Updated Jan 20 2020 :: by Emily Hall

“Operator,” “representative,” “human please!”

Customer service has come a long way in terms of available technology, but one thing remains constant: people still want service from humans! If anything, the technology we have today has helped to increase expectations from customers, particularly when it comes to getting answers or speed of service.

If you’ve ever either typed those opening words into a customer chat or spoken them to an automated phone system, you’re among a large group of people. The fact is that people are becoming more savvy about the technology being used to aid customer service, but they’re still looking for ways to speed up how they get help.

People want intelligent service and they want it now. Here’s what we know of customer service expectations in 2020:

What do we predict for 2020 customer service? Free download here

How do customers prefer to communicate?

Preferred communication method tends to depend upon the type of service request the customer has. For example, when West surveyed more than 500 US customers, they found the following:

  • For self-service, 65% of customers prefer phone calls, 55% go for email while 48% prefer online chat.
  • Email was favored by 77% of customers who had questions or issues.
  • When being asked to answer questions, 45% preferred to be asked by a live agent.

A data round-up by HubSpot found that email was the most used digital channel for customer service with 54% using it. However the phone still rated highly, with 48% preferring to use it for customer service.

Channel preferences can vary in terms of the customer age group. One survey found millenials prefer live chat over any other channel. In an Interactions study, 67% of baby boomers preferred voice communication, however both baby boomers and millennials leaned toward whichever channel was going to be fast.

“Voice rules when it comes to speed. 94% of Americans agree that there are instances where voice is the preferred channel. And millennials are on board, 42% will engage with the fastest method of communication.”

However with that said, each generation expressed frustrations with voice communication. “60% of baby boomers are frustrated by long wait times and 57% get irritated at having to repeat themselves. Of course millennials as well have experience with these common frustrations. 45% and 36% of millennials feel frustrated with repetition and wait times, respectively.”

We wondered about chatbots seeing as they have become so common as a customer service tool - how do people really feel about them? As indicated previously in this section, we know millennials tend to like chat service; further studies find that in general, people trust them with basic inquiries too. However, Userlike find another interesting point - 59% of people they surveyed want chatbots to identify themselves as bots. No pretending to be human!

What is the customer expectation of responses?

The speed with which a company responds to customer service requests is always under the microscope in terms of customer experience. Anecdotally, we’ve seen many reports from business owners who say a customer emailed them, then within minutes, posted a bad review when they hadn’t heard back immediately.

It seems that technology has also raised expectations in terms of how quickly companies respond to customer service requests, especially if the request is a complaint.

We wondered, what do customers really expect? That depends on the channel they have  chosen to communicate through:

  1. Email. 44% expect a response within 24 hours, but the next-biggest group (21%) expect a reply within one hour.
  2. Social media. Response expectations are channel-specific. HubSpot revealed that most expect a response within six hours on Facebook and within one hour on Twitter.
  3. Live chat. A HubSpot report found people expect a response within 48 seconds.
  4. Phone call. Assuming that most customers can expect to be on hold for a bit, we wondered how long they will wait for. Various studies put that time at between one minute and 90 seconds.

One thing we will note here is that the expectation you as a company set plays a role, especially in terms of letting customers know at the time of their contact with you. For example, you can set up email auto-responders so that the 21% of people who expect a response within one hour know that your policy is to respond within 24 hours on a business day. (Or, you could make that clear on any contact forms you have!)

What frustrates customers?

A Salesforce study on customer service expectations found that 76% of respondents reported that it is now easier than ever to take their business elsewhere if they are not satisfied. This begs the question, what is it that frustrates customers these days?

From that same study, we can learn a few things (and honestly, they’re not that surprising!):

  1. Customers dislike being treated like a number. They want personalized service, including tailored engagement based on their last interaction with the company. 84% said being treated like a person rather than a number was key to winning their business.
  2. Customers HATE being bounced around different people and having to repeat themselves each time. They want seamless handovers and for customer service agents to refer to previous engagements.
  3. Customers are wary of how their personal data is treated and used. In this age of “big data” and more and more information being collected, 62% say they’re more worried about data breaches than they were two years ago. Customers are asking companies to make trust a priority.
  4. Customers dislike long wait times - no surprises there! Data over the last few years indicates that customers are less and less willing to wait.
  5. Customers have frustrations with chatbots too. This TechRepublic summary found most people are unwilling to attempt any sort of more complex interaction with a chat bot, such as dealing with billing errors or missed flights. Humans still have the edge over bots in terms of understanding the nuances of language and providing polite service.
  6. Customers dislike too many automated options before getting to a human representative.

B2B expectations mirror those of consumers, as shown in the diagram below:

Free download: Our 2020 predictions for customer service

What metrics should companies monitor?

Based on the preferences that customers have shown and what they are telling researchers about perceptions of good service, here are a few metrics that companies should pay attention to:

  • Customer satisfaction scores for any channel that you use. It doesn’t matter which, you should know how satisfied customers are when using it.
  • Self-service completion rate for any of your self-service channels, such as chat bots. This is an indicator of how well your self-service options are comprehending what the customer needs. Tracking at which point the customer requests a representative can help you to refine the experience.
  • Customer service response times on all channels. It is good practice to set SLAs (Service Level Agreements) and ensure they are met for your service channels. It’s also worth reviewing whether your SLAs are in-line with customer expectations.
  • Customer retention rates. Customers have made it clear that it’s easy enough for them to switch if they’re not satisfied.
  • Customer responses to the question “did we resolve your request?” It’s a basic that’s often missing from customer surveys.

Final thoughts

Customer service expectations in 2020 seem to be more stringent than previously. Technology plays a role in this, with a growing expectation of things happening faster.

Despite this though, many of the things customers identify as frustrating are age-old. Customers want personalized service and to be treated with care. They don’t want to be bounced around or to repeat themselves. They also want a quick way to get to a human operator, which is important to remember when you have automated systems.

What matters most to you when it comes to customer service?


'Customer Service Expectations in 2020: What You Should Know' was written by Emily Hall
Emily Hall
Emily is our writer with a love for technology. She can usually be found reading, writing, or tinkering with her latest gadget.


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