Image of man holding his phone as he has a folder of all this social media apps ready to choose one.

The telephone is the most popular way for consumers to reach out to companies, especially if a complex customer service issue is involved, according to research from Vivint.

But we may be in store for a shift in consumers’ preferred channels as more and more companies become effective at using social media to respond to customer concerns and complaints.

Jay Baer, a digital marketing specialist, told CNBC that customers’ expectations for receiving a response via social media is relatively low. So, when a company does respond through a channel such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, customers are often pleasantly surprised.

“If you get a phone call or an email back, you’re like, ‘Eh, I expected that to happen,’” he said in an interview with CNBC. “If you get a Tweet back, you’re like, ‘Wow, that was really terrific.’”

Baer’s research finds that customers expect a reply from a company 91 percent of the time when a complaint is made by phone; 89 percent when a complaint is sent over email; and just 42 percent expect a reply when a complaint is made via social media.

The shift from traditional communication channels to digital channels is understood by top-performing companies, which often use the term “contact center” to describe their customer service and support units. DATAMARK offers outsourced contact center services, with agents trained to use multichannel customer service technology. Through a single desktop application, agents can interact with customers by phone, email and through social media channels.

Baer has also found that customer service on social media can deliver a big payoff. Companies experience a 20 percent “boost in advocacy” by answering complaints over social media, compared to a 10 percent and 8 percent boost in advocacy over phone and email, respectively.

Baer’s research and Vivint’s study of consumer channel preferences are in agreement: customer service by telephone isn’t going away.

Baer sees the big shift to digital channels powered by a generation that has grown up with smartphones—a generation that uses Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter and SMS text messages, but rarely uses phones to make voice calls.

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