Customer service: What do Australian consumers really think?

Published on 28/06/2022 by Laura Burgess

Small to midsize enterprises (SMEs) may not be able to compete with larger ones on price, scale, or speed, but they do have one potential secret weapon: customer service. But how much do consumers really care about customer services and what are their expectations?

Header image showing customer service representative offering customer service support

Building great relationships through great service helps foster loyalty, and smaller businesses can do this just as well as the big players. This year, we surveyed hundreds of consumers and customer service representatives to learn more about their experiences in this area. Last month, we published the results of the employee survey, where we learned about the customer service representatives’ jobs, the customer service software they use, and the service they provide.

Here, we examine what consumers think about customer service and see how this compares to the results from customer service representatives. We also explore how SMEs can improve their own customer service with tools tailored to the job like customer service software. This second survey was completed by just over 600 Australian residents who had used customer support or technical help desk support in the past. More than two-thirds of respondents to our survey (67%) had used both customer support and help desk services, while 27% had only used customer support and 6% had only used a help desk for technical support. You can scroll down to the bottom of the article for a full methodology.

What type of support do customers prefer?

SMEs provide support in many ways. There are multiple channels they can use, including telephone, email, live chat, and social media. They can also provide materials for customers to resolve their own problems and use automated problem-solving tools like chatbots to field customer enquiries.

The consumers in our survey strongly prefer instant-response type support from a human agent. Phone (51%) and live chat support (with a human agent on a website, or using apps like WhatsApp— 31%) topped the list for respondents’ first choice for support, while other choices attracted only single-figure responses.

chart showing customers most preferred method of customer support

Did you know? According to our research, phone support is also the most common type of support that companies provide, with 82% of customer service representatives saying their company uses it. Live chat is less common —only being used by 37% of the employees we spoke to— but it is the most popular channel for potential investigation. 29% of employees say they would like to explore it in the future, ahead of social media (20%).

We also asked respondents what they considered to be the most important characteristics of customer support. Again, the theme of a quick, human response shone through, with politeness, good listening skills, good communication skills, and quick problem-solving coming out on top.

Bar graph highlighting which customer service agents’ characteristics are important to consumers 

SMEs that are looking to improve their phone-based or live-chat support may want to consider specialist tools. Call centre software, for example, includes features to help companies distribute incoming calls automatically, route them to the appropriate customer service representatives, and more efficiently integrate phone support with the other interactions the company has with that customer.

Live chat software —as the name suggests— allows companies to provide live chat support to customers via their website or app. The tools can run 24/7 or can be set up to collect out-of-hours enquiries and then pick up live chat when agents begin their shift. Properly used, live chat software reduces the cost of customer support and leads to smoother interactions and better sales conversions.

Which industries are getting customer support right?

We asked participants about the kind of support they receive from companies of various industries, sizes, and locations. When invited to select three industries that provide the best customer support, participants were most likely to choose banking (chosen by 50% of respondents), telecoms and internet providers (33%), and professional services (27%). At the other end of the scale, culture and entertainment (8%), household equipment and furniture (7%), and software (7%) companies all attracted fewer responses, although this may be because products in the first two industries typically require less follow-up support.

Although customer-centricity is often cherished as a characteristic of startups, few people in our survey thought that new companies offer better customer service than long-standing ones. Indeed, a plurality (42%) said they didn’t notice a difference between the two, while 39% said that more established companies actually offer better support.

And consumers seem to prefer the customer service provided by local companies to global ones. 54% believe this to be the case, although almost one-third (32%) said they didn’t notice a difference.

The pros and cons of phone support

As the most popular type of support, we wanted to find out more about what consumers value about phone interactions. They do not appear to have a preference between male and female voices, but strongly prefer that the support agent they speak be human. 72% said they want to speak to a human of any gender, while 13% prefer a female human voice and 6% would prefer a male human voice. No synthesised voice option attracted more than 1% of responses.

Consumers were asked to share their opinion on the advantages of phone support over other options. Again, the theme of being able to explain their problems to a person who would listen and fix their issue quickly came across. An overwhelming 80% said a main advantage of phone support is that they can explain themselves better or ask more questions. 51% said they feel it is a more efficient way of getting issues resolved, and 44% said there’s less delay in receiving a solution to their issue. Only 4% said they don’t see any advantages to phone support.

The biggest downside to phone support, cited by 77% of consumers surveyed, was being stuck in a queue. Indeed, the frustrations seem to centre upon companies’ ability to actually deliver phone support. 41% were concerned about potentially rude or overworked agents, and 35% said another downside was a lack of efficiency from agents.

Infographic comparing the pros and cons of a customer service call

Why do consumers like live chat?

Live chat was the second most popular form of support in our survey, and its popularity appears to come from its flexibility. As phone lines often have fixed business hours, consumers value the ability to access live chat at any time. 51% said the biggest advantage is that live chat is more flexible in terms of availability and hours, while 42% said they can multitask while using live chat support, unlike phone support, which usually commands people’s full attention. And unlike phone support, live chat users can be sent links and documentation directly in the support interaction, which 38% of consumers see as a benefit.

Conversely, written communication via live chat can be more difficult. 58% said that ‘unclear explanations/miscommunication [getting] in the way’ was a major disadvantage, while 41% said that it’s easier for agents to skip or ignore their questions. 36% said that the service via chat can feel less personal.

Chatbots —automated services that answer people’s customer-service queries via live chat— were not a first choice for many in our survey. Only 4% would choose it over other forms if given the choice, but the potential advantages are similar to agent-powered chat. Round-the-clock availability (58%) and quick solutions to common issues (38%) were the most cited, although 26% said they don’t see any advantages. Indeed, the most common disadvantage, chosen by 64%, was that chatbots ‘can’t solve complex or specific issues’.

Creating a paper trail of support

Some consumers prefer to resolve their problems in writing, choosing either to read online documentation or to submit their query and continue the interaction by email or other non-instant types of communication.

According to our survey, the biggest advantage of written forms of communication —including email, website forms, or a social media business account— is that consumers have a paper trail of correspondence. 65% of people agreed with this. 38% believe they can express themselves best using this format, and 36% appreciate the fact that they can deal with several issues at the same time. 

The major downside, however, is uncertainty. 68% dislike having to wait for an answer, while 59% don’t like the risk of never receiving an answer, and 54% don’t like not knowing whether the company received the query.

SMEs can mitigate these concerns with specialist help desk or customer service  software. These tools have features such as automated replies that let customers know their message has been received and when they can expect a response. They also generally provide status updates, help prioritise calls, and route and manage tickets efficiently. This ensures customer support teams can process queries quickly and provide good service.

Self-service support, where consumers can access a company’s online documentation to solve problems themselves, is popular with businesses because it is a cost-effective way of providing large amounts of information to customers without personalised customer interaction. Indeed, this is what customers appear to value. The biggest benefit, selected by 48% of people, is that they don’t have to interact with anyone. However, the major drawback (chosen by 65%) is that such documentation is usually limited to the most common support issues.

Companies appear to see value in self-service customer support. Of the customer service employees we surveyed, 80% use online documentation or chatbots (or both), and 75% of these said that customers could solve their issues themselves using these methods.

How do consumers feel about good and bad customer support?

Reassuringly for companies who provide customer support, most consumers have a positive view of their experiences. 61% in our survey said that they usually feel like a valued customer when contacting customer support, while the remainder (39%) said they feel like they’re bothering the company.

When customer service goes right, the consequences for the company are impressive. People who have good experiences are more likely to recommend that company to others and buy more from the company. In fact, they are even prepared to remain with the company when competitors offer better prices.

Infographic showing the consequences of consumers receiving good customer support

Conversely, bad experiences have the opposite effect. People are likely to stop using the company and actively discourage others from doing the same

Infographic that shows the consequences of consumers receiving poor customer support 

Did you know? The customer service employees we spoke to whose companies collect feedback on customer service say that most customers (63%) give positive responses. The most common ways of dealing with poor customer feedback are to offer an apology and investigate the root cause of the issue, but 25% seek to offer compensation.

In summary

  • Consumers prefer support provided via a human agent that gives them instant answers, like phone support or live chat.
  • Local companies offer better support than global ones, although respondents did not have a strong preference for support offered by small companies compared with larger ones.
  • Customers like the ability to explain themselves on the phone, the flexibility of live chat, and the paper trail that comes with written communication.
  • Conversely, customers don’t like being held in a queue on the phone, miscommunications on live chat, and waiting for answers when using written communication.
  • Consumers say that good customer support actively drives them to use a company more and tell their friends about it, while bad support has the opposite effect.
Looking for customer service software? Browse our catalogue.

Methodology

To collect this data, Capterra interviewed 606 consumers in April 2022. Candidates had to fulfil the following criteria: 

  • Australian resident
  • Between the ages of 18 and 65
  • Has used customer support or help desk services before

This article may refer to products, programs or services that are not available in your country, or that may be restricted under the laws or regulations of your country. We suggest that you consult the software provider directly for information regarding product availability and compliance with local laws.

About the author

Content Analyst at Capterra, researching and giving insight on tech trends to help SMEs. Graduate of Bath Spa University, UK. Based in Barcelona after years of living in Australia.

Content Analyst at Capterra, researching and giving insight on tech trends to help SMEs. Graduate of Bath Spa University, UK. Based in Barcelona after years of living in Australia.

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