Is self-service CRM worth the money?

22nd Aug 2007

Organisations have spent millions investing in online customer service functionality, but is it money well spent? Are customers eager and willing to take advantage of self-service CRM options? Or would they still prefer to talk to a human being?

According to the latest annual multi-channel customer service research from eService provider Transversal, UK banks are a case in point. Despite investing millions in the internet, it’s actually faster to phone contact centres for basic information.

Bank websites could only provide answers for 50 percent of routine questions asked online. While 80 percent of banks surveyed has some sort of customer Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) section (up from 50 percent in 2006) many of these were extremely large and difficult to navigate to find tailored information. Only 30 percent had implemented natural language eService solutions that use neural network technology to analyse questions in order to find the best response.

“Banks have invested heavily in the internet channel – but our research shows that in the majority of cases it is very much the poor relation when it comes to customer service,” comments Davin Yap, CEO of Transversal. “While previously online customers have had to cope with a lack of information we’re now seeing more content – but this makes finding the right answer as difficult as looking for a needle in a haystack. With the advent of Web 2.0 providing the ability to deliver a personalised service and improved interaction banks need to wake up to the changing needs of their customers – or suffer the consequences as they shift accounts.”

Some 30 percent of bank websites struggled to answer more than two out of ten product and service questions – while only one scored top marks. For those trying to get answers from banks via e-mail, the situation was even worse with nearly a third (30 percent) of banks not offering the functionality to email questions. Of those that did the average reply time was 30 hours for a response. Even then only three out of ten satisfactorily answered the question – leaving the customer with no alternative but to call a contact centre to folllow-up.

Of course this only has relevance if call centres work better - and according to Transversal they are. Response times have improved dramatically with 60 percent of calls answered within 3 minutes, and the shortest wait times being just a few seconds. Overall answer times were less than 4 minutes.

Outside of the banking sector, it’s a similar story. According to another study by call centre provider Converso, 96 pecent of customers would use another company if it was easier to get through to a live person on the phone rather than use another method.

More than 84 percent of people have used an e-mail contact form instead but even then they still have trouble getting through with 29 percent saying they never received a reply at all and more than a quarter had to wait more than a week to hear back.

“Part of the reason for commissioning the survey was to find out how people really feel about customer service and the value of having someone at the end of the line” says Dino Forte, director at Converso Contact Centres. “The results show that for the large majority there is still no substitute for the human touch. Good service is all about offering customers the choices they want. Too many companies, especially those that operate online, fail to offer customers the option of speaking to someone, resulting in frustration and potential loss of business.

“In what is increasingly becoming a 24/7 society where customers want to be able to speak to someone at all times of the day, more and more companies are considering outsourcing as a way of managing out-of-hours calls or handling overflow calls during busy periods when the volume of customer enquiries is high and they may not have the internal resources to cope.”

But getting someone on the phone is not always easy. Utility companies are the worst offenders with 36 percent of respondents saying they find it hardest to get hold of a person when contacting their water, gas or electric provider. The second worst are banks followed, ironically, by phone companies.

Overall, it's still good to talk...assuming you can get a hold of someone!

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