Customer satisfaction with company contact centers dropped 10 percent in 2013, according to CFI Group's annual Contact Center Satisfaction Index (CCSI). With a score of 69 on a 100-point scale, the 2013 score reflects an eight-point decrease from the record high score of 77 achieved in 2012.
To craft the index, CFI Group collected data from more than 1,500 consumers across the banking, cell phone service, insurance, retail, and cable/satellite TV industries.
The numbers were somewhat confusing to Terry Redding, vice president of marketing and product development at CFI Group and author of the report. "When we look at what has changed in the contact center world, the technologies used, the processes and procedures in place, we find it hard to believe that they've gotten worse," he says. "The technology hasn't broken. It hasn't been taken away from the reps."
Redding concluded that the slow economic recovery has led to general consumer fatigue and frustration. "The economy has taken its toll on people, and that's led to a score backlash," he says.
The economy also might have slowed companies' plans to deploy new technologies, Redding speculates. "Technological advances have taken place, but because of the economy, many companies have not been able to put them in place yet," he says.
Past performance also plays a role. Because scores have been steadily increasing over the past few years, customers expected companies to do more to keep the momentum going, and they didn't do that in 2013, Redding argues.
Companies can still improve customer confidence in 2014. The research identified an opportunity for contact centers to increase satisfaction through multichannel customer service.
The CCSI this year found that almost half of all consumers now prefer to contact companies through means other than the telephone, and those numbers have steadily been rising over the past few years.
"If companies want to gain back customer satisfaction and loyalty, they have to start to pay attention to how people want to interact with them," Redding says.
He says initiatives to move interactions to other channels have stalled in the last year or so because of budgets. "After a couple of years of seeing that customers prefer to do things off the phone, people are getting fed up with companies not connecting with them on the channels they want," he says.
Redding suggests that companies need to continue to look at the service aspect of their Web sites with an eye toward customer self-service and not just traditional marketing and sales activities.
The CCSI also found that social media is growing as an avenue for customer service requests. Nearly 40 percent of respondents turned to social media to voice concerns about companies, up sharply from 17 percent of respondents in 2012.
Here again, though, companies have been slow to react. New research from Social Media Marketing University found that more than half of all brands still don't have an effective strategy to manage potentially damaging social commentary and 23.4 percent don't plan to develop one any time soon.
However, Redding says these numbers alone can be deceiving. In 2012, 80 percent of customers who posted to social media never received a response; in 2013, that number dropped to 61 percent.
"It has improved, but it's still not where it needs to be," Redding says.
For companies that monitor social media and respond to customers on the channel, the rewards can be great, with about 30 percent improvements in customer satisfaction, loyalty, and recommendations. "[That] translates to real money," Redding says.