Customers, which is more appealing: being stalked or being ghosted?

For the less celebrity-news savvy, ghost or ghosted is a term referring to the sudden vanishing from someone's life by a significant other. 

It was one of questions — well, it was probably worded a bit differently — asked of more than 18,000 global respondents as part of a larger research survey about customer service expectations. The research was commissioned by Verint this summer in association with Opinium Research and consultancy firm Ovum.

The answer was a very close call, with much depending on the age of the recipient.

Like It, Like It Not

When survey takers gave respondents a choice between  "I like it when service is personalized to me and my interests" and "I am suspicious about how my data is used", the responses were nearly split (51 percent to 49 percent respectively).

Americans aged 18-to-34 were more comfortable with personalization (at 59 percent) compared with those 35 years and older. Among the latter group, less than half (46 percent) would take personalization over privacy. 

This finding has larger implications, especially as other insights about consumers and their view of brand engagement become clear.

Perhaps the most startling was that their long-term engagement with or loyalty to a brand or company is dropping, Dave Capuano, vice president of Global Digital Marketing at Verint, told CMSWire. "This is a call to action for businesses to think about how they are engaging with customers who are more empowered than they have ever been before."

Indeed the numbers behind the query on how long customers have stayed with certain service providers may be understating the declining loyalty.

For example the No. 1 industry, with the most long-term (more than three years) customer engagement was a tie between banking (at 71 percent) and supermarket/grocery/clothing stores (also at 71 percent).

A strong case can be made that most customers stay with banks because switching can be very difficult with direct deposit and auto pay so common now. Super market and clothing stores have a less of a hold on customers but one could also argue that these many, but not all, of such stores are more commodities and customers choose them in large part based on their location.

A look at the rest of the list adds weight to the argument that the harder it is for a customer to switch providers the more likely he or she is to stay with the current company, as opposed to loving the service that is offered. Following banks and grocery/clothing stores, the industries with the most long-term (three years or more) engagements are:

  • #3 — Gas/energy/water (66 percent)
  • #4 — Mobile phone company (60 percent)
  • #5 — Insurance company (58 percent)
  • #6 — Credit card company (55%)
  • #7 — Online retailer (50 percent)
  • #8 — Home phone/landline/broadband (48 percent)

A Customer Service Story

By now it should be clear that these data points tell a very interesting story about customer service and the mismatch between customers' and companies' perceptions of what is important. 

Consider the finding that bubbled up from the questions that people want personalized service but are suspicious about how companies will handle and protect their data. "Customer want a tailored, personal interaction," Capuano said. "They don’t want to have to repeat their information or re-explain a situation. They also don’t want their data stolen or used in a manner they weren't expecting."

I asked  Capuano if he thought one reason why so many companies and customers have different expectations about the use of their data was because companies had misinterpreted responses to other surveys over the years that customers like a personalized experience.

Perhaps those customers had been thinking about the many service calls they had placed over the years when the rep had no idea who they were and what their problem was, despite having called or otherwise contacted the company about it before?  And so, when asked if they wanted service providers to add personalization to their mix of offerings, they answered yes.

Conversely, companies went on to assume that more personalization meant better-targeted ads or marketing offers based on past purchases.

That is possible, maybe even more than possible, Capuano offers.

The point is, now the situation is different.

Customers have the tools at hand to move from service provider to service provider if they are not happy. And — sorry brands — but they are not going to be made happy solely by a company remembering a birthday or offering a 10 percent discount on an item that goes with a previous purchase.

This is what it will come down to: a transaction-oriented, business-like, respectful customer service experience where yes, the rep knows the customer's name and history  — and then is able to address the query or issue on the spot. Without risking personal data and without trying to cross sell and up sell.

So the answer to that original question of whether customers want to be stalked or ghosted is that they want a little of both. 

Title image by Jesse Bowser.