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The World Is Their Oyster
Give customers an opportunity to play an active role in customizing their customer service
For the rest of the February 2010 issue of CRM magazine please click here
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What will it take to be a high-performing business as the global economy improves? The latest version of an annual Accenture study—surveying more than 5,000 consumers in 12 countries across the Americas, Europe, and Asia/Pacific—offers some insight. 

Several trends and economic indicators emerged in the study—some unique to mature or emerging markets and others true globally. Among the stark results: There’s no end in sight to the rise in customer service expectations. For instance, 80 percent of consumers surveyed in China said their customer service expectations are higher now than a year ago; 89 percent said they were higher now than five years ago. 

In short, customer service initiatives need to be developed with an understanding that customer expectations are a moving target. Management decisions need to be measured constantly, customized, and refined based on that understanding. Every time a company ups its customer service game, there’s another company—either within its sector or in another industry—interacting with that customer, advancing the service agenda, and doing an even better job of satisfying the most-valued customers. 

Companies that fail to meet expectations will lose customers. Consumers are increasingly willing to “vote with their feet”—taking that coveted dollar (or yen or rupee or real) elsewhere if they feel their expectations are not being met. Globally, 69 percent of this year’s respondents had switched service providers due to poor customer service in the past year, up from 67 percent the year before and 59 percent in 2007. This trend was magnified in developing markets—such as Brazil, China, India, and South Africa—where a remarkable 87 percent said they had recently switched because of bad service. 

What does it mean when more than two out of every three customers are lost to CRM-related issues? Consider that, even in this soft economy, “poor customer service” beat out “finding a lower price” as the top reason for switching. This year’s survey also revealed a growing polarity in customers’ perceptions of good and bad service. Asked to cite companies providing superior and conversely poor customer service, more than half of the top responses appeared on both lists. Clearly, this indicates that one-size-fits-all customer service will continue to miss more expectations than it meets. Winners will embrace differentiated experiences based on customer value and provide customers with more control to configure their service experience, driving unprecedented customer satisfaction and retention. 

Variations in service-channel preferences reinforce this point. For example: 75 percent of U.S. respondents had not used text messaging to solicit customer service, but only 16 percent in China responded similarly. Nearly half of Brazilian respondents had posted negative experiences to online communities, whereas only 17 percent of German respondents had done the same.

As customer expectations and switching rise to new levels, companies are struggling with how to satisfy seemingly insatiable demands. One way involves giving customers the ability to configure their own experience, based on a menu of service options. As the needs and behaviors of consumers continue to fragment, giving them the power to control how they interact with a company can go a long way toward establishing close, lasting relationships. 

For example, a company may devise a system that allows its highest-value customers to choose which channels they use in search of service, which service agents they interact with, and which service options they prefer. An innovative company may offer lower-level customers the choice between predetermined “service bundles” or the opportunity to pay a bit extra for similarly customized service.

That customers are demanding satisfying experiences may not be new, but the stakes get higher as consumers increasingly use the Internet to let others know about their experience. Giving customers an opportunity to play an active role in customizing their own service could help companies address the problem. Your customers want you to know what they like. If you don’t, they’ll find someone else who does—and who’s willing to provide it. 


David Rich (david.b.rich@accenture.com) is the managing director of the CRM practice at Accenture, a company that specializes in management consulting, outsourcing, and systems integration technology.

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