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Why Most Customer Service is Designed for 70 Year-Olds

Customers generally prefer not to talk to a rep on the phone, and they hate having to do so if the self-service channel can't help them

Customer Service PhoneBelieve it or not, most companies today work hard to base their customer service operations on the preferences of a 77-year old customer.

That’s the age when customers prefer the phone 2.5 times more than self-service, and is also what most customer service executives believe is the preference their “average customer” has for the phone versus other channels.

But the fact that nearly 60% of today’s phone volume represents customers who couldn’t solve their issue on the firm’s website shows that something is wrong with this assumption.

What’s worse is that making customers switch channels vastly increases the effort they have to put into dealing with a company. CEB work clearly shows that the single most important determinant of customer loyalty comes from making interactions require as little effort as possible.

Where Executives Get It Wrong

Most customers surprisingly often go out of their way to self-serve. We all tend to perceive self-service as more efficient and an easier interaction, at least initially.

The problem is that if you ask any customer service executive how customers want to interact with his/her company and, without fail, they will tell you customers generally prefer to call, or that the phone is a key way to build customer relationships.

It’s not hard to understand why they think this way. Live phone service is the most significant operational cost in their organizations and the most publicly visible channel (examples like the coverage of a 20-minute call between an overly eager service rep and a man trying to cancel his US Comcast cable service only fuel the fire). Not to mention, it’s the channel on which most service leaders cut their teeth as they came up through the ranks.

The Problem with Channel Switching

This misunderstanding only increases channel switching – where a customer using the firm’s website must then pick up the phone – which is one of the biggest and most insidious drivers of high customer effort. And high effort will dampen customers’ intent to repurchase products, buy new products, or talk positively about the company to friends, family, and colleagues.

CEB data show that channel switching happens in the majority of customer service interactions, and far more than most managers would imagine. The infographic below gives more detail.

Top Five Reasons Customers Don't Want to Talk to Customer Service

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5 Responses

  • Deb Dowell says:

    This is the biggest load of fast talking trash I’ve heard in a long time. I am nowhere near 70 and I ALWAYS want to talk to a person. Rarely, if ever, is my issue covered on a website. Granted, I do receive an auto reply, but a real person still has to reply to me. When – who knows. If I have a question I want it answered now by a real person. I am amazed companies think people like waiting hours/days/weeks for someone to type “We need more info, contact a different department, contact a different company. Yes, they are owned by us, but we don’t have their contact info.” My friends and I are highly educated people and more and more our purchases are based on immediate human customer service. We share who offers what type of customer support. And we still have a lot of buying years ahead of us.

  • Richwood7 says:

    The number 1 reason I hate calls is that they usually have a menu of choices of which none of them are close to the question I have. I have done this so many times it is a pain. Then after you have exhausted everything, they start over like the second time a new person will pop up. Some do NOT have an option very early on saying “Would you like to talk to a service rep?”. Another reason is often you are on the phone, on hold for 20,30 40 or more minutes. An Internet chat is better as you type a response, the rep can handle another one or two customers.

  • Deb Dowell says:

    I don’t have too many problems. If I cannot find what I want right away I go to the CEO’s or some vice president’s private work number. They are easy to get and my issues are addressed quite quickly. I have done this with a number of major corporations. It works well and the person at the top gets to hear directly from customers. Win/Win.

  • Bill Graham says:

    In many cases the systems are not set up from a customer perspective but from what the company thinks they should have. The difference can be catastrophic.

  • Dan Forth says:

    I absolutely agree with the thrust of this article. in my experience the effort required to use a phone “support” system – plus the fact the responses are not documented – makes it the worst option. And I certainly don’t live in a world where I can casually find the private number of a particular CEO, let alone successfully get through to them.
    But it’s absolutely true that those designing their web-based services and interactions need to make darned sure the time I spend using them is productive – because too often it’s buggy, poorly designed or worse. When it works though, I’m almost always happy to wait a day to get a good answer.

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