Over three-quarters (79 per cent) of consumers believe businesses should provide a way for customers to engage with them online, according to a new survey by Enghouse Interactive. When the same question was asked in 2014, only 29 per cent of those polled said this was important, demonstrating how attitudes have changed over the past three years.

“This latest poll shows an extraordinary increase,” says Jeremy Payne, international VP marketing, Enghouse Interactive, “and with 53 per cent of respondents selecting email as their preferred method of communication, it’s clear that whatever their target market, businesses must have an online strategy in place to survive.”

Yet, when human interaction is needed, a massive 88 per cent of consumers think it’s important to be quickly routed through to an expert. This is an equally surprising 66 per cent increase on the 2014 survey. It’s not clear whether these results show a growing impatience, an increasing complexity in consumer issues, higher expectations of customer service or a combination of all three. But it’s obvious that these days, a large number value being able to communicate with someone who knows their history, has the right data readily available and can deliver a personalised service. In line with this, 60 per cent of respondents cited the “pass the parcel” school of customer service where they get transferred from one agent to another as one of their top three irritants.

Likewise, despite the growing popularity of self-service, it seems that most people still prefer to speak to someone at a contact centre. When the sample were asked about their last three interactions with a business and where any issues they may have had were resolved, nearly half (49 per cent) said “in the contact centre”.

“These results show that today’s retailers, brand owners and service providers must provide a choice of contact options. Email is popular as it “date stamps” the communication, provides an easily searchable record of correspondence and can be viewed on multiple devices. However, it’s interesting that when it comes down to a query that needs human input, we don’t just want to speak to any person, we want the right person who can solve our problem quickly,” says Payne.

“Making it difficult to speak to a live agent will only cause aggravation. Businesses should find a cost-effective way to increase voice lines but counter rising call volumes with faster resolution and shorter calls. The way to do this is to adopt a “triage” system where the first responder makes a quick decision as to who should deal with a call and then ensure that all agents have a view of a customer’s complete multichannel history in front of them every time.

The survey results also provide an indication of what happens to businesses and brands that fail to deliver. Half (50 per cent) of those asked vote with their feet and refuse to do business with that brand or service provider again. However, although email is the most popular method of communicating with a business, social media is by far the most popular vehicle for complaints.