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Traditional call centres lose out to chat and social networking among online customers

20th Oct 2009
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Web-based practices are overtaking traditional customer service channels such as call centres, according to new customer research. But there's a warning for firms keen to take advantage of this shift...

Traditional forms of customer service, such as call centres, are losing out to chat and web-based practices among online shoppers. That's the conclusion of a study by Loudhouse Research which found that online self-service has become the preferred method of sourcing information for half of the 1,000 consumers polled.

This is followed by email (19%) and call-based services (18%). Some 64% of the consumers polled said they had had a chat interaction and 69% claiming they would prefer chat to email contact.

But there's a downside to all this. While online channels provide a quick and cost-effective method of customer management, they also provide the customers with an easy route to spread negative information about a vendor. Some 16% of respondents admitted to using social networking tools to communicate negative experiences to their personal networks to stop people buying from a specific business, while 30% use such channels to express disappointment at poor treatment.

Some 78% of online shoppers said businesses need to pay more attention to communication about their products through social media channels. The quid pro quo for that is that 60% also deemed it acceptable for businesses to approach users who comment on their offerings and make suggestions of items they may be interested in.

Online and social media channels can also be used to upsell and cross sell without too much consumer resistance. Some 60% of web consumers would accept suggestions of relevant products or services during an email exchange and that 53% of those polled would be open to offers through chat.

In fact, nearly three quarters (74%) of consumers stated that chat has a positive impact on their purchase decision, with a fifth making a purchase straight away while a quarter of consumers said they purchased later on the basis of information delivered via a chat.

The critical factor

The critical factor that needs to be addressed however is consistency. While customers accept and are enthused (to a degree) by multi-channel customer care, more than half feel that improvement needs to be made to the consistency of information provided across those channels.

The survey found that when a consumer contacted a retailer via a number of channels with the same query, only 25% received consistent responses. The survey was commissioned by RightNow which recently social software platform provider HiveLive in order to combine RightNow CRM with HiveLive's customer support, engagement and loyalty platform.

"RightNow is ahead of the Web 2.0 curve for customer service and CRM vendors and has set a standard for end-to-end channel support including communities,” said John Ragsdale, vice president of technology research for Service Support Professionals Association (SSPA).

That said, a second survey in the US suggests that despite being well used to interacting online, most online shoppers still want to be able to talk to a human being when they have a question, problem or issue. According to the survey of more than 1,000 reespondents by Art Technology Group, live help options currently available on websites is not meeting the demand that exists among consumers.

Some 59% of survey respondents do not think e-mail queries to customer service or FAQ pages - the most common customer service features found on online stores today - are useful while nearly 85% of consumers want the choice of click to call or click to chat to get live sales or service assistance. Some 58% feel that having instant access to live experts, via click-to-call or click-to-chat technologies, was one of the top three features they wanted from an online retailer.

"Consumers not only prefer e-commerce sites that offer easy, instant voice and chat connections to customer care representatives; but they reward those sites with their business," said Ryan Hoppe, marketing director for ATG Optimization Services. "It's now more important than ever that online businesses make it easy for online shoppers to receive real-time assistance."

Replies (4)

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By umakant
22nd Oct 2009 12:38

We have been working with customers who are now looking to grab consumers on their websites as cost of interaction is almost 1/10th to that of traditional call centers and customer actually feel more empowered in their interactions. I think this trend is going to grow.



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By Neil Davey
23rd Oct 2009 08:39

Thanks for your thoughts Umakant.

This swing towards web-based interaction is inevitable, particularly with the latest generation of customers tending to turn to the web channel as first point of contact with an organisation.

However, these findings and the cost savings associated with the web channel, shouldn't give organisations carte blanche to shift resources away from traditional call centres - as highlighted in the second study, talking to a human being down a phone line remains the number one preferred approach.

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By trevorr
23rd Oct 2009 14:52

People love moaning about companies that have treated them badly – and rightly so. However, what’s new is that online and social media channels have empowered them to do so in public, rather than just among their family and peer groups. It’s this public element and the fact that it cannot be controlled easily – if at all – that makes social media criticism so hard for organisations to stomach.

Whatever a company’s social media strategy may be, there’s a fundamental message here from a customer service point-of-view. With such a high risk of being exposed in public, companies simply need to do more to ensure that customers get treated well in the first place.

Contact centres continue to play a big part in this, but the onus isn’t just on contact centre agents. Often the causes for bad customer service are technology-related.

A recent survey by the Customer Experience Foundation ( shows that high service failure rates are common and that the industry takes few precautions – like thorough testing – to avoid them. And how often have we heard contact centre agent saying “My system is slow today”?

This suggests that companies are prepared to go out on a limb when it comes to the customer experience. It is not surprising that this ‘devil may care’ attitude will make them more susceptible to online criticism.

Trevor Richer,

Empirix (

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By Chris Hancock
28th Oct 2009 15:33

Social media may be the ‘in’ thing at the moment, but that shouldn’t detract from the fact that the call centre still plays a vital role in building and maintaining customer relationships, and denying customers this direct access is potentially a risky strategy. Call centres provide a vital human communication tool for brands, and if used correctly can add huge value to the overall communication strategy, as long as they complement and deliver on the needs of customers, provide informed and personalised contact, and draw on intelligence from data to enrich conversations. This is reflected in the survey by Art Technology Group – many online options currently available simply aren’t up to the job.

Social media should by no means be overlooked, but needs to be adopted in moderation to complement other channels of communication. After all, there will always be customers who prefer to speak to another person over the phone.


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