Customers Turn to Self-Service as Their First Point of Contact

All customers want from their customer service interactions are accurate, relevant, and complete answers to their questions upon first contact so they can get back to what they were doing before the issue arose.

Forrester data backs this up: In our December 2015 "Customer Lifecycle Survey," we found that 53 percent of U.S. online adults are likely to abandon their online purchases if they can't find quick answers to their questions. Seventy-three percent say that valuing their time is the most important thing companies can do to provide them with good online customer service. We also found that older customers are just as, if not more, intolerant to friction in their customer service interactions as younger consumers.

Customer service organizations have to deliver easy and effective service. If they don't, customers will churn away from the brand and voice their dissatisfaction, which can get rapidly amplified in the world of social media. If organizations can deliver this type of service, customer satisfaction is boosted, which increases loyalty, customer lifetime value, and advocacy. Additionally, companies that deliver this type of service also realize lower operational costs; it minimizes handle times and recontacts and maximizes first-contact resolutions.

Customers increasingly leverage self- service and digital channels for customer service because these channels offer the least amount of interaction friction. Here are some of our key findings from our recent survey:

  • Web and mobile self-service interactions overtake all other channels. For the second year running, survey respondents reported using Web or mobile self-service more than speaking with agents over the phone. Web self-service use increased from 67 percent in 2012 to 76 percent in 2014.
  • Other self-service channels are also on the rise. We see a rise in adoption across all self-service communication channels, not just Web or mobile self-service. Online forums/communities use jumped from 31 percent in 2012 to 56 percent in 2015; virtual agent use jumped from 28 percent in 2012 to 58 percent in 2015; and this year, respondents report using speech self-service 55 percent of the time.
  • Web chat will grow because it provides a low-friction channel to interact with agents. Online chat adoption among customers has significantly risen in the past few years, from 38 percent in 2009 to 43 percent in 2012 to 65 percent in 2015. Chat offers many benefits to the customer. Organizations can quickly connect customers to the agents with the right skills to answer their questions without having to navigate arduous IVRs; questions can be succinctly resolved in near real time; and agents can leverage customer behavior on the Web site to move conversations forward instead of rediscovering information that has already been communicated to the customer.
  • Voice will increasingly evolve to be an escalation, not a primary service channel. Phone use for customer service has steadily decreased in the past six years, and we predict it will dip even further as customers increasingly adopt digital channels. Today, customers resolve straight-forward customer service interactions via self- service, leaving complex issues like account closure, booking a complex multi-city set of flights, or an explanation of smart metering billing policies for phone conversations. These questions often take longer to resolve and are opportunities to build positive customer relationships with an end-goal of increased customer loyalty. They also demand a higher caliber of agent for effective issue resolution.

Contact centers should keep these statistics in mind when modernizing their operations. Here are some other recommendations:

  • Contact centers must deploy digital channels in proportion to their use. Consumers are increasingly using digital channels. Contact centers must deploy these channels and adopt best practices for optimal customer satisfaction. They should also focus on integrating communication channels to support customers starting interactions on one channel and continuing them on other channels without needing to restart the conversation.
  • Contact centers must invest in knowledge management. Customers expect complete answers to their questions, delivered consistently across communication channels. Most companies have basic FAQs on their sites, and customers report high satisfaction with these FAQs. Contact centers should also empower their agents with agent-facing knowledge management solutions. This will allow them to easily access the content they need to reliably answer customer questions, improving quality of service.
  • Companies must train contact center agents to manage omnichannel inquiries. Contact centers must shift agent resources in real time between communication channels to optimally align with incoming contact volume. For example, if chat and phone volumes spike as a result of a promotion or a service alert, contact center managers must be able to shift email agents to these real-time channels.
  • Contact centers must invest in the basics to deliver quality care. Contact centers must empower agents to deliver personalized service. They must monitor the quality of care delivered or use these insights to recommend targeted coaching to address performance gaps. They must use computer telephony integration (CTI) to display customer information on agents' screens to deliver personalized care.

Kate Leggett is a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research.

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