Organisations that fail to embrace digital channels are compromising their ability to win customers and grow their business.  So says new research conducted by customer management consultancy, Ember Services, and sponsored by Serco.  An estimated 80% of customers make their initial contact with any business via a digital channel and increasingly favour digital for ongoing interactions.  As digital devices proliferate, that rate is likely to rise.


“UK consumers are becoming ‘digital by default’,” says Ember’s founder and Director, Paul Mackenzie.  “Where once their first instinct would be to pick up the phone, today they’ll use self service channels to get service and make transactions, and social media communities to research and form opinions about companies and products.  Companies that persevere in treating the phone as their primary customer engagement channel are not only spending money they don’t need to spend, they are curtailing their opportunities to win customers and grow business.”


Ember warns that the shift to digital will mean a re-evaluation of the contact centre and its role.  “Instead of being the first port of call, contact centres are the fall back option; the place customers go if their enquiry is too complex for automation or too urgent for email,” says Mackenzie. 


The research, carried out among directors of more than 30 leading organisations that have adopted digital channels, cites the following examples of high achieving implementations – all of which assume a ‘digital by default’ approach:


  • NSPCC is using message boards, blogs and whiteboards on its website to provide children at risk or in difficulty with an anonymous means of making contact, asking questions and getting help.  A perfect example of using digital channels to reach a sensitive audience.

  • NHS Direct started life as a telephone helpline but now provides online-diagnostics and symptom checkers that reduce calls and give immediate reassurance or advice.  It has also used social networking sites in the fight against cancer, with a programme to encourage teenage girls to take up of the Human Papillomavirus vaccine.

  • Sales at Majestic Wines have increased 24.6% since using social networks, blogs and Twitter to promote special offers, new lines and events.  Every store now has its own Twitter feed and web page focused on local news and promotions.

  • Vodafone’s online forum – where customers raise issues and ask questions – is dramatically reducing call volumes.  80% of forum users haven’t called Vodafone in over three months.  The forum is run by a small, dedicated team, but most answers are given by other forum members. 


“These organisations share a determination to become digital by default, leading them to invest in order to optimise digital channels, from traditional web and mobile applications to self service and social media,” says Mackenzie.  “The customer engagement landscape has moved on.  Business leaders have to catch up fast or miss the business growth opportunities digital channels offer.”


Ember’s research report advocates six steps towards digital adoption:


  • Comprehensive strategy:  Adding channels without a clear understanding of the customer journey will cause damage and burn money.  Develop a companywide strategy that uses complementary interaction processes across every channel.

  • Put digital first:  Promote digital options to encourage ‘digital by default’ behaviours among your customers.

  • Map the channels:  Design channels and interaction processes that map your customer journey, based on an analysis of what customers want to achieve when they interact with you.

  • Change the contact centre:  Call volumes will fall, but the relative complexity and importance of every call will increase.  Make the contact centre your multi-channel customer engagement hub, coordinating every interaction irrespective of channel.

  • Invest in integration:  Ensure the efficacy of digital channels with back end integration to your business systems.

  • Make it easy:  It’s partly about intuitive user interfaces, but it’s mostly about channel integration.  You have to be able to recognise customers (and their multi-channel history) whenever they switch channel. 


Jerry Benson, Managing Director of Serco’s UK & Europe BPO business, said:  “We are delighted to have been able to sponsor Ember in this important piece of research. We know from our own clients how fast the consumer communications landscape is changing, and how the dramatic increases in contact by social media and online sales are changing the way organisations talk to their consumers. The white paper adds a valuable and significant voice to the digital debate, and we are glad to have been able to support Ember in bringing it to a wider audience”


Copies of Ember’s research report, ‘Becoming Digital by Default:  New thinking form multichannel effectiveness’ are available from Ember.  Visit or email

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