With more than 120 application stores globally and an estimated 15,000 new apps coming on line each week across mobile platforms like Apple iOS and Android, it’s little wonder that consumers are eagerly exploring the boundless choices to engage with companies they do business with. The results of a recent Nuance consumer survey sheds light on people’s attitudes toward self-service across customer service channels like mobile, phone (IVR) and Web.

Connectivity and connected devices are coming together to create more customer touch points, more distribution channels and more consumer demand for interactions and information delivered according to their preferences. The assumption may be that everyone is online, but it’s important to remember that everyone is not just on the Web. People access media and engage with companies using a variety of channels every day, switching back and forth between them frequently. From simple voice calls to sophisticated video chat sessions, people decide which channels to use to interact with the world around them – not the other way around. It’s no longer about passive information and services consumption; it’s about the proactive co-creation of custom experiences.

For companies, choosing the right medium is no longer a straightforward task. In fact, one could argue it’s an outright waste of time and resources since consumers are at the helm and will choose the best channel for them. This is particularly true when it comes to customer self-service, an area where consumers are increasingly accustomed to being in control.

To identify what consumers really want in self-service, Nuance commissioned a survey targeted towards 1,000 consumers. The vast majority of survey respondents (75 percent) find self-service is a convenient way to address customer service issues. Additionally, 67 percent of consumers prefer self-service, over speaking to a company representative.

At first glance the percentages seem extraordinarily high. However, include the context of what time-crunched consumers are juggling in their daily lives, and the numbers immediately add up. “The purpose of self-service is to help people be more productive providing them easy and instant access to what they need: information, goods and services, or the exact right person,” explains Dan Nordale, vice president, enterprise marketing, Nuance Communications.

The survey also examined consumer attitudes toward self-service mobile apps, applications consumers download with the expectation that the app will enable them to get more value from the companies they do business with.

Among the survey findings: consumers across all demographics like and use apps provided they are convenient, easy to use and “always available.” What’s more, respondents would be encouraged to use their self-service apps more if they offered a seamless and effortless way to shift from the mobile app to a voice call when they need to speak with a call center agent directly for additional guidance or support.

Clearly, the initial results reveal the features and functionality that are top of mind when customers interact with customer service. But what is the real and lasting impact of a good customer service experience facilitated by a mobile app? A deeper look at the data provides valuable insights.

First Impressions Count

Mobile apps are fast becoming a core component in the mix of technologies and approaches companies need to reach – and keep – their customers. But offering a mobile app is just half the battle.

Customers embrace apps to perform self-service tasks, but they also reject companies that fail to meet their needs. “As in all relationships, first impressions count – a lot,” Nordale says. “Customers see everything, and every experience, through a lens. It’s all about ‘me’. A company that serves ‘me’, understands ‘me’ and makes it easy for ‘me’ is a good company and one that has earned my confidence. A company that doesn’t has failed me, and doesn’t have my trust.”

Put another way, there is an inextricable link between customer satisfaction and brand reputation. Specifically, 92 percent of consumers surveyed believe a company that offers a good customer service experience via a mobile app is also an innovative company. A whopping 89 percent of consumers said they also view the company as customer-focused, and 86 percent said they will have confidence in the company.

According to Nordale, consumers make the connection between app performance and company capabilities because they apply real-world rules to the digital realm. “In the real world customers will switch away from companies that don’t understand them.” When it comes to apps, delivering an experience that is clumsy, clunky or just plain bad “sends a clear message that the company is incapable of understanding its customers.”

No Friction, Please

Indeed, the data details how a bad customer experience can potentially – and  negatively ­- influence the customer’s overall view of the company, shaking the customer relationship to its core.

The majority (77 percent) of respondents take a bad customer service experience via a mobile app as a cue to “question their [the company’s] ability to serve customers like me.” What’s more, 73 percent say they have a lower opinion of the company as a result. But don’t think this dissatisfaction won’t dramatically impact a company’s bottom line. Over half (58 percent) said that a bad customer experience makes them “want to switch to a different company.”

What encourages customer loyalty? A study of 75,000 people who had interacted with contact-center representatives or through self-service channels conducted by the Customer Contact Council offers two critical findings.

First, delighting the customer (by delivering exceeding expectations) doesn’t build loyalty; reducing the effort (the work and time they must invest to get their problem solved) does. Second, removing friction from customer service goes a long way toward creating (and increasing) customer loyalty.

This means making customer service easy is all about removing the obstacles, hassles and heavy-lifting around inputting information, eliminating the need to repeat information and avoiding or smoothing necessary transitions between channels to achieve the desired outcome.

Speech recognition and Natural Language Understanding (NLU) help streamline the process and remove the friction. The explosion of mobile voice services and the advance of smart mobile voice assistants, like Siri, are already significantly influencing how consumers interact with companies, encouraging them to describe issues and look for solutions using ordinary speech.

Read between the lines, and it’s clear that delivering good customer service can be a risky business. First, the company must be flexible. This means delivering customer service across all channels ­- mobile (apps), phone (IVR) and Web – and leaving the customer to make the match between the medium and the task at hand.  Second, they must do their best to remove obstacles and friction that waste people’s time and try their patience. “Do it well, make it easy and the company has left a positive and lasting impression. Do it wrong, by creating complexity where it doesn’t have to be, and consumers can be unforgiving,” Nordale stresses. “It’s an outcome well-run businesses will avoid, particularly when the end-game is all about attracting, engaging and retaining customers.”

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About Andrea Mocherman

This was a contributed post by Andrea Mocherman. To see more content like this, visit the Customer experience section of our blog.