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The Preferred Methods of Customer Interaction: Survey Results

Written by Ian Landsman, published on 04.19.2016

At The Delightenment Blog, we’ve started examining what makes customer service delightful. We want to explore what makes great support stand out, and what customer support solutions are most useful to the customer.

We’re not talking about glamorous systems and set-ups, shiny for the sake of looking flashy. We’re talking about functional, efficient and supremely effective customer support practices that benefit both the consumer and the business.

We also have to keep with the times. And the times are changing, quickly. We’re moving into an era where developers can create chat bots to engage with customer inquiries via Facebook Messenger.

But… What do the customers want? What will they actually use? How do they feel about chat bots? (a survey for another day)

We start by looking at our own desires. We are customers, and we can learn from our own experiences. It’s like the golden rule, right? We can apply what we know we value to how we interact with our own customers at every stage of the customer lifecycle. So…

Robots or humans?

Email, live chat or phone?

In a previous post, we sought to answer the questions on how people felt about the use of various automated, digital and traditional customer service mechanisms. To do that, we asked a few questions recently, and you answered. *This was not a scientific survey.

You have a simple need (check balance, purchase tickets, etc.). Would you prefer to talk to a human, or follow the steps to get to an automated answer?

Turns out, we’re pretty split on this, but open to automation. 63% of respondents indicated they’d proceed through an automated system rather than go direct to a human. The rest would prefer to connect directly with someone to speak with about their need.

You have a question. Would you prefer to speak to a human, or use live chat?

This result swung the opposite way, with just more than 60% preferring to speak to a customer support person directly. Because maybe the questions are more open-ended, or we feel the need to provide more information. Backstory. Context.

Then we started ranking our gut reactions to different methods of communicating with customer support. A ranking of 1 was essentially “ugh, avoid it at all costs” while a 5 indicated “I love it.”

  • On phone calls: An equal amount of people voted 2 and 4, and just slightly less at that middle mark, 3. Our quick sampling said we’re as equally somewhat for it as we are against it.
  • On live chat: Again, we’re undecided, with the frontrunners this time being 4, and slightly less, 2.
  • On email: Finally, a clearer answer, with half the votes weighing in at 4. We feel pretty good about email. Perhaps this warmth toward email stems from the fact that it integrates pretty seamlessly into our existing routines and it is a very familiar realm for users of most demographics.
  • On automated processes being the worst or the easiest: Turns out, there is no “easy.” The majority of our respondents weighed in right in the middle, either apathetic or voting middle of the road. Any opinions swayed to the side of not being all that in love with automated customer support.

Beyond that, we’re pretty mixed.

As customers, we like a little of everything. We dislike a little of everything. We’re slightly unimpressed with all.

On one hand, the fact that no one loved any particular method of seeking customer service may have more to do with the fact that no one really ever “loves” needing help. Perhaps it’s the process of seeking assistance in general that breeds the tepid response. We do it, but only out of necessity. Perhaps that throws down the gauntlet for us to raise the live chat, automated and phone experience to a new level. *Or perhaps no one from our survey has had the pleasure of working with companies utilizing the HelpSpot platform. But we digress.*

So What Did We Learn?

Short answer? A little, but not everything.

As a society we’ve become extremely accustomed to automation and leveraging technology. In a number of instances, we’re more comfortable texting an order for pizza or finding out what time a movie starts from a recording. In fact, we sometimes prefer to distance ourselves from interpersonal contact. Whether or not that is advantageous for the growth of our emotional intelligence as a culture, well, that’s not this post.

The point is there are times we like the detached communication we can have with a machine. It’s the same mentality that makes many of us more inclined to answer a text than a phone call. After all, we are a generation of multi-taskers. That means simple, redundant, unchanging facts, times and orders may be best and most gratefully provided by automation.

It allows us to get what we need, quickly, without having to engage.


There are clearly times where engagement is not only preferred but requisite. When the majority of our survey respondents stated that, if they have a question, they prefer human contact via phone rather than live chat, we weren’t surprised.

It only adds further support for something we already believed. It has been our contention from the beginning that when a customer has an issue that is specific, individualized, or even emotionally charged, they’d rather talk to a person.

Based on this survey, that conviction holds true. Maybe it’s the absence of tone in live chat that decreases the sense of connection. Maybe it’s the immediacy of a phone conversation that beats staring at bouncing dots while we await a response.

Customer Support Methods Are Changing, And So Is Customer Behavior

To be fair, a broader, more diverse data sampling would be required to draw definitive, scientific conclusions. But what we can determine is that as businesses, we have to strive for diversity and agility.

We have to be prepared to offer various solutions, even if we proactively recommend the customer support method we’re best suited to offer. In a culture fraught with options, where speed and efficiency have become paramount, we have to cater to customers’ individual preferences. We have to understand personalities and circumstances drive what customers need and prefer at any given time.

We also have to keep asking these questions, even if the questions themselves provide more ideas, than answers.

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