Once the bastion of customer service, the telephone is now one of many channels customers turn to for service. The phone now shares its customer service spotlight with websites, chat, email, avatars, and mobile apps. Customers navigating this channel mix expect seamless service across all these touchpoints. Companies looking to retain those customers need do deliver on that expectation.

"Customers use different channels on different occasions based on a complex formula of needs, location, time, and what's intuitive at that moment," says Dan Nordale, vice president of marketing and enterprise for Nuance. "Some companies are trying to figure out the right channel for particular transactions, but customers are using different channels. Therefore, companies have to provide choice."

Additionally, an increasing number of customers are seeking Web support first and only calling a company or visiting a store when they don't get their service needs answered online, says Adele Sage, customer experience analyst at Forrester Research. "To an extent, websites have replaced the telephone as a first choice," she says. This may be due in part to four years of decreasing satisfaction with phone-based customer service interactions, as a Forrester survey of nearly 5,000 customers found.