If consumers have a question or a problem, they want it dealt with now. Our global research of more than 34,000 consumers across 18 countries shows if consumers cannot get what they want or an answer to a question, they are more than happy to switch to the nearest competitor.
Loyalty and customer retention continue to decline globally, as just 44% of consumers say they have been with their service providers for three years or more — a 39% drop since 2015.
So, what do companies need to consider in this age of “always on,” where companies are battling for every transaction?
Always-on culture and the call for technology
Part of the challenge for organizations is constantly rising expectations for customer engagement. More than three quarters (77%) of consumers now say that convenience is a major factor when choosing a brand or service provider. More than two thirds (68%) feel loyal to brands that make it easy and convenient to engage.
This focus on convenience is only going to increase in the years to come as 53% of consumers between 18-35 say that they consider ease to engage as even more important than cost when choosing organizations.
The cost of not being “always on” could be extremely high — 60% of consumers globally expect to be able to engage with an organization on any channel and at any time. With loyalty declining, meeting this expectation will be crucial to success. And that number of channels businesses will have to cover is only increasing. In the past year alone, demand to engage primarily through a mobile app has increased 57% and video chat by 50%.
This thirst for “always-on” service and convenience across so many channels means that organizations continue to turn to automated solutions such as chat-bots and artificial intelligence to help manage the volume of enquiries. Humans can’t cope on their own — a level of automation is needed to meet that demand. But equally, organizations see the opportunity to use technology to drive efficiencies.
The value of the human touch
However, is it that simple? Is this just a case of more and better digital engagement to satisfy modern consumer demands?
The short answer is “no, it’s never that simple.” Digital channels have become a central part of the modern customer experience, but they have not decreased the volume of interactions and calls to contact centers or branches significantly. In fact, when we dive into our global research a little deeper, the importance of the human touch becomes even more prevalent — 83% of consumers said that their customer experience was a major factor in selecting service providers. However, only 45% said that digital channels provided the best overall experience — a strong warning for organizations that lean too heavily on these solutions.
Despite the ever-growing importance of convenience, consumers still value the ability to engage with a human. When we asked consumers how they prefer to engage with organizations across 10 different sectors, online account management and self-service was the primary route (average of 34%), followed by calling on the phone (30%) and going into a store or branch (29%). In fact, since 2016, the preference to engage with a human, either on the phone or in store, has increased.
When you look at the channels consumers prefer for different types of communications, this grows even more interesting. For all those high-value interactions where there is an opportunity to really win the loyalty of customers — consumers prefer to engage with a human. When it comes to wanting answers urgently, interacting with a human was given precedent. Over a third chose to do so on the phone, with a quarter selecting in person as their preferred channel. Indeed, these channels were more popular than all digital ones combined. And, it’s a similar situation when consumers want to make complaints.
The hybrid workforce delivering in the age of convenience
The human touch is vital for engagement and the quest for loyalty in an “always-on” era of service. A central theme from our research (regional reports for Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong and India) is the need to embrace digital communications and build connected digital experiences that give modern consumers the convenience they value so highly in their daily lives. However, it is equally important to balance that with continuing to provide the high-quality experience customers expect — including the ability to engage with a human when needed.
Most organizations will have to turn to automated solutions to cope with increased demand and volume of enquires from so many channels. But this needs to manifest itself in a truly omnichannel approach, with customers able to switch seamlessly between digital and human communication channels.
By effectively harnessing technology, businesses can gain efficiencies through automating laborious tasks, provide 24/7 service through the latest digital channels — and arm their human employees with the right information at the right time. Armed with the right tools, the human workforce can be empowered and free to provide a more impactful and fulfilling engagement.
The combination of man and machine will drive customer relationships in the future. In the always-on era, it’s the hybrid workforce that will be crucial to delivering on consumer expectations in the age of convenience.