Is phone support dead?

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Phone customer service has been around for years and had its ups and downs. What does phone support look like in 2019? Should it continue to be part of your overall customer experience strategy or is it doomed already?

Angry customer phone

No one can deny the rise of digital.

In average, we check our mobile phones 80 times a day, looking for something new to look at, some new message or content. We all have multiple digital identities and use social and messaging channels every day to socially connect with others. As a matter of fact, a recent study from Greenberg shows that 80% of American adults and 91% of teenagers use messaging channels on a daily basis.

Digital and messaging channels are taking an always larger place in our daily habits and the newer generations and millennials who were born in the digital era accelerate this trend.

A very simple way to verify this trend is to look at our own habits: how often do you call someone versus texting him? And even when you call, don't you tend to first send a text asking the person whether the time is appropriate for a call?

Our communication behaviors are seriously shifting towards digital and the GAFAs are taking advantage of this evolution and offer new channels to ease this new need for simplicity: Facebook already owns 2 social channels (Facebook & Instagram) and 2 messaging channels (Facebook Messenger & WhatsApp) and is about to launch a third one. Apple is a major challenger with Apple Business Chat. Google has long launched Hangout and multiple other channels that should be merged in the near future and continue working on its RCS technology for an Android based "chat"..


Does it mean phone support is dead?

Certainly not.

Phone support

The IVR technology that exists since the 60s went rogue in the 90s and did more harm than good, making people more reluctant to reach out to their phone.

Yet, even though the gap between phone conversations and digital conversations is closing and legacy hardware solutions are quickly being replaced by cloud-based solutions, the phone is still very much a major part of customer support.

As a matter of fact, studies show that for more complicated interactions, such as payment disputes, 40% of customers prefer talking to a real person over the phone. Voice will always offer a more personal and more direct type of interaction that allows a higher level of empathy and emotion.


Then why is digital so popular?

Digital interactions are taking a large portion of the overall customer engagement volume because of two major reasons: there are convenient for the customer AND for the company.

digital access

Why is digital great for companies?

Studies show that digital interactions such as social media customer service costs up to 6 times less than traditional phone interactions, representing a major cost-saving opportunity for companies.

Beyond the financial aspect, it also allows for an easier management of customer expectations. While phone conversations are synchronous (requiring both parties to be available in the same time), most digital interactions are asynchronous, making it much easier for the contact center to manage volumes and messages allocation.

One of the major KPIs a call center will look at is called "abandon rate" and represent the percentage of people calling who will hang-up even before reaching an agent. This percentage that can be influenced by multiple elements, such as the quality of the IVR, is usually attributed to the waiting time that is very specific to synchronous channels.

This problem does not exist in the digital world where people master their agenda and do not need to stay in line waiting for a reply, making the abandon rate irrelevant and allowing contact center to focus on other aspects of the customer experience.

Why is digital great for customers?

Digital is great for customers for very similar reasons: since a large majority of channels are asynchronous, the customer is free to send a message anytime without any waiting line or office hours to respect. He also doesn't have to hold while the agent fixes the problem, he is simply being informed when a reply is ready.

But customers also love using digital for customer service because it allows them to use the same channels they typically use to communicate with their peers every day. Having to switch to less convenient channels is always a risk of losing that customer by turning him into a "silent customer".

The Chief Customer Experience Officer & Service Operations of Ooredoo (major telco present in 11 countries across Asia and Middle-East) recently revealed at the tmforum Digital Transformation Asia that in the span of 2 years, customer engagement had shifted from 75% call-centric to 75% digital-centric. This happened progressively while the company was opening new digital touch-points to be contacted through - each time a new channel opened, customers who favored such channel in their personal life would start using it out of convenience for everyone's benefit.

What are silent customers?

Think of your customers as people hiking a steep slope with a backpack.

Silent customer hiking

Each problem they encounter is an additional brick to carry in their backpack. If you make it difficult for them to remove these bricks, they will simply give up the hike and move to a different activity sooner or later.

On the other hand, if you make it very simple for them to remove these bricks as they come, they would do it and get back to their hike with more energy to spend.

That is exactly what happens with customer service: if you make it difficult for customers to reach out, they will rather keep their problems for themselves and live with it instead of going through the frustration of contacting you through inconvenient channels. They then become silent customers who do not complain (at least not to you) but who are on the verge of churning.

A silent customer is a dangerous customer: not because he wishes you any harm, but because he will not tell you what he thinks and will leave you without any warning.

If however you give your customers an easy way to reach out, they will gladly do so and let you solve their problems and delight them.

A recent study by Teleperformance shows that the number of channels available to contact a brand has a direct impact on the NPS (Net Promoter Score): a brand available on a single channel only would get an average NPS of 31 while another brand that could be reached through 8+ different channels would enjoy an average score of 71. This shows that by making it easier for people to engage with your brand you get more opportunities to remove small frustrations, reduce the number of silent customers and transform them into promoters.


So, should I go fully digital?

Yes. And no.

Yes you should absolutely adopt an omni-digital strategy that would allow you to engage with your customers on the right digital channels to encourage engagement and loyalty while offering you easier and cheaper ways of communication.

Yet, a large number of your customers may still prefer phone conversations and many situations would require a more human-to-human kind of interaction.

The right approach would be for you to do both and let your customers decide what is best for them, learn from it and continuously improve the customer experience.

It may also be interesting for you to define which type of digital interaction makes sense for your business: ticketing VS conversations, which is right for me?


Julien Rio


Last update: 2024-04-20 Tags:

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Julien Rio Digital Marketing