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Voice of the Customer: Brands told to dial into telephone's potential

4th Jun 2014
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As soon as it was clear that digital was headed for world domination, and smartphones began giving everyone on-demand access, many Voice of the Customer leaders wasted no time in slapping a big fat expiry date on the traditional telephone as an effective channel for conducting customer surveys. 

It’s easy to see why some thought it was quickly approaching its best-before date; surely digital customer surveys provide more convenience and efficiency, not to mention a better response rate, than those conducted over the phone?

In many ways this assumption is not unfounded. Speaking at Confimit’s Community Conference this week, John Buglass of RONIN Corporation noted that, when given the choice, the majority (65%) of Western European customer survey respondents do use digital channels to provide their feedback.

But what about the other 45%?

Buglass set out to champion the telephone, reporting an increasing trend in customer insight projects incorporating both phone and digital channels into their processes. He asserted that telephone is, and still will be in years to come, a relevant customer interaction tool: “We believe that telephone insight is here to stay. Forever.”

When combined with digital channels, the telephone is a VoC force to be reckoned with, Buglass suggested. “Our studies have proven that the interdependent multichannel programme approach is most effective,” he said. “By interdependent, we mean exactly that; both online and telephone channels are mutually dependent and rely on one another to achieve the overall programme goals.”

So, while telephone may require propping up by digital channels, it’ll play an equally vital role in supporting digital, too. It’s a give-and-take kind of relationship.

According to Buglass, there are four key benefits of using telephone alongside digital channels to gather survey responses:               

1. Greater depth of understanding
By offering a choice of channels to the customer, you’re going to get far richer insights than by using one single, siloed channel. At the very least you’ll be able to figure out their preferred channel of communication with you. And that’ll come in handy next time you’re after a good bit of customer interaction.

But also, good old-fashioned human interaction still has its place when trying to communicate with customers: “There is simply no substitute for actively listening and probing appropriately to gain deeper insight,” Buglass said. Not only does it allow you to gather data, but also urge the customer to give further information or explanations where necessary. “In the words of one of our clients, ‘there’s just something about a phone interview that allows customers to open up and freely discuss what’s on their minds’,” he said.

2. Substantially improved response rates
"This is a fairly obvious advantage of including the telephone channel in a programme – it dramatically increases the potential response rate”, Buglass said. “Typically, online response rates are in the range of 5-15%, depending on the relationship you have with the client. Include telephone, and this can increase to over 80%”. 

3. Representative data
The limitations of consumer type and geography, for example, become less prominent when using telephone alongside your digital channels, Buglass argued.

“We generally find that in Western Europe 65% of completes are achieved online with the remaining by telephone; in South America 40% are online with a greater proportion by telephone; Eastern Europe currently 45% online and the rest by telephone”.

He also noted that there was a difference in participation within senior figures; the most senior people being less likely, in general, to respond to the survey online. The addition of a telephone channel in an interdependent approach, then, solves the problems both these variables pose to global and professional surveys.

4. Differentiation
Buglass argues that this interdependent approach is a great way to set your organisation apart from your competitors. Incorporating a human approach in a digital age allows a stronger bond to be formed between the brand and their customer.  “We are social creatures,” said Buglass, “and positive human interaction is key to who we are.” 

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