Why leading organisations are reducing customer contact options

It’s an omni-shambles out there

Andrew Moorhouse @ ALITICAL
5 min readOct 13, 2020
Photo Credit— Servicefriend

Common wisdom suggests that the best Customer Experience is driven by offering your customers the greatest variety of contact options: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook messenger, Online Chat, Chat in an app, carrier pigeon… the list goes on. This belief, fuelled by the influence of very astute tech vendors, has resulted in huge (yet wasteful) investments being made. Some brands have an incredible 12 customer contact options. You can even report a water leak via your Alexa App if you live in Cambridge, UK.

However, the smartest companies are now actively restricting consumer choice and enjoying great success. During the last grand national, the UK betting firm PaddyPower turned off the voice channel completely. Instead of hiring 400 temp workers to staff the phones (as it did the year prior), PaddyPower managed all customer contact all via messaging. The outcome? Customer satisfaction increased 16% whilst saving ~£1.5m in staffing costs.

The fastest growing companies

Companies like PayPal are actively reducing contact options by removing email and telephony entirely; attempting to deflect contact to digital channels and encourage customers to self-serve.

A week ago, and the catalyst for writing this article, I had over £500 on hold in PayPal, and they refused to release it. This shit was real. It turns out, that being paid between £80 to £120 at 11pm on a number of occasions raises alarm bells and they had black listed me as a potential male gigolo. I’m not kidding! I’ve since learnt to sell household goods via Facebook at more reasonable hours.

Infuriatingly, there is no UK customer services telephone number displayed on the PayPal app or website. Calling the PayPal customer services number (found via Google) uncovers a number of skilled deflection techniques that prevent you from speaking with anyone. And when crying out “speak to agent,” into the telephone, a final automated telephony message pushed me back to the app.

”We are unable to help you with this query, please log on and message us via the contact us option.”

You may have more success than the author, but despite my best efforts, I was unable to speak with a PayPal representative to get the £500 released. Once driven to the website or app for messaging, a hybrid chat-bot (AI to Human-agent) is the main option for contact.

Source: PayPal’s deflection page!

It is infuriating but effective in deflecting customer contact.

One CX innovator, working for one of the Big 4 firms, advises global corporates to restrict customer contact options and is introducing a design principle, based on the paradox of choice; which is to only offer the three most relevant choices at each stage of the customer journey.

The wisdom of the crowd

What’s also useful to note is that as part of any deflection strategy, a CrowdService platform can be effective where queries are dealt with by helpful community members (who, in turn, are compensated for their efforts).
L’Oréal’s Garnier is a good example of this, using a platform from Limitless where the option for Crowd Service “talk to a brand ambassador” appears on every one of their pages.

Messages are not picked up by employees, but freelance consumers who are compensated for their efforts. Something projected to be huge and is labelled as GigCX.

A tech giant, also using a similar CrowdService model, projects that within five-years, 25% of all customer enquiries (B2B and B2C) will be dealt with by freelance GigCX experts.

It’s not a new model, however. Giff Gaff, the UK mobile provider, should have around 800 contact centre agents based on the number of customers; but manage with 100 due to a CrowdServe model. And even achieve a higher NPS score than O2 despite using the same network. It appears the smart companies are now bolting on Crowdsourcing / GigCX as a very effective means of deflecting and reducing contact; and the minimising need for a 1000+ agents in a call centre.

Starting with a blank canvas.

When you have zero legacy infrastructure, how many customer contact channels do you offer? Despite its failure to launch, the attempts by Facebook to deliver a new cryptocurrency offers some very interesting insights. In the case of Libra, just one customer contact option was planned. Direct message, via WhatsApp or Messenger. In September 2019, Facebook bought ServiceFriend, an Israeli tech start up, and had planned on using its Hybrid Bot Architecture as the sole source for customer queries.

Image from ServiceFriend, the tech behind Calibra

Deflect and desist

A major telco, with 1,000 agents in the UK has managed to deflect 30% of calls to in-app resolution, delivering a 15% in-year OPEX saving. Cheekily, the IVR prompt states, “for a faster response, please click 1.” — then pushing the phone contact to SMS then in-app resolution. Ironically, the author attempted to contact them on the phone after his broadband service stopped working. The automated voice message pushed back, explaining, “Please look online where 90% of issues can be resolved. Thank you for calling Sky. Please hang up your telephone now.”

“Thank you for calling Sky. Please hang up your telephone now.”

Finally, T-Mobile in the USA has removed voice entirely and is now using its retail staff to handle the WhatsApp customer contact. Something we expect to see across UK telco retailers later in 2020.

“Alexa, what’s my water bill?”

A final note: in certain markets, regulators are perhaps misguidedly driving companies to make bigger omnichannel investments. OFWAT (the UK water authority) recently mandated that five different contact channels must be available. The end result from OFWATs intervention is a number of cute but underutilised Alexa apps.

In the light of the above, companies may well be advised to audit the effectiveness of their customer contact options and identify if omni-investments and adding more contact options are truly the right way forwards.

It seems that a hybrid-chat bot, coupled with a strong deflection strategy and CrowdServicing / GigCX is part of an essential strategy for reducing customer contact. How many channels are you offering today; and are you adding more or strategically reducing them?

Addendum (19th Nov 2020).

I’ve just read that PayPal is managing 333 million active accounts. Perhaps switching off the telephony option was a smart move!



Andrew Moorhouse @ ALITICAL

Conversation scientist. Voice-tech nerd. Occasional MBA lecturer. PhD Candidate. Founder of an advanced analytics firm using AI to eke out human gains.