Customer experience in the enterprise

Operator, please: Customers still prefer talking to people over automated customer experience tech

A new Harris Poll from Protocol analyzes consumer sentiment around customer experience — what’s changed, what’s working and what isn’t.


Don't discount the call center just yet.

Photo: Martin Barraud/Getty Images

Since the pandemic moved an incredible amount of customer interactions online for the first time, corporate leaders have been racing to rebuild, revamp and re-invest in their end-to-end customer experience offerings. With no shortage of competitors for consumers to choose from and an increasingly digital marketplace, good customer service is no longer just a “nice to have.” It is essential to a company’s bottom line and long-term growth.

To see how these corporate strategies are lining up with what customers actually think and need, Protocol commissioned a Harris Poll that asked consumers what they really want from their experience as a customer, which industries are delivering the best service and if they have noticed a significant difference in customer experience since the pandemic began.

Businesses may be doubling down on the importance of CX tools like chatbots and automated systems, but a large majority of customers (70%) stated that they still prefer real-time communication. Similarly, 91% of customers found phone calls useful versus the only 74% who found chatbots useful.

When asked which factors contributed to a good customer experience, availability to speak to a customer service representative was selected by 67% of those surveyed, whereas the availability of chatbots received only 20% and automated customer assistance systems ranked last with only 16%.

But if you’re a CXO reading this who just invested in a ton of automation technology, don’t panic just yet. Hope lives with the next generation.

When looking into the age of respondents, our findings revealed that adults between the ages of 18 and 25 underindexed on citing the availability of customer service agents as a contributing factor of good customer service. Less than half (45%) cited this, compared to 67% of all U.S. adults and 77% of those ages 50 and older. These results indicate that Gen Z will be much more amenable to CX tech tools and may even be ready to say goodbye to the customer service agent — or at least the human version.

To get a better picture of the new CX landscape, we asked consumers which industry they believe currently has the best customer service. Financial services came out on top with 15%, above retail and consumer goods (12%). The tech industry received a total of 7%, while public works and civil services ranked last with only 2%.

This is a good sign for the financial services industry, which has invested heavily in the space in the last few years. Last year, Harvard Business Review released a survey stating that 64% of the financial services executives polled cited improving CX as a top-five business priority for the coming year.

The last results are perhaps the most surprising. Since 2020, executives have been outspoken about investing in and transforming their customer experiences. This prompted us to ask consumers how they felt their experiences have changed since the pandemic began.

The results showed that 50% of U.S. adults feel that their CX interactions have not changed compared to the start of the pandemic. Meanwhile, 27% of those polled believe that their experience is worse than before the pandemic, and only 21% feel that it is better.

These findings imply that there is a lot still to be done to provide the seamless, end-to-end customer experience that was promised. To do this, business leaders should continue to invest in tech-enabled CX tools with an eye on the next generation, but should be wary of overlooking the current value of an accessible, human interaction.

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