Intercom Survey reveals customer service is primed for change – automated tools lead the way, paving the way for AI innovations

Consumers continue to tighten their belts with an uncertain economy, and according to a new study from Intercom, the way that companies talk to their customers can significantly impact retention and business growth.

The study of 1,000 Irish consumers found that three in four say communication that makes them feel valued is a top or the most important factor when doing business with a brand. In fact, 60% would leave a business if they didn’t feel valued—alongside not actually having their issue resolved (73%), getting ghosted by a support representative (68%), or taking too long to get a response (65%).

There are striking generational differences in the style and tone consumers want from businesses. “Good customer support” varies based on the person and situation—making it essential for businesses to deliver personalised customer support based on context and a deep understanding of each individual customer.

“Irish consumer expectations for customer support are evolving quickly, and as we face an impending recession it’s important to listen to them or risk losing their business,” said Intercom’s Vice President of Customer Support Declan Ivory. “The results of this study underscore the need for urgency in providing personalised support, and showing your customers that you value them, which will be crucial for retention in today’s economic climate where retaining and growing your customer base is critical.”

Get personal—but not cringey

Personal and friendly communication strengthens the relationship between businesses and their customers, but how you do it matters. Too much familiarity that doesn’t feel authentic can backfire.

Tone is key: consumers say they would take their business elsewhere if a customer support agent didn’t treat them as an individual (38%), used cringe-worthy language (29%—think misused slang), tried too hard with inauthentic communication (28%) or used too many emojis (20%).

A majority of respondents (58%) find it acceptable for companies to use emojis in support conversations. Younger generations are four times as likely as older ones to want companies to use emojis and GIFs, signalling a shift in how businesses will need to adapt their support and communication strategies as younger generations become primary buyers.

Today, most consumers prefer casual (55%) vs. professional language (45%) from companies. Gen Z’s growing influence may make informality the norm in the future—64% of Gen Z respondents prefer a more casual approach.

Knowing a customer’s purchase or usage history is the top way to make them feel valued. 71% of respondents rate it among the top 3 factors that show they are valued, including receiving VIP treatment (53%) and proactive tips and support without needing to initiate a conversation (51%). Surface-level personalisation, like using their first name in communications and added greetings and goodbyes, rank lower.

Consumers want short text and direct messages—not dreaded phone tree loops

The ways that consumers want to engage with businesses are changing, with 85% of respondents saying they’re OK with companies communicating in the same way they communicate with their family and friends.

When asked which ways consumers like connecting with family and friends that they wish businesses would use, respondents across all generations (58%) said communicating by text or direct messages. From Gen Z to Boomers, this is the more welcome approach.

29% of respondents also ranked sending a stream of shorter messages instead of longer paragraphs as a top wish. Gen Z showed the strongest preference (38%) for this style.

Automated phone systems are the most disliked channel overall across all respondents, but for Gen Z, live phone calls are even worse.

Different situations call for different styles of communication. Chatbots and online chat are most preferred for answering a quick question (50%), confirming an appointment or delivery time (34%), or cancelling an order (27%). Four-in-five (80%) say overall, there are times and places where they definitely prefer chatbots and online chat. 20% say there’s no circumstance where they would want to interact with a chatbot or online chat—however, this sentiment is higher for Boomers (39%).

Overall, people don’t want to share sensitive information via chat, but Gen Z (17%) are more comfortable doing so than their younger and older counterparts.

Automated customer support tools like chatbots have room to improve. While consumers are split on whether they find them aggravating (60%) or helpful (40%), more Millennials (48%) and Gen Z (44%) find them helpful and easy to use than other age group. And with disruptive technology like OpenAI’s ChatGPT now available, huge leaps in customer support automation and artificial intelligence are clearly imminent.

The industries providing the best and worst customer support

When ranking industries, consumers say supermarkets and hotels have the best customer support, and their reputation is particularly strong with older generations.

As travellers struggle with lost baggage and cancelled flights during a busy holiday travel season, airlines ranked lowest for customer support satisfaction, with only 5% of respondents rating their customer support experience the best. Telecom/mobile and clothing retailers also showed room for improvement.

“The way that businesses support their customers needs to change,” said Ivory “Irish consumers want and demand easy, proactive and personal customer service experiences, and they’re willing to put their money behind it.”

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