Front’s “The Science Behind Strong Customer Relationships” report reveals the perils of misusing digital communications channels, especially in an economic downturn

Front Team

Front Team

18 October 20220 min read

Customers strongly prefer humans over digital tools like chatbots — and will wait twice as long for a resolution from a human

SAN FRANCISCO — October 18, 2022 — Front, a communication hub for building strong customer relationships, today released “The Science Behind Strong Customer Relationships,” a report that reveals how white-collar office workers build relationships and trust in a customer/vendor relationship. Commissioned in partnership with Dr. Ron Friedman, an award-winning social psychologist and the founder of ignite80, the research suggests that conventional wisdom is outdated: the most important thing in business isn’t time or money, it’s human connections.

Despite businesses increasingly funneling customer communications into digital channels, customers actually prefer human interactions and are willing to make sacrifices for them. This report shows that 74% of the people surveyed would rather spend twice as much time interacting with humans than to work with a chatbot, even if the chatbot solves their problems in half the time. It also shows that service is a more important factor in buying decisions than price by a margin of more than two to one. 

“Business leaders often assume that customers are strictly focused on saving time and money. The findings of this study suggest that’s not the case,” said Dr. Ron Friedman, lead researcher and founder of ignite80. “Decades of research tell us that people are naturally drawn to experiences that fuel their psychological needs for relatedness, mastery, and autonomy. Automated chatbots make it hard for customers to experience these needs — which is why most customers would willingly sacrifice time to avoid using them. Fueling customers’ psychological needs is a powerful and cost-effective strategy for building customer satisfaction, loyalty, and retention.”

Key findings from the report include:

The economic downturn has made excellent customer service non-negotiable.

Customers don’t have sympathy for challenges businesses face in today’s environment: 58% are unwilling to be more patient with customer service constraints during a downturn. However, customers still notice changes in attentiveness during a tough time — most respondents (56%) agree that when the economy slows, customer service deteriorates. In a downturn, it’s especially important for businesses to weigh customer perceptions against their own cost-savings measures. 

Chatbots are harming customer experiences.

The top three channels of communication associated with strong customer relationships are voice calls, face-to-face meetings, and email. Customers prefer waiting twice as long to solve a problem with a human over having a chatbot solve it in half the time (by a wide margin of 74% to 26%). This is especially true of older customers: baby boomers overwhelmingly prefer waiting to connect with a human by a margin of 88% to 12%. 

Customers prefer communicating with a human because they believe it produces quicker, more accurate responses and makes it easier for them to explain their unique situation. In contrast, chatbots and FAQs put customers off because they find it hard to get relevant information, and it takes too long to reach a resolution. 

Niche communication channels are associated with weaker customer relationships.

In strong vendor relationships, email is used 67% of the time and voice is used 63%. When these channels are the dominant ones, 70% of respondents agree that the vendor knows them personally. In contrast, poor vendor relationships were more likely communicating across channels such as chatbots, social media, and Slack. Only 33% of respondents agreed that the vendors where these channels were dominant knew them personally.

Younger generations are actually more patient than older generations.

Despite the commonly-held assumption that younger generations have shorter attention spans, this report found that they actually show greater patience when it comes to customer service. Gen Z is willing to wait the length of a movie (2 hours and 14 minutes) for a phone call with a human, while baby boomers will only wait the time it takes to boil an egg (8 minutes). While Gen Z is willing to wait half a day for an email response, baby boomers will only wait two hours. 

The hallmarks of strong customer service differ between the US and EMEA.

In addition to dispelling conventional wisdom about customer service, the report found US and EMEA have different expectations: within strong vendor relationships, Americans and UK respondents most often communicate with vendors using email, while Europeans use voice calls. US customers also have a lower threshold when it comes to long wait times; American customers expect phone hold times no longer than 10 minutes, while Europeans believe 30 minutes is reasonable. For that personal touch, respondents in the US, UK, Italy and Spain prefer that vendors address them by their first name. In contrast, German and French respondents prefer being addressed by their last name.

The report also revealed core components of excellent customer service across regions, including: 

  • Responds quickly (41%)

  • Knowledgeable (36%)

  • Easy to reach (36%)

  • Communicates effectively (33%)

  • Available when needed (32%)

In contrast, the top five attributes of poor customer relationships included:

  • Hard to reach (36%)

  • Didn’t resolve my issue (35%)

  • Required long wait times (32%)

  • Went days without acknowledging messages (28%)

  • Required a lot of effort from the customer (26%)

To learn more about the report findings and how to add the human touch to customer interactions at scale, download the full report.

Dr. Friedman shares key insights about what customers need to feel connected, valued, and appreciated in this on-demand webinar.


Front and ignite80 conducted a quantitative survey in late July 2022 of 2,128 white-collar office workers — 1,000 based in the United States and 1,000 based across the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, Germany, and France. The sample included participants between the ages of 21 and 70 spanning more than 12 industries with titles ranging from Associate to President, CEO, and Owner. All respondents were customers who dealt with at least one vendor as part of their day-to-day jobs. They completed 53 multiple choice questions on a variety of workplace topics.

About Dr. Ron Friedman

Dr. Ron Friedman is a social psychologist specializing in human motivation, and is the founder of ignite80, a research and development company that translates research in neuroscience, human physiology, and behavioral economics into practical strategies that help working professionals become healthier, happier and more productive. He is the author of two bestselling books: The Best Place to Work, and Decoding Greatness.

About Front

Front is a communication hub for building strong customer relationships on digital channels. For many businesses, almost every customer conversation can make or break the relationship — the stakes are that high. Front puts these conversations at the center of a team’s attention and surrounds them with collaboration capabilities and contextual data from multiple systems. This lets teams stay focused on delivering timely, accurate and deeply personalized communications. Over 8,000 businesses, including Shopify, Airbnb, Hulu, Lyft, and Mailchimp, use Front to build better customer relationships, one conversation at a time. To learn more, visit

Alex Cardenas

[email protected]


Written by Front Team

Originally Published: 18 October 2022

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