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Online chat just as effective as the phone

A new survey bolsters some long-held assumptions about customer service and also offers some new insight into consumer preferences.

A survey released today found that effective service keeps customers loyal and uncovered a lot of frustration with self-service applications.

While that's hardly news to many, just how much these things matter and what customers prefer may hold some surprises.

For example, customers are as satisfied with online chat as they are with telephone interactions, said Sean Connell, president of Connell + Associates in Glen Rock, N.J., which conducted the survey with Campbell, Calif.-based Creative Strategies Inc.

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"In customer service, we've always been taught that speaking directly is very powerful in developing a good relationship," Connell said. "But just as important is the ability to get accurate information out quickly, and chat does that well."

Those findings come despite the fact that most customer service chat features remain simple. Few companies have adopted technology like automated menus or key word searches for agents conducting chats, Connell said.

The survey polled 750 geographically diverse consumers and asked them how they felt about customer service. Satisfaction with any form of service is a key factor in maintaining healthy brand/customer relationships, according to 93% of respondents. Additionally, 45% said that most companies simply do not provide good customer service. Phone and cable companies were identified as among the worst offenders.

Respondents also said that they often find self-service applications like interactive voice response (IVR) and online FAQs frustrating.

"We've all had frustrating experiences on the phone punching numbers through a menu, but I didn't expect people would feel so strongly," Connell said. "People would rather send an e-mail knowing there's a two- to three-day lag time than go through pushing buttons. That has to say something about IVR."

The survey also found that customers not only expect high levels of customer service, but also remember the companies that don't give it to them, Connell said.

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