How Customer Loneliness Will Become a Top Driver of Inbound Volume


Service and support leaders investing in strategies to deflect inbound volume and increase customer adoption of self-service channels might soon find their efforts thwarted by an unexpected source: lonely customers looking for human connection. Gartner predicts that by 2026, 75 percent of customers who call customer service and support organizations will do so out of loneliness, not because they have a customer service issue.

Even as technology enables faster, more frequent connections between people, social isolation is increasing globally. According to Ford's 2020 Global Trends Report, nearly half of adults worldwide (45 percent) say they feel lonely on a regular basis, with even more Gen Z-ers falling into that category (62 percent). Of Gen Z-ers who feel lonely, half feel lonely even when they're with other people. Customers are likely to fill this social need with retail and customer service experiences, using them to chat, complain about personal issues, or even leverage employees as informal therapists.

While this trend might seem innocuous, it can be emotionally draining for employees who must juggle resolving customer issues with this new responsibility to socialize.

Gartner research shows that only one in three customer service reps are engaged, with two in three either at risk of becoming disengaged or actively disengaged. Dealing with emotional customers looking to connect can be challenging and could lead to even further reductions in rep well-being. It will be difficult for reps to understand where to draw the line between treating customers well and becoming their unpaid, unofficial therapists. Leaders might even see increased attrition from service reps who are already stretched thin from the normal emotional labor they must perform when resolving issues and find these reps leaving the profession altogether to pursue non-customer-facing roles.

Since lonely customers looking to fulfill their interpersonal needs through customer service are unlikely to use self-service to resolve their issues, regardless of how well-designed the functionality is, customer service leaders will find it difficult to make progress on their priority of migrating customers to self-service.

And finally, while this trend might appear to only harm reps and the organizations that employ them, in reality, it is harmful for customers as well. Customer service reps do not have the training to provide emotional support and counseling to customers and might react in ways that further harm the customers. Customers might also become dissatisfied with reps who are not supporting their emotional needs and choose not to continue their relationship with the company.

However, certain organizations might decide to lean into this trend as a way to differentiate themselves. For example, Dutch supermarket chain Jumbo introduced 200 chat registers in its stores for customers who aren't in a hurry and want to have a chat during checkout. The initiative is meant to combat loneliness, especially in the country's elderly population.

In any case, to do right by their customers and employees, organizations must properly support their employees in either continuing or shutting down these conversations.

To prepare for this future, Gartner recommends that service and support leaders provide an empathetic service experience that protects customer service reps and customers by doing the following:

  • Using speech and sentiment analysis to identify customers who are calling because they are lonely;
  • Coaching reps on how to identify customers who are using the service interaction for emotional support and socialization rather than true issue resolution;
  • Empowering reps to empathetically exit conversations with these customers;
  • Ensuring reps have the necessary mental health or suicide prevention resources to get customers to appropriate support in extreme circumstances; and
  • Including this trend in the analysis of self-service failure points as these customers will be difficult to migrate to self-service.

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Gartner predicts that by 2026, 75 percent of customers will call customer service due to loneliness. (Featured on

Posted December 09, 2021