Survey shows high percentage of consumers choose human connection over digital channels

Consumers also prioritised knowledge of products and services, urgency, and efficiency in the 2021 survey.

Despite the rise in digital channels available, a second-quarter consumer survey carried out by business process outsourcing (BPO) provider Merchants found that 83% of South African consumers prefer to speak to an agent when contacting a brand or business.

The results show a 16% increase when compared to the 2020 results of the survey, which seeks to gain insights into the customer experience (CX) preferences of local consumers.

Over half of survey respondents said that they were dealing with more contact centres since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, and 58% of respondents had dealt directly with a contact centre in the last month.

Merchants’ Group Chief Revenue Officer, Mathew Conn, highlights the fact that this trend is set to continue, as scientists have predicted the virus is set to stick around for many years.

“The last year has been a difficult time for consumers, as the way we live and work has been drastically altered in a short time,” says Conn.

“When reaching out to brands and businesses through the contact centre, consumers are most often looking for solutions and problem solving – which is the main reason they’d be looking to deal with a human being rather than a bot. This is set to continue as the world continues to navigate the long-lasting effects of the virus.”

Problem-solving was once again identified by consumers as the most important trait for a contact centre agent to have. This year South Africa was voted the top region for CX delivery according to Ryan Strategic, and Conn notes that the problem-solving ability of local agents plays a major role in the success of the country’s BPO industry.

Consumers also prioritised knowledge of products and services, urgency, and efficiency in the 2021 survey – with traits like personality and empathy moving further down the list.

“These findings are further proof of the change in the way consumers are dealing with brands and businesses through contact centres,” Conn noted.

“They see the contact centre as the fastest and most effective way of gaining information, dealing with queries or solving problems.

“While human traits like empathy and personality remain important, the consumer is looking for a keen problem solver first – and this is a trait that bots, for example, are not able to deliver on.”

Conn also noted that email remains the most popular form of communication for South African consumers when they are looking to make contact with a brand that might not be as urgent.

“Having their thoughts or questions expressed in writing is important to many consumers – and is often used for general queries, complaints or even compliments,” he says.

“The 2021 survey results demonstrate the importance of human connection in the contact centre, despite an obvious investment by many businesses into digital CX channels. While these remain important for brand relevance in the digital age, human connection remains king for the contact centre,” he concludes.

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