Accenture: Consumers Prefer Human Customer Service to Digital Channels

According to new research from Accenture, 83 percent of U.S. consumers prefer dealing with human beings over digital channels to solve customer services issues. The report also found that 52 percent of consumers have switched brands in the past year due to poor customer service, with banks, retailers, and cable and satellite television providers being the worst offenders. In the U.S., the estimated cost of customers switching due to poor service is $1.6 trillion.

The Accenture Strategy report, "Digital Disconnect in Customer Engagement," is based on the company's eleventh annual Global Consumer Pulse Research, which gauges the experiences and attitudes of 24,489 consumers around the world about marketing, sales and customer services. 2,003 U.S. consumers were included in the sample.

"Companies have lost sight of the importance of human interaction and often make it too difficult for consumers to get the right level of help and service that they need," said Robert Wollan, senior managing director, Advanced Customer Strategy, Accenture Strategy. "Companies wrongly assume that their digital-only customers are their most profitable, and that customer service is a cost. Consequently they over-invest in digital technologies and channels and lose their most profitable customers – multi-channel customers – who want experiences that cover both digital and traditional channels."

The importance of human connection in customer services
Human interaction remains a vital component of customer satisfaction, even in the "digital age." The study found that 83 percent of U.S. consumers prefer dealing with human beings over digital channels to solve customer services issues and get advice (77 percent). Close to half (45 percent) of consumers say they are even willing to pay a higher price for goods and services if it ensures a better level of service.

Physical or in-store experiences are also highly valued amongst consumers. Nearly two thirds, 65 percent, agree that in-store service is the best channel for getting a tailored experience, and 46 percent say they are more willing to be sold new or upgraded products when receiving a face-to-face service compared to online.

"U.S. companies have reached a tipping point in their customer's digital intensity and need to rebalance their digital and traditional customer services investments if they want to improve loyalty, differentiate themselves and drive growth," said Kevin Quiring, Managing Director, Advanced Customer Strategy, North America Lead, Accenture Strategy. "Companies abandon the human connection at their own risk and are facing the need to rebuild it to deliver the varied and tailored outcomes that customers demand."

Improving customer experience
The Accenture Strategy report reveals that there is huge room for improvement in the delivery of today's customer services. A vast majority, 81 percent, of consumers admits that it is extremely frustrating dealing with a company that does not make it easy to do business with them. Another 73 percent expect customer service to be easier and more convenient, and 61 percent want it to be faster. Complaining on social media about poor customer experience is the norm for 44 percent of consumers who admit taking to social channels in order to vent.

Once a provider loses a customer, 68 percent of consumers will not go back. But there are measures companies can take to hold on to them. For example, 80 percent of "switchers" feel the company could have done something to retain them. Another 83 percent report that if companies could provide customers with better live or in-person customer service, it would have impacted their decision to switch provider.

How leaders of customer services succeed
Organizations that want to rebalance their digital and traditional customer service channels should look to:
  • Put the human and physical elements back into customer services: Rethink your investment strategy. The focus should be on delivering satisfying customer experiences – not methods of interaction. Ensure your channel management approach delivers integrated experiences.
  • Make it easy for customers to switch channels to get the experiences they want: Build customer service channels that enable consumers to fluidly move from digital to human interaction to get the outcomes they desire.
  • Root out toxicity: Define and address the most toxic customer experiences across all channels. These experiences can directly impact profitability. Identify the experiences that have the greatest potential downside and leverage those insights to guide an investment strategy.
  • Guarantee personal data security: 92 percent of consumers say it is extremely important that companies protect the privacy of their personal information. By not selling or sharing customer data with other companies, and guaranteeing that safeguards are in place to protect it, consumers will be more willing to hand over personal information which can be leveraged to deliver better experiences.