Why do consumers choose particular channels?

by • July 28, 2016 • The Science BitComments Off on Why do consumers choose particular channels?2685

When researching our new report, “The Inner Circle Guide to Omnichannel Customer Contact”, it was interesting to see how the new digital channels compare with the existing telephony channel, in terms of response time and cost. Conventional wisdom would expect that customers would choose the channels which give the quickest response, but in fact we believe that the choice of channels is based on three elements: complexity, urgency and emotional importance. The combination of these three factors will then determine the customer’s preferred option, which is not always the quickest.

Table: Response times by channel







It’s become apparent that web chat’s significant growth in the past two years is built on a firm foundation: the response time is slightly better than telephony, and the cost is somewhat lower. This is not to say that web chat has reached its apogee, in fact there is considerable room for improvement, especially in terms of lowering costs.

95% of the web chat handled by UK contact centres is dealt with entirely by human agents, with only 2% being dealt with by a “Virtual Agent” (also known as a chatbot). This appears to a browsing website visitor to be a human agent but is actually a software application which attempts to answer the customer’s request, sending relevant links, directing them to the right part of the website or accessing the correct part of the knowledge base. If the virtual agent cannot answer the request successfully, it will then seamlessly route the interaction to a live web chat agent who will take over.

Despite only 12% of emails being answered fully within an hour, this channel was ranked as the no.1 channel of choice by a panel of 2,000 UK customers, supporting our hypothesis that quickest is not necessarily best. For example, email offers customers wishing to complain the opportunity to put their thoughts in detailed order in a non-confrontational environment, in a similar way to a letter.

From the business’s perspective, while customer satisfaction is consistently rated as the most important element to focus upon, cost management is a very close second. All of the live channels analysed here – telephony, email and web chat – have fairly similar costs associated with them. 

Table: Cost per channel






Users of social media customer service found it difficult to place a cost on the channel, and although self-service is acknowledged to be the cheapest channel of all, it is very difficult to measure the cost of an individual IVR self-service session, although industry figures published elsewhere suggest that it is between six and 10 times cheaper than a voice call. It’s fair to say that for most businesses, reducing the cost of the telephony channel has been a focus for decades, and while opportunities to still exist to reduce cost per call, the relatively low levels of automation in web chat, social media and even email suggest that the cost gap between digital and voice channels has the opportunity to grow significantly.

Somewhat further down the line, it is not too difficult to imagine an e2e world in which customers’ virtual assistants speak directly to businesses’ systems, allowing the customer to delegate many of their business interactions to a pseudo-intelligent device.

There seems little doubt that omnichannel as we understand it today is by no means the last or greatest challenge to customer contact that businesses will have to face in the foreseeable future.


“The Inner Circle Guide to Omnichannel Customer Contact” is available for free download from

To take part in our online research for “The 2016 UK Contact Centre Decision-Makers’ Guide” – and receive reports otherwise costing £295 – please visit

The 14th edition of ContactBabel’s annual 350-page “UK Contact Centre Decision-Makers’ Guide” covers all elements of customer contact – such as social media, customer satisfaction, salaries, HR issues, technology and strategy – with new sections this year including omnichannel, agent engagement & gamification, PCI DSS compliance and web chat.

Respondents to the survey will receive an early copy of the final report, free of charge, by participating in the online, 100%-confidential research programme. Findings will be made exclusively available to participants in September, before the report’s official launch.

You will also receive a bonus report, “The 2016 UK Contact Centre HR & Operational Benchmarking Report ” – giving in-depth details about salaries, absence, attrition and performance benchmarking, segmented by vertical market and contact centre size. This report otherwise costs £295 + VAT.

To take part in “The 2016 UK Contact Centre Decision-Makers’ Guide” survey, please visit our research partner (Fluidsurveys):

Please note, the deadline for completing the survey is Friday July 29th 2016.

If you have any questions, including seeing a copy of the questionnaire before completion, please email

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