NEW YORK: Consumers in North America are increasingly looking to the internet when raising customer service problems, although social media still has a limited role at present, new figures show.

Forrester, the insights provider, surveyed 3,400 North American web users, all of which had interacted with a customer service organisation at some point during the past 12 months.

It reported that, for the first time, online self-service tools overtook the telephone as the most widely-deployed communications channel when trying to resolve issues and queries.

More specifically, 66% of people turned to the "frequently asked questions" section on a brand or corporate website, while 61% of participants sent an email to official customer service accounts.

Another 58% of respondents searched the internet for an answer, beating the 50% of contributors who called a business for an equivalent purpose.

The uptake of other digital media remain somewhat modest, however, as just 6% of the sample leveraged online forums for this reason.

Similarly, despite the buzz surrounding the use of Twitter as a service channel, only 1% of shoppers interviewed by Forrester had utilised the microblog to air a question or complaint.

Overall, the research firm revealed "live-assist" platforms, like the phone, online chat or "co-browse" tools - where a company representative accesses a web page at the same time as a consumer - were seen as delivering the best results.

Satisfaction scores reached 78% for "co-browsing", 75% regarding the phone and 69% concerning chat, measured against 54% for email and 47% for self-service facilities on the internet.

"Customers are using more channels, not fewer ones. Traditional channels like voice and email are still widely used," Kate Leggett, a Forrester analyst, said.

"Customers do not get the same experience across all channels. Live-assist channels do better than others because customers still want service in real time and trust channels that are staffed by real people interacting with them in real time."

Data sourced from Forrester; additional content by Warc staff