However, customers are creatures of habit and are quick to revert to assisted channels they used in the past.

Additionally, Gartner research shows that customers routinely underestimate the time and effort required to resolve in assisted channels, which leads to avoidance and abandonment of self-service.

Myth 2: Channel switching leads to poor customer experience and customer disloyalty.

The belief is that with every channel switch, customers must invest more time and effort, which will ultimately result in frustration, lower retention, and negative word of mouth. However, customers don't mind switching channels as long as their issue is resolved in one, continuous interaction.

Our research shows that leading service organizations deliberately orchestrate customer journeys by guiding customers to the best-fit channel for their issues. When a channel switch or transfer is necessary, these organizations ensure that customers' journey context is also transferred, accelerating resolution time and reducing the likelihood of a customer abandoning or requiring a separate interaction.

Myth 3: Great service experiences leave customers feeling satisfied with the rep or service channel.

Most service organizations assume that if customers are highly satisfied by the service they receive and their journey was easy, they will want to remain as customers and choose to do more business with the organization in the future. But our research shows this is not always the case.

While a satisfying service interaction might prevent customers from leaving, it is not enough to retain them. Customers ultimately display loyalty to company products or services, not to the service experience itself. That said, service interactions can be leveraged to help customers derive more value from the products or services.

Myth 4: Proactive service eliminates the need to contact customer service, reducing call volume.

Many service organizations deploy proactive service to help anticipate and resolve customer issues before customers even know they have a problem. Service organizations believe they can head off unnecessary contacts, reducing costs, and eliminating hassle for customers.

However, our research shows that proactive service does not consistently reduce contact volume and cost, but it does improve customer experience outcomes. Proactive service is an effective strategy for improving customer loyalty, but service organizations will need to better integrate proactive service into their broader service channel strategies to manage costs.

Myth 5: Customers seek out and trust customer service channels and information above all else.

When problems arise, service leaders assume customers will instinctively reach out to customer service. However, a majority of customers view contacting customer service as the last resort. This is especially the case with millennials and Gen Z customers who increasingly turn to third-party sites, such as YouTube and Reddit, to resolve their issues. Service leaders should account for the use of search and third-party channels when developing channel strategies.

Jeff Schott is a vice president of research and advisory at Gartner.