With all the investment in technology and AI in call centers, where does that position human-to-human conversations? Omnichannel technologies, defined as those which provide a seamless customer service experience across channels, have seen major growth in popularity over the past few years. In theory, the more channels available, the less that voice — and therefore humans — will matter.

We asked executives to rank how often they use certain customer service channels today and how often they expected to use them in 10 years. Human-centric channels like voice, email, and live chat with a human remained in the top three spots.

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Consumer Loneliness Is a Call Driver

This may not be a surprising finding considering that we are in the midst of a loneliness epidemic. In fact, by 2026, Gartner predicts that 75% of customers will call service lines due to loneliness — not because they have a customer service issue. 

In a survey of over 20,000 respondents, it was found that 33% of the worldwide population experienced regular feelings of loneliness. In the United States, this number was 31%, but it was as high as 50% in some countries. Post-pandemic, Americans today have fewer friends and social support structures than ever before. 

Regardless of how seamless a self-service option is, or how simple a process is for finding a solution online, customers may opt to call in and speak to an agent directly to fulfill their interpersonal needs. This could lead to:

  • Lack of customer adoption of self-service channels.
  • Longer handle times.
  • Increased demand for high emotional intelligence in agents.
  • More emotional labor for agents that can lead to attrition down the line.

According to a recent publication in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, “Lonely consumers replace social interactions with marketplace relationships with salespersons, online consumption communities or even virtual companions with anthropomorphic features.”

Learning Opportunities

Related Article: Why Conversational AI Is So Much More Than a Chatbot

Customers Want to Talk to ... People

While loneliness may drive some calls, another reason why voice channels remain evergreen is that for complex situations, people want to talk to people. The simple things will be automated (consumers can check online for a gift’s delivery date or book a plane ticket on an app) but when something goes wrong (the gift isn’t going to arrive in time, or their flight is delayed) they want to be able to pick up the phone and call someone quickly, and there may be high levels of anxiety involved. 

“As your customer interactions become more fraught and challenging, you need to look more at the soft skills and emotional intelligence of the agents you hire,” Max Ball, principal analyst at Forrester, wrote in a blog. “Once you have the right people, you need to give them proper training to align with your organization and its beliefs.”

While companies continue to invest in their omnichannel capabilities, keep an eye on voice: over the next decade, it is slated to remain the most popular channel among executives and customers alike. Agents will have to uplevel their social and emotional skills to handle both an increase in calls due to consumer loneliness, and a higher percentage of complex calls as low-hanging fruit is solved via omnichannel options.

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