Reuben Singh, founder of alldayPA, the UK’s largest telephone answering services for SMEs and entrepreneurs, looks back on National Conversation Week by sharing his experience of how the industry has changed and why human interaction is more important than ever, despite ever-evolving advances in technology.

The telecoms industry is well placed to provide insight on the changing face of conversation and, as digital platforms become more and more prevalent, the sector has seen a lot of changes. Gone are the days when customer services is simply a friendly face in person and a voice over the phone, now customers expect live chat platforms, speedy responses on social media and a public forum to air their grievances.

Reuben Singh explains:

‘The way that people communicate is constantly changing and undoubtedly, one of the primary drivers of this change is technological advances. Inventions like the telephone, email and instant messaging have expanded our ability to communicate far beyond anything we’re physically capable of. As a result, we are better connected than ever before, and with so many different ways to communicate, people often find themselves with a choice of how they’re going to start the conversation. For businesses, understanding the reasoning behind this choice is vital to providing an effective customer experience.’

‘One of the most recent trends in business communication is for companies to engage with their customers via live chat, whether it’s to provide customer service or for the sales team to respond to basic FAQs. Live chat offers the benefit of a faster way for customers to interact with a business. However, like anything, in order to prioritise speed, other aspects of the service are inevitably compromised. While using live chat certainly has its benefits, the UK Customer Satisfaction Index 2017(UKCSI 2017) provides a valuable insight into the psychology behind its use.

‘The UKCSI 2017 highlights that when asked if they prefer a fast and efficient service or proactive advice (even if it takes longer), 29.3 per cent  of people chose the fast service, 30.7 per cent of people chose the longer proactive service, with the remaining 40.1 per cent landing somewhere in the middle.’

‘For instance, it’s not surprising that the desire for a longer, hands-on dialogue greatly increases when people are raising a complaint or getting a quote. So, while live chat is an important tool for businesses to provide a fast and effective response, when it comes to the in-depth and important conversations a business handles, traditional customer service channels such as the telephone are still a vital part of any business’s communication strategy.’

‘The reason the telephone is still so important to businesses is because it’s the easiest way to provide real human-to-human interaction. While a live chat service is of course manned by a real person, the barrier of the screen prevents it having the same power as a real human voice. The importance of that can be seen when you investigate customer reactions to Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems.;

‘We’ve all experienced our own, or at least heard, horror stories of the struggle with computerised phone systems, but fewer people know there is real evidence to back these stories up. In his study of customer experience with IVR, Jacob Groshek, Assistant Professor of Emerging Media, Boston University, discovered that only three per cent of people actually enjoy using IVR systems, and that even when IVR is used, 83 per cent of people end up talking to a real person anyway. This just goes to show that when it comes to the problems that really matter to them, consumers want to talk to real people. Our service exists because people feel more comfortable in the knowledge that they’ve left a message with a real human rather than a faceless answering machine.’

‘There’s no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to choosing the appropriate communication channel. When people use live chat it’s because they don’t want a long conversation – they want a quick response to a basic enquiry. When they do choose to pick up the phone, it’s because they want a real conversation. If that conversation is regarding a complaint, it’s only going to further anger them if they’re greeted by an IVR system. If that conversation is regarding new business, you risk losing that business every time you let a machine answer your calls.’

‘In 2017, that means providing the same level of care and attention to your telephone answering, as you do to new technology like social media and live chat, because, ultimately, there will always be a need for a human on the end of the phone! ‘

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