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Customer service in the digital age - between ambition and reality

Customer service is a central element for companies. Despite the wide acceptance of automation, most customer queries are still handled manually – negatively impacting both response times and efficiency levels. Some 80% of surveyed companies view the customer focus as important for competitiveness.

Successful customer service is a decisive factor for companies. But how can the necessary proximity be created against a backdrop of ever greater digitisation? In a current study of the ZHAW Institute of Marketing Management, which is being conducted in cooperation with the internationally active service company PIDAS, around 200 companies from Germany, Austria and Switzerland have been surveyed on the topic of customer service in the digital age.

The importance of customer focus is more than mere lip service, however, and is considered to be extremely important by 80% of the companies surveyed. In this context, in particular, they view the qualities of reliability, friendliness and competence as decisive. However, companies underestimate the importance of inspiring customer experiences. «As part of an in-depth analysis, the study clearly shows that customer enthusiasm, together with reliability, is the most important driver of success,» emphasises Frédéric Monard, CEO of the PIDAS Group.

While 83% work on the assumption of satisfied customers, only 13% actually measure this value

Just 19% of the surveyed companies state that they actually also record or historicise customer interactions electronically. But this measurement would form the basis for the fulfilment of a company's performance promises and would improve customer experience over the long term. There is also a difference in the way the companies view themselves and how they are viewed by others. While 83% are sure that their customers are satisfied with the service they provide, only 13% measure the actual willingness of their customers to recommend them via the so-called Net Promoter Score (NPS). Although the NPS is, of course, only a key performance indicator (KPI), it is very simple to measure, as it only asks about the likelihood of a recommendation. It is an important key figure, especially also in branch comparisons. “Such measurements not only generate statistical key figures, but they also help companies to assess themselves and should be performed in a structured manner,” explains Dr. Pia Furchheim, a lecturer at the ZHAW Institute of Marketing Management and co-author of the study.

Manual handling instead of automated processes

If digital aspects are examined, the difficulties can be seen very clearly. Although digitisation is on everyone’s lips, just under half (48%) of the companies also offer their entire service in a digital format. The picture is even worse when it comes to customer queries. At 43% of the companies, these are still handled manually, as there is simply no corresponding software in use. This means that response times are slower and processing efficiency is negatively affected.

Nevertheless, changes are on the horizon here too – around 53% of the companies have already invested in the automation of customer processes and approximately 24% are planning to do so. Although the 2018 study has shown that chatbots are increasingly accepted and also used by consumers, only 9% of the companies actually make use of chatbots. There is thus also great potential here waiting to be tapped.

Study design:
The study data was collected during the second half of 2019. A total of 210 companies from Germany, Austria and Switzerland were surveyed. The surveys were conducted by phone. The questions were answered by managers in the area of customer service or related functions. This was the seventh time that the study has been conducted.

Interested parties can order the study on the PIDAS website.


ZHAW School of Management and Law, Institute for Marketing Management, Dr. Pia Furchheim, phone +41 58 934 41 09, e-mail