Are brands failing digital customers?

Consumers in the UK and France are growing increasingly frustrated by brands that fail to understand them on digital channels. Four fifths are switching suppliers if brands do not correct their mistakes, according to a new report from Eptica.

The research Consumers vs. Agents: Can the Gap be closed? from Eptica, found that failing to understand emails and tweets and consequently not answering questions is the biggest consumer frustration when it comes to digital channels in both the UK and France. Nearly one third, or 31 per cent, said that failure to acknowledge upset or anger was a major issue.

As digital channels such as email and social media grow, an increasing gap is developing between brands and consumers, with agents unable to understand the language and vocabulary used by consumers, leading to unhelpful answers that damage the customer experience and put loyalty at risk:

  • 78 per cent of UK consumers ranked getting a response that either partially or completely failed to answer their question in their top 2 frustrations
  • In France 63 per cent of consumers listed unpersonalised responses, partial answers or replies that failed to help as their number one issue.
  • 71 per cent of UK agents said understanding customers was one of their two frustrations; 49 per cent of French agents agreed
  • Email is the digital channel of choice for consumers looking to contact brands. 87 per cent of Britons (and 83 per cent of the French) use email as the primary means of communication, way ahead of Twitter and Facebook.

Over 80 per cent of those questioned said they look to switch if companies fail to deliver fast, helpful service

The research, carried out internationally, found that 78 per cent of UK consumers ranked getting a response that either partially, or completely, failed to answer their question in their top two biggest frustrations.

In France 63 per cent of consumers listed unpersonalised responses, partial answers or replies that failed to help as their number one issue. Waiting a long time for an answer was highlighted by 38 per cent of French consumers as their biggest frustration.

On both sides of the English Channel, customers are increasingly happy to switch suppliers after poor experiences. 82 per cent of British consumers said they always or often switched supplier if they failed to correct their mistakes, slightly behind French consumers (83 per cent).

Of these 55 per cent of the French, and 41 per cent of British, consumers said that they would stay provided that their issue was sorted out quickly and they received an apology/compensation.

Consumers overwhelmingly now use email to contact brands, with 87 per cent of UK consumers (and 83 per cent of the French) selecting it as their primary communication channel.

This growth in digital channels is widening the understanding gap, as text-based communications are fundamentally more difficult to understand than face to face or voice-based channels as they lack context or visual/verbal clues.

This adds to the challenge of dealing with an expanding number of digital enquiries from increasingly impatient consumers.

When asked what would help them work more productively and give them better insight and understanding, agents in both countries want improved technology.

Over half (53 per cent) of French agents, and 51 per cent of UK ones, listed technology that analyses questions and suggests relevant information as their 1st or 2nd choice. The ability to prioritise answers based on tone was specified as a priority by around half of agents (50 per cent in the UK and 49 per cent in France).

Finally, agents wanted better, centralised knowledge bases that provided faster access to more consistent answers, with this choice selected by 34 per cent of British, and 39 per cent of French agents.

“Customer engagement in both the UK and France is being severely compromised by the growing understanding gap that is developing between agents and consumers,” said Julian Sammells, Sales Director UK & Ireland, Eptica. “As digital channels grow, this problem will only get worse, leading to increased customer churn, weaker engagement and lower revenues for brands. Companies need to listen to their frontline agents who feel powerless to help customers and ensure they are investing in the tools and technology needed to bridge the gap – before it widens even further.”