Customers still need that human touch

3rd March 2021

A recent Guardian article by Peter White, the BBC’s disability affairs correspondent, looked at the role of the call centre and whether the days of telephone customer contact may be numbered in what is an increasingly online world.

We asked our experts for their thoughts on the role and relevance of telephone customer contact and the emergence of digital channels…

Carol Parsons – Head of Operational Claims

It’s an internal battle we have about our own customer contact strategy and a desire to shift to digital channels. Actually what I think what customers want is a choice.

Of course there will be situations, and personality types, that lend themselves more to a digital means of communication, but when push comes to shove what they really want is to be able to talk to someone who can help them with their specific problem, and we need to continue to make that both easy and accessible for all of our customers.

Tony Coram – Chief Customer Officer

Digital channels have such a vital role to play in helping customers access information quickly and easily but human interaction will always be the cornerstone of really good customer service. This week we’ve seen HSBC hauled over the coals for extraordinarily long waiting times on their fraud helpline so it shows that people really do care about, and need, good human customer service, especially in times of crisis.

This has never been more evident than during the Covid pandemic where customers really have had an extraordinarily difficult time. During 2020 we handled 227,000 calls, 88,000 legal advice calls and 34,000 claims from people in all manner of difficulties.

Our ground-breaking digital solutions have undoubtedly provided these customers with a huge amount of support. However, we have really stood out against our rivals by taking on extra staff to cope with the surge in demand for telephone advice, rather than simply relying on digital channels to pick up the slack. We have an ethos of ensuring that customers always have access to specialist telephone help whenever they need it and it’s great that we’ve maintained that.

Mark Branton – Digital Project Manager

I feel that telephone contact is a brilliant opportunity for those companies that still talk to their customers to massively stand out. I think DAS UK is undoubtedly one of those companies.

Digital tools can complement this interaction very well, as we’ve seen with the new claims journey where early resolution services such as DAS Businesslaw (and our legal advice line) can assist the claims process and produce better customer outcomes. In addition, the new digital customer journey has seen an increase in ‘right first time’ information which, in turn, has sped up the claims process for customers.

Nevertheless, there’s definitely a balance to be had here and that all important human interaction is always going to have an important role to play.

Jonathan Thomas – First Response Manager

The stop-start uncertainty of working through a pandemic for our customers has highlighted the importance of human interaction. This is relevant to both customers and how we managed our people while working remotely. By supporting our people this has been rewarded with a very loyal and reliable workforce.

Most of our customers require immediate help and an opportunity to discuss their problem with an expert, who is often delivering easy to follow, sensible solutions. Covid has added layers of complexity to customer issues and no chat-bot or complicated IVR would solve this. 2020 improved our digital solutions but our human voice remains king.

Jay Williamson – Head of Think Customer Programme

The irony shouldn’t be lost that at the time when businesses are struggling to be able to speak to customers directly, it is the very time when customers are perhaps looking for more human interaction than they normally would. As a society we ’re spending far more time feeling isolated and craving conversations generally than we are when surrounded by others during more ‘normal’ times.

We’re also now nearly a year into remote working arrangements and therefore customers are, understandably to an extent, losing patience with those businesses that don’t seem to have returned to a ‘business as usual’ state, when the reality is most customer facing teams will still feel we are working in extraordinary times.

The aim for businesses is to do their very best to remain available to support customers in the way that works for the customer and where people are directed to digital channels, these channels need to “work” in the way the customer expects them to; there’s nothing more frustrating than being directed to a form of help which doesn’t help.

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