The altered nature of telephone customer service

As one of the longest standing channels, telephone customer service has undergone quite some evolution.

In its heyday, telephone customer service reigned supreme. It was the uncontested real-time support option. Email offered no immediacy, and face to face support meant leaving the house. But as more businesses and communication moved online, the telephone had to adopt a new role.

Here, we explore how the nature of telephone customer service has changed.


Telephone past

Telephone customer service started to gain traction with the rise of call centres in the 1960s.

Telephone communications started primarily as a sales tool. But with the creation of toll-free ‘800’ numbers, telephone calls soon became a way for customers to get in touch with brands.

Then came the internet, email, chat rooms, and live chat software. The tried-and-tested channel of telephone suddenly had to share the spotlight. But still, it was a favoured and reliable option.

For a while, at least.


The decline of telephone support

In the present day, people aren’t picking up the phone the moment they need to get in touch anymore. There are a few contributing factors that are likely behind this. For a start, telephone support is often inefficient.

With telephone customer service comes interactive voice response (IVR) and automated phone trees. IVR has long been a drain on customer experience. No one wants to spend their time shouting keywords at a robot. Then, there’s the issue of getting through to the right department.

All in all, using the telephone for customer service can take a large amount of effort for the customer. And, in an age where we’re used to quick and easy answers, this makes for a bad experience.

Then, there are the strengths of other channels to contend with.


The rise of digital

In the place of telephone customer service, interactions increasingly begin online. Speedy, in-the-moment answers are favoured over waiting to speak to an agent on the phone.

A few years ago, more than half (52%) of customers (and 63% of millennials) already tended to start their customer service interactions online. In fact, 57% of customers would rather get in touch via digital than use voice-based support.

In short, the rise in digital channels has had a hand in altering the nature of telephone customer service.

Self-service, live chat software, and now chatbots have all created competition for the telephone. And these channels have only grown in popularity over the years. In fact, according to some Salesforce research reports, 82% of customers use knowledge bases and 84% use customer portals. 81%, meanwhile, use live chat channels.


Room for voice

This isn’t to ring the death knell for telephone customer service. Rather, telephone support has adapted. It’s found a new role in customer service interactions: escalations.

40% of customers prefer telephone customer service for more complicated interactions. That is, for those problems that they can’t solve quickly and easily through digital channels. So, while more customer interactions start online, telephone support sits on standby. Then, when an agent needs to escalate a complex issue, the telephone becomes a preferred channel.

In other words, the nature of voice-based customer service has shifted from first-line to second-line support. Telephones now handle escalations, rather than first contact. This is likely due to the level of human connection that voice-based support allows.


What it means for your team

With so many customers happy to help themselves, your agents have fewer FAQs and easy fixes to deal with. Then, with live chat software, agents can help more than one customer at a time. So, for those that do get in touch, service is quicker because there are no lengthy queues for support. (As you might get via a telephone.)

This is far superior to having stressed agents rushing through countless calls. All, that is, while customers are stuck listening to dreadful hold music, or a robotic voice thanking them for holding.

Instead, telephone customer service handles direct connections, and cases where it best excels. In short, the altered nature of telephone customer service means you unlock the best of every channel.


Service delivery

The altered nature of telephone customer service means that your telephone team will face harder problems. That is, the ones that need extra care and attention. So, they need to have the power to make decisions. They need the knowledge to find solutions. And they need the ability to adapt to customer needs.

You also need integration between channels — a way for customers to escalate from digital to vocal customer support. Crucially, this needs to be as seamless as possible. Customers are getting used to swapping between contact channels. And they don’t want to repeat themselves when they do.

The altered nature of telephone service, then, comes as part of a bigger push: the drive for omnichannel customer service.


Part of a bigger change

Before now, the multitude of different contact channels would work independently to each other. Now, there’s a push for the barriers to blur. And it’s this desire to channel swap at any time that makes the altered nature of telephone customer service possible.

9 out of 10 customers want seamless omnichannel service. That is, they want to be able to swap channels, and pick up exactly where they left off. Businesses that provide a consistent service across their channels will keep, on average 89% of their customers. This is in comparison to the average 33% customer retention if they don’t.

Achieving an omnichannel offering is all about integration. Your contact channels need to integrate. You need CRM integration. There are also features that can support an omnichannel offering. For example, WhosOn’s omnichannel calling, which allows agents to call their customer, right from within the chat client. And, they can return to the chat once the call has ended.


The altered nature of telephone customer service

It’s undeniable that the nature of telephone customer service has changed. And there are many reasons behind this evolution.

It’s changed because now we have other options. Because phones calls have become viewed as intrusive and urgent. Because of efficiency and convenience.

Telephone customer service isn’t dead. It’s different. And that’s not a bad thing.