Tracy RyanTracy RyanDecember 23, 2019


Those who have been watching Channel 4’s gameshow The Circle will know that the programme gives players the opportunity to ‘catfish’ each other; in other words, pretend to be someone else.

Doing so is easy because players’ interactions always take a text-based form. This means the true sentiment behind a message can often be manipulated or warped and as a result, misunderstood by the recipient.

In recent years, catfishing – luring someone with a fake persona online – has increased dramatically. It is usually associated with social media romance scams or dating sites. But as more and more businesses are opting to communicate with customers via the likes of chatbots and live online chat – could we see similar ploys enter the commercial world?

Cases of misunderstanding are already popping up, with a Finnish insurance company’s chatbot referring to a customer’s new born baby as an “accident”, and journalist Christopher Elliot claiming that Skyscanner’s chatbot misunderstood his requests.

Alongside a decrease in phone use by businesses, we now use our home phones half as much as we did in 2012. Messaging data demand has risen significantly during the same period. But voiceless interactions can be, and often are, void of emotion.

This has given rise to an increase in emoji use for personal interactions in order to more easily communicate sentiment. In fact, the use of emojis has been found to increase relationship success.

But for more formal communication between a business and its customers, how can interlocutors be wholly certain of the sentiment of the messages they are sending and receiving via the likes of chatbots and emails? And because of an increasing use of voiceless communication, could brands be opening themselves up to the risk of inadvertently ‘sentiment catfishing’ their customers? 

For example a brand misunderstanding that a customer is angry and responding inappropriately – or showing a lack of empathy – as was the case with the Finnish insurance firm.

Why voice should still be the front-runner

Voice is one of the best ways to build relationships with individuals and customers and should be thought of by businesses as second only to in-person meetings. It’s easy to engage and respond when we can hear and interpret tone of voice and true sentiment, which simply isn’t possible when interacting with machines that lack the ‘human touch’.

Voice communication in which emotion can be clearly communicated is therefore key for reducing the chance of misunderstandings.

A real-life agent is also equipped with the innate ability to calm someone when they have a problem. We’ve all experienced negative feelings, often anger, when struggling to resolve an issue. And the chances of this happening are only increased when interacting with a chatbot that doesn’t understand you or your feelings or isn’t able to help with your issue.

And it seems that the benefits of picking up the phone aren’t lost on us, with 55 percent of customers still valuing a human interaction when calling.

Why aren’t we picking up the phone?

A recent study by Sussex Innovation Centre found that, when calling customer service agents, 95 percent of customers felt that it took too long to get through to an agent, with 31 percent of callers stating they would hang up within one minute of waiting on hold. As a result, consumers are increasingly turning to other forms of communication which provide an easier and speedier option for resolving their enquiry or issue.

So, as businesses embark on, and continue, their digital transformation journeys, a vital piece of the puzzle is improving their phone offering. It might seem ironic, but in today’s digital age, poor customer service over the phone is often the result of a lack of new technology to work alongside agents and aid them in providing improved customer experiences.

A digital helping hand

To avoid customers opting for online or chatbot-based communication (and consequently risk misunderstandings through lack of sentiment), brands need to up their game when it comes to their phone experience offering.

Employing a telephony platform is key in doing so, offering a whole host of benefits. For example, providing customer service agents with a 360-degree view into all of a customers’ previous interactions with the brand, decreasing the time to resolution and enabling agents to spend more time building personalised relationships with their customers. Telephony platforms can also give customers the option to hang up whilst keeping their place in the queue – dramatically reducing the amount of time they spend listening to that, quite frankly, awful hold music.

With customer service experiences being a key friction point in a customer’s journey, it is vital that the process is handled in the best way possible. Brands that focus on bringing their telephony offering into the future with a cloud-based telephony platform will therefore stay one-step ahead of competitors when it comes to building relationships with the customers and maintaining loyalty to the brand as a result.

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