customer service research

Where Customer Service is Failing: Top Priorities For Your Contact Center [Research]

Customer service research: people are less patient; need their omni channel inquiries solved quickly

Recent customer service research confirms the same story we’ve been preaching: your contact center operations must align with and exceed customer expectations. As you might guess, there’s some work to be done. We’ve all heard the battle cry – make it easy for customers to contact your company, and get their issue resolved as swiftly as possible.In order to help you achieve that, we’re taking a look at recent trends and research to outline specific areas contact centers need to improve as we move toward the end of the year and into 2017.Alarmingly, CFI Group just found that people are generally very unsatisfied with their contact center experience. Gasp!Going into 2017, these key points will help guide your contact center operations:

  • The demand for omni-channel is pervasive
  • Initial IVR systems need to be clearer and more efficient
  • Millennials’ intolerance for just about any slip up is growing
  • Clearly explaining the process to fix a problem and then actually resolving issues are most important to customers
  • Finding a way to “be more human” may be a differentiator for your contact center

Let’s take a look at these in greater detail.

Preparing for channel growth

Recent channel explosion has essentially required customer service teams to expand and refine all the ways customers can get in touch with them. The demand for more than a traditional PBX system is evident. Omni-channel contact centers are defining the customer service world.Microsoft’s Global State of Multichannel Customer Service Report found the five most popular customer service channels include telephone, email, live chat, online portal/FAQ, and search engine.

While telephone is still the most popular medium, it’s not customers’ go-to as a first point-of-contact. That would be online.

Microsoft found that 57% of people in the U.S. typically begin their interaction with a brand online, while 35% begin with telephone. It also found that 78% begin their interaction using a computer (desktop or laptop) while 22% start on mobile (smartphone or tablet).

Contact centers are failing to address customer service needs in a reasonable amount of time. CFI Group’s Contact Center Satisfaction Index 2016 found that total time required to address an issue dropped (by seven points) compared to last year.People simply have a certain time threshold which they’re willing to go up to, then are frankly unwilling to invest any more time and energy beyond it to fix a problem they feel they may not even need to be calling about. More than 60% of people who call a contact center must navigate an IVR. Nearly one-third of those people are unable to get their issue resolved in using it.

This trend indicates an increased use of self-service methods for quick resolution. Indeed, Forrester’s Contact Centers Must Go Digital or Die report (2015) found that people tend to use self-serve methods to try to resolve basic inquiries, then escalate complex issues to live agents – underscoring the substance of those live interactions.

However, when engaging with a company for assisted service, consumers prefer the following channels: telephone (36%), live chat (33%), email (25%), online support portal/FAQ (5%), social media (2%).

When it comes to assisted service, it makes sense that these channels are preferred. It’s likely that customers seeking some kind of assistance are experiencing relatively complicated issues. Resolution usually isn’t as simple as the click of a button or flip of a switch, so they need more involved support through the most efficient, quickest means.

So, it’s important to be able to manage multiple support channels in an efficient manner.

You might have noticed something about these core channels: aside from standard voice-based service, they’re all digital.

In fact, Dimension Data’s 2016 Global Contact Center Benchmarking Report reports that digital accounts for 42% of all service interactions. The trick will be finding a way to unite digital with voice from a single platform.

The report notes that the way to do this is by moving to some form of a cloud contact center system, as 60% of businesses currently plan to do.

Handpicked related content | Cloud-based vs cloud-native: does it matter?

Consumers are lacking patience

With smart technology as connected to us as our own arms and legs, finding answers to all types of questions is as easy as simply asking an iPhone or Google.

The need for information and answers and help has not changed. But the way in which we seek help – and our expectations – have drastically changed.

Contact centers are failing to address customer service needs in a reasonable amount of time. CFI Group’s Contact Center Satisfaction Index 2016 found that total time required to address an issue dropped (by seven points) compared to last year.

People simply have a certain time threshold which they’re willing to go up to, then are frankly unwilling to invest any more time and energy beyond it to fix a problem they feel they may not even need to be calling about.

More than 60% of people who call a contact center must navigate an IVR. Nearly one-third of those people are unable to get their issue resolved in using it.


This reflects the need for better self-service options. If people can find answers, complete transactions, or get information automatically – without the need for live agent intervention on your part – it will be a win-win for both parties.


Those pesky millennials

CFI Group found that the satisfaction gap between millennials and those aged 45 or older has widened compared to its last survey.

Millennials (18-34 years old) have grown up accustomed to texting, snapchatting, tweeting, and emailing as a primary form of communication. They just aren’t as willing to wait on hold or speak to multiple people to get an answer.

The research found millennials ranked agents’ “ability to answer their questions quickly” lower than non-millennials. They also were 3x as likely to prefer the option to interact with an online virtual agent (as opposed to waiting on hold) than non-millennials.

Reaching millennials is clearly a concern and area for improvement across the contact center landscape as they’ll soon become the premier buying demographic in the world.

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The importance of resolving issues

Issue resolution should be at the forefront of your customer service strategy. But do you know the top reasons people contact you, and their expectations when they do?

The number one reason people reach out to a contact center is to resolve billing issues (36%). Coming in a close second is to receive product or service assistance (33%). Then, there’s a fairly steep drop off – third most is to check an order status or place an order (16% respectively).

What does this mean?

People are most likely to call into the contact center with a complex issue which they could not resolve on their own. These issues are usually related to confusion or mistakes about their account statements or billing.

Failing at first call resolution (FCR)

Data out of the U.K. found that only 1 in 5 customers get through to a business the first time they call. How can customers resolve an issue if they can’t even get through?

Additionally, compared to the year prior, CFI Group measured a drop (six percentage points) in successful FCR.

This is “highly correlated” with failing contact center satisfaction. A decrease in FCR causes higher contact center dissatisfaction.

If a customer does experience FCR, their satisfaction is also determinant upon how many agents they ultimately speak with.

For example, satisfaction will drop if customers need to speak with more than one person.

As long as a customer achieves FCR, though, the research found that length of call is not overly important (with regard to satisfaction) – unless the call lasts more than 30 minutes.

So, keep calls under a half hour, and resolve issues the first time. You can do this by using skills-based routing to get callers to the right agents more quickly.

Decrease hold time

Microsoft found that U.S. customers have the lowest tolerance for hold time among the several countries (U.S., U.K., Brazil, Japan) it examined. It found that only 43% of Americans are willing to wait on hold for 1-5 minutes. 39% are willing to wait 5-10 minutes.

The implications here are to keep wait times as low as possible, ideally under 10 minutes. Anything over that is going to start costing you happy customers. The key to achieving this is to be able to scale your agent base up as needed and to anticipate crests in call volume.

Fixing the problem with efficient service

Even armed with all the different contact metrics in the world, you’ll go nowhere unless you actually resolve customers’ problems, issues, and questions.

When Microsoft asked “what’s the most important aspect of a satisfying customer experience,” 34% of respondents said “getting my issue resolved quickly.”


Additionally, 98% of people say customer service is very or somewhat important in their choice of or loyalty to a brand.


The need for a human touch

Aside from these technology-related statistics, we can’t forget the value that the human element can bring to the contact center. In fact, it may be the most important. 4 out of 5 people actually prefer that human interactions remain part of the customer service experience, according to

Dimension Data’s 2016 Global Contact Center Benchmarking Report highlights that digital channels, though plentiful and powerful, could be enhanced with a more human element.

It points out that even though digital technology is capable of transforming communication, in a way, it also dehumanizes our interactions.

At the end of the day, the technology is there to mend the gaps that customers are facing. The ability of agents to then execute a meaningful and effective experience will be the key differentiator going forward.


Customer experience is quickly becoming the primary differentiator among companies that are all vying to earn the business of today’s impatient and time-strapped consumers.

Contact center operations are one of the most critical pieces of that. It’s no longer enough to answer calls quickly, or simply provide a navigable IVR.

Companies need to provide a differentiated and superior customer experience.

We’re living in an interconnected, technologically complex world that’s changing by the day. Contact centers have to adjust.

They need to show customers that they value their time, and most importantly, that they care. While a contact center platform can help, your team ultimately has to answer calls quickly, resolve issues on the first contact, and seamlessly move among channels as needed.

Telephone, email, website (FAQs and forums) and social media are supported in some capacity by the majority of businesses today. 2017 will likely see new and upcoming modes like video chat, web chat, and SMS/MMS (and likely conversations around IoT, wearables, service kiosks, chatbots, AI/ emotional intelligence, and more) gain more exposure, demand, and innovation.

Handpicked Related Content | Chatbots: Your Contact Center’s Next New Hire

Key actions to focus on as we move into 2017 are:

  • Optimize for omni-channel across phone, email, live chat, online portal/FAQ, and social 
  • Resolve issues on first contact
  • Resolve issues in 5-10 minutes or less
  • Work to limit agent handoff, and, if possible, ensure calls are resolved with the first agent
  • Understand the tendency of millennials is to either get a quick answer or move on

Dimension Data’s research suggests that by 2017, contact centers will manage an average of nine different channels or vehicles of communication. For today’s customer, choice is paramount. The customer’s ability to pick and choose the easiest way to communicate has to be embraced by brands.

Hopefully these stats and insights can help guide your customer service strategy going forward. Ultimately, you’ll need to pick and choose the strategies and tactics that make most sense for your business.

The data contained within this article is sole property of its respective owners. Sharpen has not conducted this research, and has cited original sources. Which of these tactics or stats is most meaningful or actionable for you? Please let us know!