These are the channels your customers prefer

Published on 30/04/2021 in Tech, tips & tricks

These are the channels your customers prefer

Telephone, e-mail, chat or face to face: which channels should you use for your customer contacts? Every two years, The House of Contact Centers surveys this in Belgium. Their findings are surprising, especially in these digital times.

The telephone is dead, long live the telephone

It has been said for years that the telephone is on its last legs as a means of communication. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Maybe that works as an eye-catching statement. But Inge Vissers and David Gybels of The House of Contact Centers know exactly what they are talking about thanks to their bi-annual surveys of customers' channel preferences.

Independent research among Belgian customers

David Gybels: "It almost feels as if the market research surveys by renowned agencies about channel preferences are sponsored. As an independent player, we regularly raise our eyebrows, because these figures do not reflect reality.”

"In our own surveys, we put 66 specific, real-life situations in 22 business sectors to consumers. Per sector, one situation in the market research phase, one in the sales phase and one in the after-sales phase that customers go through. It is a success, as many Belgian companies refer to our reports.”

Your customer determines the channel, not you

Inge Vissers: “What we see? Your customer will use different channels depending on their question. For example, when buying a large electrical appliance or taking out insurance, we prefer physical contact. When asking questions about our phone or energy bills, or to find out when our new car will be delivered, we prefer to use the phone.”

What is striking about this:

  • We prefer physical and phone contact for financial questions or other more sensitive questions. Then we want immediate action.
  • E-mail is not really our preferred channel for anything, we use it equally in almost every situation.
  • Chat is only a preferred channel for simple questions about products, orders and deliveries.
  • Something to remember: the interactive voice response (IVR) menu generates a lot of irritation.

This is how long your customers are happy to wait

How quickly should you respond? "In our survey, we ask when customers are pleasantly surprised and how quickly they become irritated. On the phone, we are prepared to wait an average of 45 seconds. Via e-mail we expect an answer within five hours, via chat within 1.5 minutes.”

Quality more important than speed

"You need to realize that the quality of the contact, determined by the friendliness and competence of your employees, has a greater impact on the perception of that waiting time than the speed with which you answer.”

Belgians like traditional channels

Over the last four years, the share of distance (a.k.a. remote) channels has increased slowly from 55% to 71%. But the so-called revolution in channel preferences? There is absolutely no question of one. "It is more of an evolution, a step-by-step shift or trend.

"Among distance channels, the telephone is and remains the most popular with 36%, even among young people. This is followed by searches on your website and e-mail. Even together, all forms of chat still only reach 5%. Physical contact goes down year on year.”

When do your customers choose which channel?

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Contact centers: becoming more important

"A recent survey of companies around contact centers and sustainability where I ran the project confirms this," said Gybels. "Seventy-five percent say that the importance of their contact center has increased.” That survey was carried out by trainees from the Thomas More University College on the initiative of BNC.

"The slow evolution has actually exploded in the past corona year. Customers now work at home and have more time to contact you. They want you to make more effort to be accessible, preferably through different channels.”

"Banks, for example, had to double the capacity of their contact centers. As a result, we now see that corona forced companies to set up distance channels and a contact center, but they did not adjust their systems and processes accordingly. Which has had consequences.”

Find out which channels your customers want to use

Vissers: “Ask yourself if you need every channel. "You need to know what channels your customers want to use, choose the right channels based on your strategy, and make sure that they work from the start.”

"Above all, do not start with a new channel such as a chatbot based on a gut feeling, simply because other companies are doing it or because you want to automate quickly.”

"If a channel does not work well because you do not manage it properly or support it technically, that will have a negative impact on your customers' experiences. Then they are up and gone. It is telling that as many as 35% of customers have already had a negative experience with a chatbot.”

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Strengthen digital channels with personal contact

DG: "The technological/(or: technical) support for information systems is evolving enormously and making things much easier. But always think hybrid and always have humans behind a digital channel such as a chatbot. Personal contact reinforces digital contact and produces much better results.”

Break through the walls in your company

"Try to see things from your customer's point of view. Look at their journey from start to finish. Manage your contact center centrally from within your company. Manage and support it from one central platform. So smash those silos and break through the walls between your departments. There are too many companies where one department still does not know what other departments have done to solve a problem. That’s what is driving your customers away.

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