Home Maybe Your Customers Don’t Want to Talk to You

Maybe Your Customers Don’t Want to Talk to You

Despite all the buzz surrounding social media marketing, its promise to better enable conversations between businesses and their customers, a recent essay in the Harvard Business Review by Matt Dixon and Lara Ponomareff point to research that suggests that maybe your customers really aren’t that interested in talking to you after all.

“Have you ever walked into an airport, seen that there is nobody in line at the check-in counter, but still made a bee-line for the self-service kiosk?” the authors ask. “Better yet, have you ever waited in line for an ATM machine even though there is nobody in line for the teller inside the bank?”

If you answered “yes” to either of these questions, you’re like most customers, who are increasingly turning to self-service options, even though companies seem to think customers would prefer to interact with them live.

According to Dixon and Ponomareff’s research, companies believe that their customers vastly prefer live over self-service. But the authors’ data shows that customers are actually statistically indifferent about this. Self-service is seen as just as good as using the phone, for example. And this lack of preference holds, regardless of age, demographic, and type or urgency of the issue.

The authors have been tracking customer service interactions for a number of years and, lack of preference aside, note the decline in the number over the last five years who list the phone as their primary means of securing customer service. They found, for example, that 57% of inbound calls come from customers who first tried to resolve their problem via the company’s website. And over 30% of callers are on the Web at the same time that they are talking to a rep on the phone

So why the decline in turning to the phone? Arguably self-service is more efficient, less annoying. It gives consumers a feeling of control. It points to “our infatuation with gadgetry and electronic communication,” the authors suggest.

And they also suggest, it might be that customers are shifting to self-service because “they don’t want a relationship with companies.” Sure, they want their issues fixed, their problems resolved, but that’s it. “While this secular trend could be explained away as just a change in consumers’ channel preferences, skeptics might argue that customers never wanted the kind of relationship that companies have always hoped for, and that self service now allows customers the ‘out’ they’ve been looking for all along.”

And while this might seem like a dilemma for “social media marketing” and for the promise of deepened customers’ ties with brands and companies, it also seems like an opportunity (and a nod) for developing more and better self-service platforms.

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