Digital Customer Service Is the Future, But Don't Get Rid of the Phone Just Yet

In the increasingly digital-first environment, some businesses have been tempted to eliminate traditional phone support altogether, relying entirely on online chat. After all, more than 80 percent of customers are already on or near a screen when they begin their customer service journeys. Frontier Airlines is one company that recently stopped answering the phone, generating a lot of buzz in the process.

While cutting the phone lines might seem like the natural progression, it is important to remember the power of customer choice and the value of live human connection. Phones are still ringing, meaning clearly that some customers still prefer calling. Doing away with the phone channel entirely is a risky move that is likely to end with dissatisfied customers and a loss of loyalty. The phone lines should stay open because voice has its strengths for some issues, it is still favored by many, and if integrated with digital, can be part of a modern, efficient call center.&

Voice is King When It Comes to Complex Issues.

Customers are continuing to embrace and even favor digital communication channels. Text-based online chat, for instance, is useful and convenient for answering common questions, such as "What's my balance?" or "What are your branch hours?" and remedying simple issues. Relying solely on either live or automated chat for customer service is not always ideal for more complex situations.

Complicated issues often need to be contextualized, which can be challenging via text-based communication. Responses often flow more naturally through a phone conversation, and the ability to address and counter issues in real time expedites the interaction. Such prompt resolution can lead to more fulfilled representatives and satisfied customers.

Humanizing the user experience through a call center service offering, an easy, recognizable channel, is also essential to easing customer anxiety. In a study by Harvard Business School, it was discovered that providing the choice to speak to a real person when faced with a complication alleviates user stress and boosts brand reputation.

Additional Communication Channels Are Always Necessary.

Relying on a single customer service channel, such as online chat, to engage with users not only limits choice but also eliminates the customer service safety net. Website or app downtime can occur, and sometimes customers find a phone call easier. Consider a customer using hands-free calling to resolve an issue during commute time or during a long trip.

The inability to engage with the organization becomes even more problematic when a customer is trying to reach out about sensitive or timely issues, such as potential fraud. Regardless of the severity of the scenario, not being able to connect with customer service can create a frustrated, stressed, and ultimately dissatisfied customer.

To mitigate such risks, businesses must maintain a secondary means of customer support, such as phone lines, in the event of an emergency or platform malfunction. Phone lines are a more established, reliable communication channel that can be leveraged even if digital options fail.

Multiple Channel Options Deliver One Seamless Experience.

Understanding that many customers still prefer to call, at least on some occasions, the challenge is to integrate the call center with digital channels for one seamless experience. Starting in chat, for example, and being asked to call the toll-free number, only to start all over creates a digital disconnect. It drives up the abandonment rate and drastically lowers customer satisfaction. And it's inefficient, creating yet another interaction for the call center to handle. Allowing customers to transition from chat to voice or video within the same interaction maintains the connection and delivers a far better experience while maintaining efficiency.

For customers starting with a call, the ability to add digital context can accelerate resolution and improve the customer experience. If a caller is near a screen, such as a laptop or mobile device, the representative can use co-browsing to share and guide the customer online while maintaining the phone connection. No digital disconnect and no starting all over.

Companies should prioritize seamless connections across all channels to improve customer service, and for many that starts with better integration of the call center and digital channels. Rather than bolting digital options to the traditional call center phone system, consider aligning the call center to a digital-first approach. In addition to a seamless customer experience, an integrated platform that includes the call center and digital channels can provide significant management, staffing, and reporting efficiencies.

The longevity of the customer relationship hinges on the customer service team's support—or lack thereof. While digital channels deliver efficiency and convenience, the right phone support strategy maintains that efficiency and convenience in a highly personalized channel that many consumers still prefer. Businesses that not only commit to maintaining but also modernizing their call centers will be well-positioned to strengthen customer relationships and grow.

Jay Choi is chief product officer of Glia.