Study: COVID Reshapes Traditional Customer Service

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Uniphore, an early leader in Conversational Service Automation (CSA), announced results from its latest COVID-era survey that underscores how challenges facing customer service centers are resulting in increased consumer frustration and missed opportunities for brands to build trust and loyalty. The report also shows consumer acceptance for new technology that can help call center agents and better serve the immediate needs of the customer.

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Call centers and customer experiences are a bellwether for consumer confidence and have become increasingly critical during the pandemic as an opportunity to build customer connections. The survey shows that 59 percent of consumers are likely to recommend a company based on a positive contact center experience, which is more important now than ever. Customers are increasingly making decisions based on their experiences with an organization. However, the survey also shows that consumers are not feeling heard or valued through the majority of these interactions:

  • Since the start of the pandemic, hold times have increased 50%. More than half (53%) of callers waited more than 30 minutes to get a response, whereas earlier in the pandemic, only 26% of callers waited more than 30 minutes to get a response.
  • Consumers are most frustrated with long hold times (47%) and lack of clear information from agents (20%).
  • 1 in 4 consumers did not get their questions solved the first time when reaching out to a call center.

“Contact centers are a lifeline for support on critical issues from healthcare to travel to commerce and one of the most powerful ways brands build customer loyalty. But today, many consumers are feeling muted and undervalued at the same time as call center agents are feeling overwhelmed and under resourced,” said Umesh Sachdev, CEO and Co-founder of Uniphore. “We have the ability to change this and empower call center agents with technology and support that enables them to truly hear the voice of the customer and deliver personalized and impactful answers and support.”

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Lost in the Holiday Hustle

Nine months into the pandemic and work from home, questions are still unanswered, leading to an increase in use of chatbots, interactive voice recording (IVR) and social media ranting. This will intensify as more people are planning to call a company during the holiday season and specifically want to talk to a live agent.

The survey data shows:

  • 76% of consumers plan to speak to a live agent. It’s the preferred method for contacting a company about an issue.
  • Only 8% of people prefer to interact with a chatbot as their first interaction, and only 24% were really happy with their voice assistant or chatbot experience – leaving most with a “meh” reaction about the technology.

Call centers are expected to increase in importance in 2021 as consumers look for support for COVID vaccines, travel, employment and benefits:

  • More than 50% have plans on contacting a company in some form or fashion (rather than trying to find the answer themselves) which underlines the need for automation to alleviate the burden on call center agents.
  • Consumers anticipate reaching out to companies mostly about travel plans, COVID vaccines, and employment and benefit statuses.
Hearing the Customer

It’s clear that contact center interactions present an opportunity for brands to build trust, loyalty and increase their customer base, but this is not happening for many brands. The disconnect between consumer frustrations with call centers, and the solutions companies are offering can be solved by automation technologies. Survey results also showed that a growing number of consumers are open to trusting automation to improve their experiences with a company:

  • 84% of respondents who contacted a call center expect some type of post-call follow up. 49% would prefer an email. With an increase in customers calling, and a desire for more information from companies, agents will be overwhelmed by the amount of post-call work if they don’t work hand-in-hand with their AI coworkers.
  • Only 32% of consumers say they feel somewhat or very comfortable if companies use AI technologies to help the customer experience, especially if the technology is assisting a human agent. This is an indication that there is much work to be done to better blend the human touch with machines working behind the scenes.

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