The transition towards digital communication methods is happening faster than most people realize, and companies are not moving quickly enough to keep up with this change.
This is the conclusion reached when we compare normal consumer communication behaviors and the communication channels offered by companies.
The Digital Day 2014 study by Ofcom shows that in both personal and professional contexts, consumers are increasingly using digital channels for daily communication.
Of course, the younger generations are embracing new channels and tools, such as social networks and instant messaging. But this phenomenon is not limited to digital natives; in fact, it also holds true for 40% of people aged 35 to 44.
E-mail is still widely used, but 75% of e-mails sent are for professional purposes. And use of e-mail would be considerably lower (8 to 10%) if you were to eliminate use at work from consideration.
This is clearly because the explosion in smartphone usage – often for personal purposes – has replaced personal computers, which are now used primarily for professional reasons, despite the term.
Customer relations channels
When it comes to companies, the customer relations options they offer are much more monolithic, and largely dominated by the telephone and call centers, which account for 77% of their budgets (ContactBabel figures).
When you consider the volume of customer service interactions by channel, the telephone is well ahead of the rest. Of course, this is often because it is the only option available to customers. Furthermore, when they do have a choice, the other channels are often neglected or badly managed. Because the bulk of company budgets and attention goes to telephone support…
Companies are not keeping up with these new behaviors, and have been slow to adopt new communication methods. When they do open new channels, they often neglect to apply the same processes and expertise that they do to traditional channels.
A 200-billion dollar money pit
The infographic below illustrates the imbalance between the funds allocated to the primary communication channels and actual usage.
On the left, the daily usage of all communication channels by consumers. On the right, the allocation of company budgets to customer relations channels.
How might we assign a value to the disparity between the communication options offered by companies and those people actually use?
Well, there are about 14.5 million customer service agents in the world, 77% of whom answer phones in call centers. People use telephones only 22% of the time for personal communication, so we can deduce that 55% of call center agents – 8 million of them – are superfluous.
With annual compensation of $25,000 each, the total amount thrown away on telephone support is a staggering $200 billion.
Note: Clearly these agents could be redirected into other communication channels, so this is not a question of a $200 billion savings, but rather of $200 billion that are misallocated.
A major risk to brand image
Beyond the misguided distribution of funds and resources, there is also the problem of consumer perception of brands that use the appropriate communication channels. What do you imagine smartphone customers think of a bank that asks them to send a fax in the 21st century?
The risk to companies is the widening of the gap between themselves and their customers, or even communication failure. If companies do not keep up with current communication trends, they cannot stay in step with the needs of their customers, who will, at the first opportunity, switch to a competitor that is more modern, or even a cutting-edge startup.
A company’s digital transformation objectives and plans are pointless if the customer experience does not change.
Towards stellar customer relations
What happens when companies adopt the codes and behaviors of their customers? Instant success, that’s what, as well as brand ambassadors who are satisfied and say so.
Given that the tools for effective digital customer relations exist and cost less than their traditional counterparts, and that turnover among customer service agents working in the new channels is low, and that consumers prefer companies who offer an experience that matches their actual behaviors, companies have every reason to embrace these new communication methods.
Those who do so the soonest will be rewarded, while those who find excuses not to will be left behind.
And there is much more than $200 billion at stake!
Originally published Dec 14, 2015, updated Dec 30, 2022