14 min read
Aug 25, 2020
Customer Service

5 Customer Service Channels You Shouldn’t Ignore

There are dozens of customer service channels, but you can’t invest in all of them. Here are the five channels you must consider.

G.M.
Gitanjali MariaSr Content Analyst

The customer service you offer is as important as your product. Our survey reveals that 42% of customers consider timely service as one of the top three requirements for positive customer experience. Coincidentally, the biggest cause of negative customer experience is slow customer service; negative interaction with service staff comes at the second spot.

Investing in the right customer service channels and responding to customers on time are therefore important to protect your customer base and revenue.

But with dozens of customer service channels available today, deciding the ones in which you want to spend your limited customer service budget can be difficult. In this article, we’ll look at customers’ service channel preferences and the advantages and challenges of the five channels you must consider.

Survey results - Timely customer service for a positive customer experience
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Which service channels do customers prefer?

Our survey reveals that online live chat is the most preferred mode for customer service interactions, followed by phone, email, and in-person customer service.

Customer service channel preferences graph

This is in contrast to what customers said were their preferences in our 2017 survey. In 2017, only 13% of customers identified webchat or email as their preferred mode of customer service — that number grew to 43% in 2019. 

Eighty-two percent of customers consider live chat and chatbot options in websites as important factors. The preference for phone support has gone down to 21% in 2019 from 37% in 2017, as more customers, especially Millennials and Gen Z, now prefer self-service customer support channels.

According to a Gartner report, the Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, and Gen X prefer phone while Millennials and Gen Z prefer digital customer service channels, such as live chat or self-service websites (full content available to Gartner clients only).

Customer service channel preferences by generation

Source: State of the Customer: Customer Service Journeys and Channel Preferences (full content available to Gartner clients only)

Customer channel preferences vary by geography as well. 

According to a report, customers in Japan have a higher preference for online self-service options compared to other countries, and customers in Brazil are more likely to have a favorable view of brands that respond to customer service questions/complaints on social media. And at least half of the surveyed population in the countries (except Japan) included in this study, report using three to five different customer service channels.

These demographic, geographic, and cultural differences make just one or two customer service channels insufficient to meet the expectations of all your customers. So you need to optimize your budget to invest in about four to six service channels that customers prefer the most. 

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5 customer service channels you must consider

In this section, we’ve listed some of the commonly used customer service channels that are easy to implement and inexpensive to start with. They are arranged alphabetically. 

1. Email

Despite the rise of several alternate customer service channels, email remains a preferred and nonnegotiable option. Email offers a level of formality and confidence that other channels simply don’t. 

Thirty-three percent of U.S. customers use email for customer service.

When do customers use this channel: Emails are used by customers to voice their opinion formally (and often sternly), to seek advice/empathy from the business, or to seek confirmation on doubts they may have. Eighty percent of customers expect a reply to their emails within 24 hours.

Pros

  • Easy and inexpensive to start email accounts on platforms such as Gmail, Yahoo, or AOL.

  • No restrictions on word/character count as in social media channels such as Twitter.

  • Considered a more private and confidential means of communication.

Challenges

  • Not suited for quick, short conversations and tracking customer interactions.

  • Additional tools, such as help desk and ticketing software, are required to manage queries as the email volume increases. 

  • Not suited for interactions with younger generations that prefer digital support channels such as messaging apps or live chat.

Customer service email screenshot

Email for customer service (Source)

2. Live chat

Live chat allows customers to communicate with support representatives in real time through text messages, which many people are more comfortable with than speaking on the phone. This channel provides customers anonymity in case they don’t want to provide personal details right at the start of a conversation.Live chat tools can be embedded within your website or mobile app. You can also automate live chat functions using chatbots, which help improve your response time and lower costs in the long run.

Thirty-six percent of our survey respondents report using online live chat.

When do customers use this channel: Customers use live chat to seek assistance during website visits. They generally use this channel to gather more information about a service/product, to troubleshoot issues, and to seek confirmation about service or product information.

Pros: 

  • The live chat pop-up encourages customers to talk with you even if they hadn’t planned to.

  • Supports real-time communication and guides customers through the next steps. 

  • A single agent can handle multiple customers simultaneously.

Challenges: 

  • Investment in live chat software is required. Free live chat tools are available but have restrictions on the features or the number of tickets that you can service. 

  • Expensive to manage live chats 24/7, as you’ll require at least two shifts of customer service agents.

LiveChat software image

Live chat offered by LiveChat (Source)

3. Messaging apps

Seventy percent of customers prefer messaging businesses rather than calling them. The tremendous popularity of this mode is forcing businesses to adopt messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Viber, Apple Business Chat, and Facebook Messenger. 

Messaging apps allow one-on-one conversations with customers in an informal way. They are also easy to access and use. 

When do customers use this channel: Customers use this channel for getting quick and clear responses to their queries and to highlight any product/service issues.

Pros

  • Easy for customers to connect with you; they can use the apps that they use every day, without having to download anything new. 

  • View the whole customer chat history in a single window. 

  • Additional features for voice and video messaging are supported by many messenger apps.

Challenges

  • Instant responses, as expected by customers, can be difficult to manage due to limited resources.

  • Sentiment analysis in messaging apps is difficult due to limited built-in analytics capabilities. 

  • Difficult to amplify the good work you do, unlike on social media.

Chatting with a customer on Facebook Messenger

Chatting with a customer on Facebook Messenger (Source)

4. Phone

The good old phone continues to remain one of the most-used customer service channels. This is likely because customers hope to get quick resolution for their queries if they get to speak directly with an agent. 

Baby Boomers and Gen X predominantly use this channel, while Gen Z would prefer not to have a direct conversation with an agent unless unavoidable. Many businesses also offer interactive voice response (IVR) options in their phone support to help customers self-service their requests and get speedier resolution.

Forty-two percent of customers report using the phone to interact with customer service teams. 

When do customers use this channel: Customers use phone support to solve issues that they’ve not been able to resolve through other channels. Customers tend to use the phone to seek help for urgent matters, complaints, persistent issues, etc.

Pros

  • Solves urgent problems and helps improve customer satisfaction rates. 

  • Reduces miscommunication and the to-and-fro arising from text messages. 

  • Everyone, including non-tech savvy people, can use this customer service channel.

Challenges

  • Long hold times or wait times can infuriate customers. 

  • Costly to set up a call center to service incoming phone requests. 

  • Additional actions such as sending an email or submitting a request on the customer portal may be required from the customer’s end.

5. Social media

Social media is the new “word of mouth.” Customers are increasingly using social media platforms to highlight the positive or negative experiences they have had with brands. 

On the other hand, businesses are using social media channels to provide customer care as well as engage their audience. Most companies focus on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram for customer care, while some also look to Pinterest, YouTube, Snapchat, and of late, TikTok, to engage customers.

Millennials and Gen Z are more likely to use social media for service interactions than other population groups because of their familiarity with and ease of access to these channels.

In our survey, 15% of U.S. customers report using social media channels for customer service. 

When do customers use this channel: One in three customers use social media to seek advice or communicate with a business. Customers also use it to raise complaints arising from a negative customer experience.

Pros: 

  • Creating accounts on social media channels is free and easy to do.

  • Sentiment analysis of social media posts helps understand customer perceptions about your brand.

  • Good customer service on social media amplifies quickly through shares and likes.

Challenges: 

  • A dedicated team may be needed to manage social media conversations and provide consistent responses.

  • Customers expect instant replies on social media, putting pressure on your resources. Forty-two percent of customers expect a response on social media within an hour. 

  • Mistakes on social media can amplify rapidly, leading to brand damage.

Social media management in Zoho Social

Social media management using Zoho Social (Source)

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Emerging customer service channels

In addition to the above channels that are widely used today, there are several other digital customer service technologies such as virtual customer assistants (VCAs), chatbots, IoT intelligent monitoring, mobile apps, online client account portals, and co-browsing that are gaining prominence.

According to a Gartner report, service leaders are increasingly interested in AI, chatbots, and VCAs for customer service and support despite their high investment costs (full content available to Gartner clients only). The report also suggests that with the proliferation of IoT devices, the number of customer service cases originating from the data collected via connected devices will also increase. 

It’s highly recommended that you understand these emerging customer support technologies and experiment with the ones that suit your business and your customers’ preferences.

Building chatbots using BotMyWork Chatbot Builder

Building chatbots using BotMyWork Chatbot Builder (Source)

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Next steps: Understand the market and invest in suitable customer service channels

A Salesforce research finds that shifting clients to self-service channels is a major part of the strategy for 69% of customer service leaders. Self-service channels such as chatbots, knowledge base, IVR, and mobile apps are more cost-effective compared to live channels such as phone, email, or rep-assisted live chat.

You must strive to find the right mix of established and emerging customer service channels for your business. You can limit your investments to about four to six customer support channels but always aim for higher resolution rates, a positive customer experience, and lower costs. 

Do watch out for customer service trends and check what channels your peers are adding. Analyze if you’re missing some channels or over-investing in others. 

Here are the top five customer service channels businesses plan to add in 2020-21.

Top 5 customer service channels businesses are investing in

Source: Gartner’s Customer Service Channel Strategy Trends and Impact on Self-Service Deflection Rates Report (full report available to Gartner clients only)

Do you feel the need to invest in some of these channels? 

Check out the following customer service software tools that can help you build different support channels.

Read reviews of products and compare them before you choose the ones best suited for your business.

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If you are interested in learning about the highest-ranked customer service and support software products, head over to our Category Leaders reports.

Methodology and Disclaimer

The CX preference survey referenced in this article was conducted by GetApp in June 2019 among 267 U.S.-based respondents who reported they had made at least one purchase in the last twelve months (Jun 2018 - May 2019). 

The Customer Service Stats survey referenced in this article was conducted by GetApp in February 2017 among 500+ U.S.-based respondents between the ages of 25 - 65.

This document, while intended to inform our clients about the impact of technology on business, is in no way intended to provide legal advice or to endorse a specific course of action. The applications selected in this article are examples to show a feature in context and are not intended as endorsements or recommendations. They have been obtained from sources believed to be reliable at the time of publication.

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