The general public is very willing to embrace customer service technologies, such as call centres and online banking, despite some bad press and security concerns, according to a study by the UK Institute of Customer Service and the University of Brighton's School of Service Management.
The Service Technologies: Developing Strategies report set out to examine the challenges of using technology to enhance customer service for both public and private sector organisations.
Consumers and businesses participated in the survey, which found that the two most important concerns for customers are technological failure (21%) and the impersonal nature of technology creating a barrier to a meaningful relationship with an organisation (20%).
Other key findings from the survey report include:
- One in ten customers said they specifically seek some degree of human interaction.
- There were only marginal differences in customer service technology usage between men and women: for example, women are slightly more concerned about security and men are more concerned about speed. Men also make greater use of the internet while women tend to make greater use of ATMs and call centres.
- Young customers tend to seek faster and enhanced supplies of information from service technologies while older customers aim for accessibility and security. Younger customers emphasise the internet, while older customers make greater use of call centres and telephone banking services.
- Although many said they are becoming more confident in the security of service technology, 69% said that security remained an important or very important issue.
- Public sector organisations were found to have some of the best CRM systems. This, the report suggests, may be due to the nature of the people using those systems, meaning that more time can be given to guiding them through the system.
- The UK supermarket Tesco was rated particularly highly for its implementation and use of service technology, whereas telecoms companies, banks and online retailers were generally viewed as needing to do better.
According to Dr Paul Frost, Head of the School of Service Management at the University of Brighton, "The more technology becomes reliable, the more customer perceptions about its value to them will be enhanced, and the more they will be prepared to use it. Customers are prepared to embrace service technology if they are supported in learning how to use it."
But, Frost warns, customers quickly reject any technology that makes an organisation less accessible or convenient to them. The report demonstrates that customers want ease of use and the choice between using technology or speaking to a real human being. Not surprisingly, the more valuable or complex the transaction, the greater the customer's desire to talk to a human about it.
David Parsons, chief executive for ICS, added: "The message needs to be: Be customer-driven, not technology-driven. Allow the customer to choose when to use technology. Imposing it is a dangerous strategy."