How much human support do you need for digital services? How much human support do you need for digital services?

Authors
Tom Loozen

EY Global Telecommunications Leader

Fascinated by the positive impact of telecoms. Passionate musician. Enjoys educating himself on psychology, wine, sports, technology, arts and much more. Husband and father of three daughters.

Adrian Baschnonga

EY Global Telecommunications Lead Analyst

Lead Analyst with deep sector knowledge in technology, media and telecom, gained in professional services and business intelligence environments.

7 minute read 28 Jul 2021

Service providers need to inject confidence into the customer journey by overcoming pain points at all stages.

In brief
  • Improving the customer experience is an ongoing goal for all service providers across technology, media and telecommunications.
  • Low awareness of new services, pain points regarding service installation and a lack of confidence engaging with digital support channels mean that customer journeys are compromised.

First-time adoption of digital services has accelerated since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet less than one-half of households are aware of emerging technology concepts. Smart home products, such as digital thermostats and digital assistants, have been available for a number of years, but less than one-half of households understand what they can do and why they are useful, and an even smaller proportion understand the benefits of 5G mobile.

Figure 1: Consumer awareness of new forms of connectivity

Service providers should prepare to tackle this lack of awareness – because customers expect them to. Thirty-seven percent of households believe that broadband providers don’t do enough to tell them about new service offerings, for example; more effective information and education is essential for this group.

Both younger and older users find established services hard to understand

Meanwhile, established services also pose challenges, as more than 3 in 10 households find communications services very difficult to understand and a similar proportion agree that there is very little or no difference between the services offered by various broadband providers. What is very striking is that younger customers fare no better than their older peers. In fact, users aged 45–54 years are least exposed to problems with service understanding and service provider evaluation.

Younger groups are not the “digital natives” we often assume them to be.

Figure 2: Consumer understanding of connectivity services and service providers

Retail stores retain their pull on the path to purchase

As consumers move from product and service discovery to purchase, retail stores – whether offering a single brand or multiple brands – are the first port of call for a significant proportion of consumers. It is seen that 41% of users interested in purchasing a smart home device would visit a retail store first, and the same is true for 39% of those looking to buy a new mobile device or package.

This mirrors the proportion who would go online and underlines the fact that retail is still a critical part of the customer journey, despite lockdown restrictions that have either led to store shutdowns or enforced limitations on in-store traffic.

However, a reliance on retail differs between countries, largely driven by variation in visits to single brand retailers. Elsewhere, users aged 18–24 years are less reluctant to visit price-comparison websites: 7% visit them first when purchasing a mobile device or plan, compared with 13% of all users.

Figure 3: Consumer channel preferences on their path to purchase

From product installation to website navigation, many struggle to self-serve

The ability to set up new and manage products without directly interacting with customer support functions is important, yet many households feel unable to self-serve. Smart home products are a case in point. Many are positioned as “plug and play” devices, yet more than one-third of respondents would not be confident setting up internet-connected appliances. The same is true of TV apps, where one in four believe set-up and usage is complicated.

Engaging with connectivity provider websites is also troublesome for many, and these challenges score consistently across markets. Interestingly, younger groups top-score: 30% of 18-24 year olds and 31% of 25-34 year olds find broadband provider websites challenging to use, well above older groups.

Figure 4: Consumer attitudes toward product installation and website navigation

More than one in five are left dissatisfied with customer support

Outreach to customer support is a critical part of the customer experience. On average, 43% of households have contacted broadband customer support in the last 12 months. Outreach is highest in Italy (52%) and lowest in Germany (32%). Twenty-three percent of customers who contact customer support are left dissatisfied with the outcome, with dissatisfaction levels highest in Germany (30%) and lowest in the UK and Canada (19%). Drivers of dissatisfaction are varied but revolve around three themes: poor overall outcomes, time taken to address or resolve issues and lack of information quality.

Drivers of household dissatisfaction with broadband customer support

Customers are still clinging to the call center

Many drivers of dissatisfaction relate to the call center, from frustrating transfers between agents to time taken to resolve queries, including making initial contact. In this light, one would assume customers would welcome more frictionless ways of contacting their providers, including chatbots and online contact forms.

However, our survey responses show that the call center dominates not only past interactions but future channel preferences. Whether for broadband or mobile customer support, telephoning the call center is still the preferred contact method, regardless of query type. This dependence on speaking to agents is surprising given digital channels’ supposed advantages in terms of responsiveness and the ability for customers to multitask while resolving issues.

Figure 7: Future preferences for contacting broadband customer support by channel
Figure 7: Future preferences for contacting mobile customer support by channel

Low confidence is limiting adoption of digital support tools

The research highlights why instant messaging functions have failed to go mainstream to date, and low confidence is the key barrier. About 4 in 10 households use the phone because they don’t believe they can articulate issues effectively without speaking to an agent, while even more believe instant messaging can’t help them cope with complex queries.

These anxieties tend to reflect low levels of service understanding and familiarity in the first place. Interestingly, more than one-half of households would find interactions via instant messaging more appealing if they could be transferred in real time to agents as needed. 

Figure for low confidence is limiting adoption of digital support tools

Too many contact options create confusion

As connectivity providers consider more effective ways of migrating customers from the call center to digital support channels, they should also be as clear as possible on which options best suit customer needs.

Simply providing a range of contact methods risks confusing customers, as our findings highlight. One-quarter of users are unsure of the best way to contact their broadband provider – and this rises to one-third of users aged 34 years and under. Added to this, just 7% of households see breadth of digital support options as a leading consideration when evaluating broadband providers. Better articulation and guidance around the best way to contact and resolve queries is essential in order to ensure that more choice doesn’t lead to greater confusion.

Figure 8: Household uncertainty on contacting broadband provider

What does this all mean for providers?

1. Combat low awareness: educate and inform

Technology innovation is a key feature of the market for connectivity and content, and yet many new services such as 5G and smart home simply aren’t on the consumer radar. Clear and timely information about the benefits of new services and upgraded versions of existing services is essential – and make sure your message is unique. Without this, you are drastically limiting your addressable market for new propositions and simply won’t stand out from rivals.

2. Empower customers to become more self-reliant

Households find various stages of the customer journey challenging, from setting up services in their homes to going online to interact with service provider websites and apps. Better practical advice is required to make households more comfortable with setting up services. And not enough find websites and apps intuitive to use. Better design principles are vital and so is paying particular attention to the needs of younger users who struggle just as much as older groups.

3. Reconsider the role of retail: it’s still a vital route to better experiences

Despite the forced shutdown of retail stores during national lockdowns, store visits retain their attraction – even for younger age groups. Reconsider how retail stores can enhance the customer journey, particularly for users keen to learn more about products. Place greater focus on the discovery element of retail experiences while creating better linkages between online and retail sales fulfilment.

4. Reduce the call center burden: tackle the inhibitors of digital support

The call center dominates customer support channel preferences – surprisingly, there is little difference between how customers have contacted customer support in the last 12 months and how they would like to contact customer support in the future. Much of this is down to low confidence in their ability to articulate issues and the perception that chatbots cannot cope with complex queries. Service providers should double down on reassuring customers that online contact is the best route and explore how best to fuse agent and instant messaging capabilities.

Summary

Improving the customer experience is an ongoing goal for all service providers across technology, media and telecommunications. Demand levels are higher than ever due to COVID-19, while households are adopting digital services at pace, and yet there are a number of obstacles that work against positive customer experiences. Tackling each in turn is essential if companies are to maximize adoption and retention rates.

About this article

Authors
Tom Loozen

EY Global Telecommunications Leader

Fascinated by the positive impact of telecoms. Passionate musician. Enjoys educating himself on psychology, wine, sports, technology, arts and much more. Husband and father of three daughters.

Adrian Baschnonga

EY Global Telecommunications Lead Analyst

Lead Analyst with deep sector knowledge in technology, media and telecom, gained in professional services and business intelligence environments.