The most recent data cuts from Forrester’s North American Technographics® Customer Experience Online Survey, Q4 2010 of how more than 3,400 consumers interacted with customer service organizations in the last 12 months highlight some interesting trends:

  • For the first time, web self-service topped the phone channel as the communication channel most widely used by customers to interact with customer service organizations.
  • Consumers use the phone channel 50% of the time. However, other channels are more widely used than the voice channel: 58% of the time, consumers search for an answer on the Web; 61% of the time they send an email to customer service; and 66% of the time they search a company’s FAQ.
  • Social channels are used for customer service, but numbers are very low (1% of customers used Twitter, but 6% of customers used forums).
  • Live-assist communication channels (phone, chat, cobrowse) have much higher satisfaction ratings than asynchronous electronic channels (email, web self-service). Satisfaction ratings are:  phone (74%), chat (69%), cobrowse (78%), email (54%), and web self-service (47%).

What does all this data mean?

  • Today, customers are starting their customer service journey by searching for information contained on web self-service sites. This means that your corporate knowledge management strategy is critcal to the delivery of  quality answers to your customers to keep them happy and loyal to your brand.
  • Customers are using more channels, not fewer ones. Traditional channels like voice and email are still widely used. However, more customers today are using a mix of channels to find answers to their questions. This means that you need to pay attention to your cross-channel experience. Make sure that the experience — the data, content, and business processes that agents follow across the communication channels that you support — are consistent. Make sure as well that customers can start a conversation on one channel and continue it on another.
  • Customers do not get the same experience across all channels. Live-assist channels do better than others because customers still want service in real time and trust channels that are staffed by real people interacting with them in real time. For the asynchronous channels (like email or SMS), make sure that you set customer expectations appropriately as to when they will receive an answer to their question, and make sure that you meet your SLAs so that they are able to trust these channels.
  • Customers are using social channels for customer service, but Twitter volumes remain low. This means that offering customer service across the social channels is not for everyone. Understand the needs of your customer base, and offer the social channels that resonate with them. Start by listening to the sentiments expressed by your customer base over the social channels first, and roll out your social channels in a methodical and value-added way.