THE STATS SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES (cont’d)

A Look at Some Critical Customer Service Statistics

 

The Phone Call Refuses To Go Away

One phenomenon I find most interesting is the way a new media form always cannibalises the one preceding it. It seems we all have that bit of childhood in us that makes us want to do away with the old toy whenever we are given a new one.

From the messenger pigeons of days gone by through to the advent of the printing press giving rise to newspapers and magazines all through to our current love story with the Internet, we have always been fascinated by the newest media form.

Newspapers suffered when radio came on to the stage. Interestingly, newsprint is still suffering as it is daily being eaten up by radio and television. How many people will buy a newspaper when a morning show host gives listeners details of all the stories in that morning’s papers?

This tendency to leave the old for the new is not only restricted to communicating with the masses. The introduction of new media forms, especially as related to the Internet has greatly affected how we consume our news. The numbers that would watch television for news have reduced greatly as people get the news in real time over the Internet on their handheld devices. The Internet, indeed, has also taken away a lot of consumers from the main electronic media. With every new technology we tend to let go of the old means of reaching out to one another.

Naturally, we follow the same pattern in our interpersonal communications—a game which totally changed with the birth of that animal called Social Media. That ability to create and share content to a vast number of people at the same time has totally revolutionise the way we not only contact each other but even the way we consume information.

In an August 2016 survey conducted by New York City-based provider of customer service software for social media, Conversocial, it was revealed that more than half of the respondents—specifically 54.4%, “preferred new messaging channels – such as SMS, Facebook Messenger, Twitter, and WhatsApp – as their primary form of communication with brands over legacy channels such as email, phone, and web chat.”

A year earlier in 2015, a study by cloud service provider, NewVoiceMedia gave results that were in contrast to that of Conversocial. When asked what was their preferred method of communication with a business, as high as 58% of respondents preferred “a phone call as their primary method of communication with a business, followed by email at 30 percent.”

When one places these two studies side by side, it is clear that there is a distinct line between the preferred means of communications by customers. On one side of this divide are all the latest forms of media and on the other side is the almighty phone call.

It seems that no matter the latest medium of communication that arises, our use of the telephone to makes calls hardly wanes. We love our phones—and now that we can take them anywhere and do so many other things with them our love for our phones have grown in leaps and bounds. On our phones we can check what time of the day it is, what date of the month, find out what the temperature is and even find out what the weather would be like in another city three days ahead.

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There are a number of reasons why the phone call refuses to go away. One of these is the fact that the phone call is much more direct and therefore can get results faster than other means of communication. A research published in the July-August 2010 edition of the Harvard Business Review (HBR) indicated that “2.4 e-mails, on average, are needed to resolve an issue, compared with 1.7 calls.”

As a matter of fact, individuals who used newer media such as websites will eventually resort to the use of the phone after a while. The 2010 HBR research found that 57% of all incoming calls came from individuals who had first visited the websites of the brands they were calling. According to the 2015 NewVoiceMedia, 70 percent of those they surveyed “believe calls are the quickest way to resolve an issue, while 18 percent think email. Social media channels were selected by 5 percent of respondents.”

It is a fact that usage of new means of communication has a lot to do with whether the user is able to read and write. In our part of the world, where literacy levels are not too high, I want to believe that the figures for the usage of voice or phone calls by customers when contacting organisations would be far higher. Even with text-heavy platforms such as WhatsApp, they are many individuals who would still prefer to record and send a voice message rather than type that same message. Also the limit in the number of words that one can type on certain new media platforms makes the phone call much more attractive to certain customers.

When of the most interesting studies done on why customers prefer to make direct calls as compared to other means of reaching out to organisations was the 2012 research report prepared for American Express and conducted by Echo Research between February 22 and 29, 2012. That study found that more customers resorted to phone calls as a means of sorting out issues with organisations as the issues got more complicated.

If the issue is as basic as finding the direction to the location of the organisation, customers would prefer to just the company’s website. Customers would even use Google maps to find the location. If the customer has Internet banking and he or she wants to just check his or her account balance, the one would just check from the Net without placing a call to the bank. For such basic enquiries, 38% of customers preferred using the company’s website or even an email message. This is compared to 16% who prefer to a talk to a real person over the phone.

However, when it came to a more complicated issue such as returning a product, the numbers move in favour of speaking directly to a person over the phone. In that case, 15% will use the company’s website or email to reach out to the company while 38% prefer to call the company directly. Those who would prefer to go to the office for a face-to-face discussion (24%) are even more than those who would use the company’s website or email to state their case.

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The figures even get higher when the issue is as complicated as lodging a serious complaint or disputing something. In that scenario, “almost half of customers (46%) prefer speaking with a ‘real’ person on the phone, 30% prefer a face to face interaction, and 9% prefer a company website or email.”

Evidently, when the issue is serious, customers would want someone that they can hold responsible for solving the issue. That is an immediate advantage you can get with a phone call. Also when the issue is more complicated the customer is better off explaining it to the customer-handling professional in words so that the one can understand the situation. There is just so much that putting one’s thoughts into writing can do. Expressing your thoughts in your own words has a better chance of getting you the desired results. Your emotions come out the more forcefully in words than in text. For these and many other reasons, the simple phone call refuses to go away.

With all that usage of the phone call, it comes as no surprise that the phone call also has a number of challenges. A November 2015 study carried out by Phoenix, Arizona-based leading enterprise cloud contact centre and workforce optimization solution, Aspect found out that the phone was the most frustrating customer service channel. Nearly one-third, i.e. 32% of customers claimed the phone was the most frustrating compared to 15% of customers who said the websites of organisations were the most frustrating.

I guess it is a case of “to whom much is given, much is expected.” Customers have so much hope in getting results from the telephone that the slightest hitch makes them very frustrated. Issues such as the phone ringing for so long without anyone picking it and cases where customers are put on hold “forever” increases the customer’s frustration. Sometimes, the call goes through but the line is so bad that the customer’s frustrations compound.

The issues with phone calls are numerous. However, the ongoing discussion should make it abundantly clear that businesses cannot take the phone call for granted. Businesses must put structures and systems in place to ensure that when that phone call comes through, the service provided is nothing short of exceptional. “Telephonetiquettes” must be on top of the agenda for every organisation that intends to endear itself to its customers.

“Mr. Watson–come here–I want to see you.” Ever since those first words were spoken by Alexander Graham Bell to Thomas Watson, his assistant at the time, over the first phone lines, interpersonal communication has never been the same again. With all the advancement in information communication technology, the need to hear the voice of another person, no matter how far the one is, is something we cannot live without. It is true that the telephone has its challenges but so do the other means of communication. No matter how annoying or frustrating its usage may be, it is evident that the phone call as a means of communication from customers to organisations, is here to stay. The stats are there to back this.

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