That retailers of the future will need to reach their customers through digital means has been a drumbeat for so long it nearly lies at the heart of today’s industry, but a new report by multinational consultation firm Accenture PLC reminds business owners that when it comes to customer service, they need to remember the human component too.

The firm’s 11th annual Global Consumer Pulse Survey discovered that 85 per cent of Canadians prefer to deal with a live person – higher than the global average of 73 per cent – and that 71 per cent believed that in-store service as the best way to receive a tailored experience (globally, 56 per cent believed the same).

“These findings do not suggest that investing in digital capabilities is a mistake,” researchers Rob Honts, Dave Klimek, and Shawn Meyer write in the report. “But it is just one component. When companies over-invest in digital front-office capabilities or, conversely under-invest in traditional capabilities, they fail to deliver the optimal channel mix that customers demand and deserve.”

Indeed, a key finding from the survey, which invited nearly 25,000 consumers in 33 countries around the world, including 1,334 respondents from Canada, to fill out online surveys regarding their attitudes toward marketing, sales, and customer service, was that a hybrid solution was the best approach: Nearly half of consumers – 48 per cent – said they were comfortable switching between digital and physical channels with companies, often during the same interaction, choosing their platform based on intent, circumstance, and past experience. Seventy-three per cent reported being frustrated when providers failed to offer convenient interaction methods, and 59 per cent said they were frustrated when they couldn’t access the information they wanted through their channel of choice.

The cost of ignoring a multi-channel approach can be high, especially in Canada: 49 per cent of the Canadian consumers that Accenture surveyed had switched providers – mainly retailers, cable and satellite television companies, phone companies, and banks – during the past year after a bad experience, with 80 per cent saying they could have been retained and 68 per cent saying they would not return. Meanwhile, 60 per cent said that if companies could provide better live or in-person customer service, it might have changed their decision to switch.

To address this problem the researchers suggest taking an analytical approach, defining and addressing the most toxic customer experiences across all channels, such as data surcharges without advance warning – a common complaint with telecommunication service providers.

Accenture produced an infographic summarizing its Canadian results, which you can read below (click on the image for a larger version). You can also read the Global Consumer Pulse Survey here, or visit Accenture’s main website for the study, which includes insights from each of the countries surveyed, here.

Accenture Customer Expectations infographic

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