READING, UK: Consumers are increasingly opting to contact brands via written digital communications – email and social – rather than voice, which is leading to frustrations as the two sides fail to fully understand each other.

Eptica, a supplier of customer interaction management software, surveyed 1,000 UK consumers and 103 contact centre agents for its study, The Power of Linguistics in Customer Service. It reported that consumers overwhelmingly used email to contact brands, with 87% of consumers selecting it as their primary communication channel, ahead of Facebook (6%), chat (4%) and Twitter (3%).

The biggest single source of frustration, cited by 78% of consumers, was getting a response that either partially, or completely, failed to answer their question. Another major issue, brought up by 31%, was a failure to acknowledge their upset or anger.

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The research found that the consequences of this frustration were stark: 82% said they always or often switched supplier if they failed to correct their mistakes.

As well as the impact of customer churn on revenues, the understanding gap also adds to costs as consumers have to re-contact a company, so putting more pressure on customer service workloads and stretching resources.

On the other side of the fence, 61% of contact centre agents said they found it hard to understand the language and vocabulary that consumers used, and nearly a third (31%) found it hard to recognise anger or upset in written communications.

Being sworn at and abused were fairly obvious signs of anger that made agents unhappy but they also cited emails written totally in UPPER CASE and use of the word 'disappointed'.

And while agents empathised with consumers' frustrations they felt powerless to help and wanted better tools and technology. For example, half wanted to be able to prioritise answers based on tone (anger, sadness, happiness) and a similar proportion wanted technology that analyses questions and suggests relevant information.

Julian Sammells, sales director UK & Ireland at Eptica, observed that many brands were focused on building stronger relationships and engaging with their customers, but said their efforts were being "seriously undermined by a breakdown in understanding between consumers and frontline customer service staff".

Data sourced from Real Wire; additional content by Warc staff