Interacting with customers across multiple channels and investing in the right mix of digital and traditional channels will the major challenges for Australian businesses, an Optus report has revealed.

The 2013 Optus Future of Business report shows 65 per cent of Australian consumers are expecting to have access to the same service and features across an organisation’s digital and traditional channels; however only 12 per cent of Australian businesses are delivering a fully integrated channel experience.

The results sound a warning to Australian businesses that are prioritising investment in emerging digital channels such as social media. Surveyed consumers rated online, namely organisations’ websites, as their most preferred channel of interaction with organisations over the next three to five years. However, only 8 per cent of surveyed consumers expressed a preference to engage with organisations via social media during the same period.

Consumers are expecting to be able to use mobile (38 per cent) and social media (20 per cent) to interact with organisations in the next three to five years. However their preference to use these channels is halved. This indicates that while consumers understand the relevance of these channels, businesses are yet to demonstrate the value to customers and may need to enrich the experience.

But at the end of the day consumers still value traditional channels with 54 per cent ranking contact centres as their top pick for customer care and support in the next three to five years.

“Our research shows that consumers value online channels but not at the expense of traditional channels, signalling the need for businesses to focus on developing holistic strategies that blend all customer touch points,” John Paitaridis, Optus Business managing director, said.

“We believe for businesses to thrive in today’s customer-driven economy, they must demonstrate the value of all channels, including online, mobile and social, and ensure that the channels are optimised so that services created can improve customer experience.”

The research also confirms that industries are at different stages of the multi-channel journey. Financial and insurance services are leading the charge in mobile customer interaction (62 per cent), while the manufacturing (70 per cent) and utilities sectors (77 per cent) have the lowest adoption of online channels to engage customers. Hospitality (89 per cent), retail (69 per cent) and media/telco (67 per cent) are leading in the use of the social media channel to engage customers.

Businesses and consumers are also optimistic about 4G and NBN. Forty-five per cent of businesses feel that the NBN will increase productivity and improve their level of service to customers. Nearly a third of consumers expect to get responses to their queries more quickly, while a quarter expect to carry out more transactions online as a result of the NBN.

“Consumers and businesses are also optimistic about the impact of new 4G networks and the National Broadband Network (NBN) in delivering both better bandwidth and performance on consumer devices and delivering increased productivity for organisations,” Paitaridis said.

“Australian businesses will also need to develop flexible long-term investment strategies that strike the right balance between digital and traditional customer interactions. Executing these strategies successfully will go a long way to meeting the rising expectations of Australian consumers.”