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Companies Fail to Meet Expectations Across Channels

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Companies are falling far short of consumers’ customer service expectations in multiple ways, research from the Northridge Group finds. 

The report identifies rapid problem resolution, personalized and caring human support, and knowledgeable service teams as the top three customer service expectations. But when it comes to delivering on those, most companies have serious problems. According to the research, 62 percent of consumers needed to make multiple contacts to resolve their most recent customer service issues. Additionally, less than half (46 percent) resolved their customer service issues within an hour, and 29 percent said it was difficult contacting the business regarding their last customer service issue. 

The report also indicates that customers don’t feel valued: Just 20 percent of customers said companies know about their accounts very frequently. Only 16 percent said companies know who they are and appropriately use their names, 15 percent said companies know their history with them, and 13 percent said companies know their previous reasons for contacting them. 

Furthermore, the report notes that customers are dissatisfied with both agents and self-service options, citing issues such as scripted responses from agents, difficulty navigating interactive voice response systems, and an inability to find answers on company websites.

“Customers are saying that reducing wait times as well as the overall quality of representatives as they get to a human-assisted service model are really important to them, yet businesses are continuing to not hear that message,” says Pam Plyler, executive practice lead for customer experience at the Northridge Group. 

Instead, they’re focused too much on new technologies and fads, she says. 

The report also sheds light on customers’ experiences with specific channels, indicating that less than half find any channel easy to use: 48 percent found it easy to contact companies by phone, with 47 percent saying the same of online chat, 39 percent for web, 36 percent for social media, 35 percent for text, and 34 percent for mobile app. Moreover, the report identifies a disconnect between customers’ channel experiences and businesses’ beliefs about how easy those channels are to use. Three-quarters of businesses said the phone was “very easy” or “easy” to use, but only 48 percent of consumers said the same. 

The report finds that this pattern holds true for other channels as well: 73 percent versus 48 percent for email, 63 percent versus 47 percent for online chat, 59 percent versus 35 percent for text messages, 56 percent versus 36 percent for social media, 54 percent versus 39 percent for web self-service, and 54 percent versus 34 percent for mobile apps.

To remedy these problems, Plyler says companies must focus on identifying customer pain points, reducing customer effort, and ensuring that agents are properly trained on their employers’ products and services and how to effectively interact with customers. “Look at your business from an outside-in perspective to understand the major pain points. Customer effort metrics are very important right now because they’re identifying the major pain points that need to be addressed,” she says. 

Companies also need to make sure agents are genuine, caring, and able to personalize experiences. “Many times, companies provide a very scripted answer because they’re using technology to help give the agent direction on how to care for the customer, and, in many cases, that’s removed the personalized touch,” Plyler warns.

Going forward, she asserts that customer service will only become a more important part of the overall customer relationship. “As we see this shift where customers prefer to use digital channels for their basic needs, what’s most important here is that the call center has now become a more consultative organization and is a valuable asset,” she says. 

Call centers can be “engagement centers” so that when customers do call in, companies can make the most out of that interaction and drive longer-term relationships and loyalty with customers, she adds. 

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