Live Chat Is Still King in Customer Satisfaction

Coming on the heels of a November 2013 customer service benchmark report, eDigitalResearch has released a follow-up study reaffirming its core finding: Live chat is the most satisfying modality for customer engagement.

The study polled 2,000, nationally representative U.K. customers about their preferences and experiences when dealing with brands over live chat, email, social media, apps, traditional mail, phone, and short message service (SMS). For those that had used live chat to contact a company in the last year (26 percent), 73 percent reported that they were "satisfied" or "very satisfied" with the experience they had. This is more or less on par with the numbers eDigitalResearch saw in November. Usage, however, is up slightly, from around 24 percent to 26 percent.

A number of other digital touch points also saw increases in usage. Email, online forms, social media, and apps all rose a few percentage points, leading eDigital researchers to conclude that, "Going forward, we are likely to witness a growing trend in customers turning to new and emerging touch points (such as live chat) first, before using more traditional channels (such as telephone and post)," the study stated.

It's interesting to note, however, that in eDigitalResearch's most recent study, use of traditional mail as a means of communication also ticked up slightly, from around 34 percent to around 36 percent. Satisfaction for carrier mail engagement similarly rose from around 50 percent to roughly 54 percent. Whether that's an outlier or part of a bigger trend is difficult to ascertain.

That said, one of the most dramatic results seen in the study, with crystal-clear implications, is a sharp rise in customer satisfaction with social media as means of customer-to-company communication in a very short window of time. Overall satisfaction scores shot up from less than 50 percent in November 2013 to 60 percent in March 2014.

Derek Eccleston, commercial director for eDigitalResearch, isn't surprised. The trends for digital touch points, particularly for live chat, make intrinsic sense.

"Consumers these days...expect to get what they want, when they want it," he writes in an email to Smart Customer Service. "Live chat provides people with the opportunity to chat...without the hassle of long automated systems or being left on hold. It also provides a less personal approach to contacting a company—especially if people are looking to make a complaint!"

The study found that when making a complaint, email was the go-to touch point, with 36 percent preferring it. Thirty percent preferred a phone call, and just 17 percent were keen to have a face-to-face encounter.

On the other hand, when leaving positive feedback, the preferred methods were 46 percent for email, 27 percent for an online form, and just 9 percent for the telephone.

Perhaps explaining this is that 32 percent of respondents found the telephone to be the most difficult modality for contacting a brand. Live chat and email were deemed easiest. People, it would seem, don't want to go out of their way to praise a brand but are willing to endure some frustration to complain to it.

With regard to social media, the firm found that 5.3 percent of engagements were to provide positive feedback, whereas less than 1 percent were to make a complaint publicly, suggesting that companies that engage online over social media open themselves up to more compliments than they do criticism.

Given these results, one would expect to see an expansion in the offering of digital touch points for customer engagement, particularly live chat. For the moment, however, eDigitalResearch doesn't have any hard numbers to that effect. Anecdotally, Eccleston says that more companies in the U.K. are beginning to offer it and he expects to see more.

"[As companies] offer this customer service route, [it] will lead to more consumers picking this option to contact companies. And given the high satisfaction rates that we've recorded, once a consumer has used live chat, they're likely to return to the touch point again and again."

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