Why customer channel preferences aren't clear cut

22nd Aug 2019

Last month, the CMO Council published the results of a study that sought to identify what communication channels consumers prefer to use when interacting with the companies they do business with.

In partnership with Pitney Bowes, the Critical Channels of Choice report is based on a survey of more than 2,000 consumers with nearly equal representation from five generational cohorts - the Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials, and Gen Zers.

Eighty-one percent of the survey respondents were from the United States, and the balance were from Canada, the UK, Ireland, and Australia/New Zealand.

This research focused on all forms of communication except advertising. While this study involved the channel preferences of consumers, it is likely that many of the research findings will also apply to business buyers.

The core finding from this study is that today's consumers across all generations want and expect the companies they do business with to provide multiple engagement channels. Eighty-five percent of the survey respondents said they expect companies to offer a blend of physical and digital communication channels.

More specifically, when survey participants were asked what communication channels they expected companies to provide, the top five channels identified were:

  • Email (86% of respondents)
  • Telephone (65%)
  • Website (53%)
  • Text (52%)
  • In person (48%)
Interestingly, when survey participants were asked what communication channel they couldn't live without, the two channels most frequently identified by respondents - telephone (28%) and in person (17%) - were both non-digital.
What this research also shows clearly is that consumers prefer communication channels that provide value, and that the most important elements of value are pragmatic. When survey participants were asked what makes a channel indispensable, the top three attributes identified were convenience (50%), reliability (45%), and speed (41%).
Several other recent research studies have found that consumers place most importance on the utilitarian aspects of customer experience. For example, in an earlier study by the CMO Council and SAP Hybris, survey participants were asked to identify the attributes of an exceptional customer experience. The top three choices were:
  1. "Fast response times to my needs and issues" (52% of respondents)
  2. "Knowledgeable staff ready to assist wherever and whenever I need it" (47%)
  3. "Rewards for my loyalty and recognition of how long I have been a customer" (42%)
It's also revealing to see what these survey respondents put at the bottom of their list of important CX attributes:
  • "Always-on automated service" (8% of respondents)
  • "Brand-developed social communities to connect with other customers" (9%)
  • "Multiple touchpoints that add value to my experience" (10%)
Participants in this study were also clear about what types of customer experiences are valuable. They want experiences that save them money (77% of respondents), save them time (49%), or make their lives easier (47%).
PwC's Future of Customer Experience 2017/18 study produced similar findings. This research consisted of an online survey and in-field interviews of a representative sample of 15,000 global consumers, 4,000 of whom were from the United States. Almost 80% of the US. respondents rated speed, convenience, knowledgeable and helpful employees, and friendly service as the most valuable aspects of a great customer experience.

So what does this research tell us about how customers form channel preferences? 

I contend there are two important points. First, the findings of the new CMO Council study make it clear that customers want the option to communicate with companies via a variety of channels.
Second, customers will prefer different channels depending on what they are trying to accomplish and the other circumstances surrounding the interaction, and their preferences and choices will be driven by convenience, speed, and reliability in most circumstances.
The criticality of two points, for businesses, were summarised clearly by Dan Rood, VP of product marketing for Genesys, in MyCustomer's recent whitepaper, Communication preferences: Why consumer behaviour in the UK is changing and how to adapt:
“Customers increasingly have choices and their loyalty to a brand is fickle. Companies that do not focus on differentiating their brand through customer experience miss out on a critical tool to retain and gain loyalty from these customers who have more choices than ever of who they do business with.
“Many companies see the problem of addressing their customers’ changing expectations so daunting that they get stuck in analysis paralysis. New channels are emerging every year. Customers’ expectation that companies link those channels into a seamless customer experience are increasing every year. If your company is limiting its channels in a world where customers want to interact with you on newer digital channels every day, like WhatsApp, or Apple Business Chat, seeing a clear step forward can feel overwhelming.”

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By PaulineAshenden
02nd Sep 2019 09:23

I completely agree David, particularly with the second point. It is worth looking at interactions on a 3x3 grid, with the dimensions being urgency, complexity and emotional importance. You need to cover everything from the most complex, urgent and emotionally involved conversations (best achieved over the phone or face-to-face) down to the simpler, more routine ones that can be handled by self-service. A good starting point is to map your interactions on this grid to see where you need to assign resources to meet customer needs.

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