shopping cart
Businesses should think twice before completely handing customer service over entirely to digital tools PHOTO: Kai Oberhäuser

Today’s online retailers are often focused on providing consumers with increasingly sophisticated digital tools to help shorten the buying cycle and reduce friction when shopping online. 

Despite these investments to curb cart abandonment though, research from the Baymard Institute calculated an average online cart abandonment rate of 69 percent, based on aggregated results from 37 different studies. This is in addition to the 53 percent of US adults who are likely to abandon their online purchases if they cannot find quick enough answers to their questions, according to Kate Leggett of Forrester.

Consumers Want Human Customer Service

The message from these statistics is that a renewed focus on service may be central to improving cart abandonment scores. While many steps in the path to purchase are increasingly moving online, a new study of 24 thousand consumers in twelve countries suggests that when it comes to service, good old-fashioned human interaction may still be the most preferred channel.

That recent Digital Tipping Point survey, sponsored by my employer’s parent company, Verint, showed that all consumers — even digital natives — prefer more human interaction when it comes to customer service. What’s more, the research shows that organizations that rely too heavily on digital channels risk missing out on building long-term, meaningful relationships with their customers. 

Key Survey Findings 

Several findings from the survey should be of particular importance to digital marketers:

1. Consumers respond favorably to more human customer service

The research reaffirms that providing a strong customer experience correlates with consumers displaying positive behaviors toward brands following initial engagement. In the age of social media and online reviews, this is critical for online retailers. 

Mobile customer care can also help build loyalty and drive purchasing behavior by engaging customers at points in their journeys where they might be seeking help or information. 

The study found that consumers who reported good customer service experiences were: 

  • 38 percent more likely to renew their product or service even if it wasn’t the cheapest option
  • 27 percent more likely to sign up for an organization’s loyalty program
  • 19 percent more likely leave a positive review 

Interestingly however, consumers in the study were 57 percent more likely to do nothing following a positive digital experience versus an in-person visit. Clearly, based on that finding, investments in the human element can pay off by creating more valuable relationships between brands and consumers. 

2. Consumers want a human service element as part of their buying journeys

Consumers are embracing new technologies, services and experiences faster than ever before, but they still haven’t fully embraced the digital buying journey. According to the survey, consumers felt that the digital purchase experience still needs to improve, with 67 percent feeling that service online and via mobile devices should be “faster, more intuitive and better able” to serve their needs. 

Even with multiple channels available today, the consumers surveyed still preferred traditional communication methods for customer service interactions with organizations:

  • 24 percent of consumers want to pick up the phone
  • 23 percent want to go in-store
  • 9 percent want to use mobile apps 
  • 3 percent want to use social media 

Generationally, it’s especially interesting that even so-called digital natives report preferring the phone (18 percent of millennials and 23 percent of Gen X) and email (both 17 percent) over social media. 

It seems that while consumers will give feedback via social media, they don’t want to interact with service agents there. Millennials use social media more than any other generation, but only six percent chose it as their preferred channel for customer service. 

3. Request complexity heavily influences choice of service channel

To handle simple requests, 64 percent of surveyed consumers tended to pick digital channels. For anything urgent, they picked the phone. Additionally, 64 percent of survey respondents believed it was more convenient — and they would have a better experience — when engaging with organizations in-store or on the phone.

Interacting with a brand, particularly for more complicated purchases, requires convenience, context, empathy, emotional intelligence and an ability to process broad sets of information. This can be difficult to provide through a fully digital experience. 

The survey results indicate that online retailers can best provide all the necessary elements of brand interaction by offering proactive mobile customer care that reaches out to consumers when they seem ‘stuck’ or would best be served by a back and forth conversation. Messaging via SMS or another platform the consumer uses regularly could be a more natural way of moving those customers along their journeys and into the cart.

Think Before Going All-In on Digital

To improve cart conversion, online retailers must continue to weigh the mix of digital and traditional elements offered to customers along the path to purchase. In particular, by being too quick to minimize or remove a human customer service option, organizations miss an opportunity to provide their consumers with more efficient experiences, which will lead to better sales conversion rates.