Young Customers Don’t Like Your Call Center…But is it Really Time to Start Ignoring It?



Brian Cantor
01/11/2012

Your organization’s customer service standpoint is, in many ways, determined by its belief in the imminence of social media’s rise as a customer service tool.

But while the more progressive organizations might be shifting their focus away from the traditional call center in order to support the escalation of social--and the more conservative organizations might be slowly easing their toes into the social water—a new study reveals that a happy medium is presently the best approach.

No matter the demographic, as it stands, only a small minority of customers currently prefer using social media for customer service. The new TNS and Sitel study reports that 15% of customers aged 16-24 favor the channel for service inquiries, as compared with 8% for 25-34 and just 3% for 35-44.

Based on that line of data, the claim that social media is quickly turning the call center into a relic seems preposterous. If even the high school- and college-aged customers who literally grew up with Facebook have not made social their customer support avenue of choice, how could an organization even consider scaling back its emphasis on the traditional contact center?

In short, it cannot. But the situation is not as cut-and-dry as it may seem.

According to the same study, customers—particularly young ones—are not eager to call for customer support. Prior to phoning with a product issue, 57% of customers seek a solution online. That figure is more significant for younger customers, with the proportion rising to 71% for those 16-24, 65% for 25-34 and 64% for 35-44.

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So pronounced is this desire for online product support that 35% of customers, including 48% of those 16-24, identified the online posting of "video demonstration, tutorials and instructions" as a key way to boost the overall customer service experience. Seven percent

Though this chain of data most notably represents a compelling case for improved self-service offerings, it also suggests that the data on weak customer enthusiasm for social customer service could be the result of a self-fulfilling prophecy. A significant number of customers clearly desire an ability to resolve their customer support issues online, and so the lack of adoption appears directly tied to a shortcoming of valuable information and barriers to hassle-free online communication.

In that sense, companies who refrain from investing in social customer service due to "lack of demand" might be operating on the wrong assumptions and thus asking the wrong questions. Instead of basing their customer management focus simply on how actively customers are demanding support in each channel, they should instead concern themselves with the broader question of what users want to get out of their customer service experiences.

By adopting that perspective, organizations will be better-suited to identify and understand the true barriers to customer service excellence, and they can assure all channels are conducive to delivering fast, accurate and valuable information and resolutions to customers.

For as it turns out, the strong desire to resolve product issues online—rather than on the phone—is not shared by older customers. According to the study, only 32% of those 55-64 turn to the web as a first destination for a product inquiry, while 64% immediately turn to direct contact with the brand’s customer service representatives. A whopping eighty one percent of 55-64 year olds feel organizations can improve the customer service experience by making contact numbers easier to obtain, indicating that for older demographics, removing barriers to successful call center interactions is a customer management necessity.

No matter one’s ultimate opinion on the current power of social media as a customer service channel, it is irrefutable that the introduction of new channels for human communication naturally necessitates the continued offering of multi-channel customer support options. But as this study indicates, instead of basing the commitment and division of labor across the various channels on broad market trends and how other companies are operating, organizations should craft their service offering to best satisfy the unique nuances of their actual customer bases.

And though no responsible customer management leader can afford to ignore the business implications of his customer strategy, he cannot lose sight of the same aforementioned customer-centricity when approaching that business challenge. Instead of questing after the customer management strategy that seems most attractive from a financial perspective, which will naturally inflate support for those channels with lower costs, he should determine how to make the right customer management strategy more financially-attractive.

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