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You Think You’re Great, But …
What do customers think of customer service?
Posted Jan 28, 2009
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We discuss CRM and customer service issues from a lofty position. The articles and case histories I find are largely congratulatory.

What I don't find are articles and case studies reflecting what customers think. Are they equally as delighted? To find out, I thought I'd ask some customers how they feel about some of the basic issues. I put together a survey and sent it to my database of family, friends, business associates, acquaintances and referrals ... each and every one a customer of many companies.

I started this project with the belief that customer service is the competitive differentiator of the future, starting yesterday. I ended this project believing that the emperor isn't wearing clothes.

Here are the questions and answers, which to me, are a cold shower; I'll meet you at the end.

The term "customer service" might be used as part of describing a company's attitude or way of doing business (e.g., we are committed to excellent customer service). What three qualities should a company's customer service have to meet your standards?

Here's how the respondents' answers ranked:

1.     Respect for the customer; timeliness; easy to do business with.

2.     Knowledgeable and empowered staff (I want to speak to a human)

3.     Politeness ("please" and "thank you"; honesty and integrity; treat others the way you want to be treated).

Over your current experiences, does customer service today meet your expectations? Please respond on a scale of one to 10 (one being "absolutely not" and 10 being "deliriously yes").

Average score: 3.7. Almost 20 percent of the responses were ones.

How would you rank large corporations' commitment to customer service (on the same one-to-10 scale)?

Average score: Three. 40 percent of the responses were ones.

If you have a customer service question or issue, what are the three most important things to you?

Respondents said:

1.     A knowledgeable, empowered CSR.

2.     Speed of resolution.

3.     Talking with someone who's polite and courteous.

In general, what are your expectations of your initial customer service interaction? What do you expect will happen (1 being "absolutely nothing" and 10 being "thoroughly delighted").

Average response was a 4.6.

How important is customer service to you when you make a decision to purchase from a company (1 being "no difference" and 10 being "nothing is more important")?

Average score: 7.8. Over 30 percent of the responses were 10s.

What should companies do to make sure their customer service meets your standards and expectations?

A sampling of responses:

  • "First impressions are king. You can't risk a sloppy encounter."
  • "I'm a sucker for a genuinely nice, sincere person."
  • "Respect the customer. Stay true to all the B.S. slogans you claim in the commercials. Get a human on the phone so that my time isn't wasted. Have knowledgeable staff to answer my questions correctly the first time."
  • "Have multiple ways to deliver answers and satisfaction."
  • "Trust is a big thing. Make the customer feel comfortable that they made the right decision."

So what do we do with all of this? My take is that corporations have substantial opportunity for improvement. Customer service is critical to the purchase (and most importantly, the repurchase) decision. Customers' standards for service are very reasonable. And customers are very clear that corporations are not delivering.

I suggest we get our arms around three imperatives that together, add up to our viability going forward:

1. Happier customers stay longer and buy more. This model is much more profitable than the endless cycle of drive-by relationships we're creating.  Do I really have to explain this?

2. Customers are generally not happy with the way corporations and brand marketers treat them. We're missing basic blocking and tackling. If customer interaction is not rooted in politeness, in "please" and "thank you," we'll never get to respect. This just blows me away.

By the way, if customers want to talk to a human, and that influences all their future behavior, what's the big deal? As one survey respondent said, "Own the experience and don't outsource. Stop penny-pinching."

3. Customer service has got to be implemented as a strategic product. I know it's a messy business, and these customers are icky and annoying, but it we stiff-arm them they're gone in a heartbeat and willing to tell all their friends.

Consider what another respondent said: "I believe a lot of this can be attributed to the way employees are treated by their employers. Value begets value."

Implementation must come with definition, measurement and reward, and the recognition that there is a healthy dose of emotion. Consider the words of Warren Buffet (a somewhat successful businessman): "It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you'll do things differently."

About the Author

At Hornstein Associates (www.hornsteinassociates.com), Scott Hornstein, a consultant, lecturer, and author, works with clients in all phases of marketing development and implementation to create happier customers that stay longer and buy more. He can be reached at 1-203-938-8715 or via email at scott@hornsteinassociates.com.

Please note that the Viewpoints listed in CRM magazine and appearing on destinationCRM.com represent the perspective of the authors, and not necessarily those of the magazine or its editors. If you would like to submit a Viewpoint for consideration on a topic related to customer relationship management, please email viewpoints@destinationCRM.com.

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