High-Tech Customer Service: A Look Into the Mirror
Consumers' rising customer service expectations, coupled with factors like product commoditization, make leveraging customer service as a competitive differentiator even more crucial for companies across all industries, including technology firms. Even so, high-tech companies and consumers are far from being on the same page when it comes to their perceptions of customer service satisfaction, according to "Superior Customer Service Capabilities: Key Factors in the Journey to High Performance," a report by Accenture. Report findings are based on the BPRI Group's interviews of vice president-level execs at 35 global consumer technology companies and a survey by the Lightspeed Consumer Panel of 1,200 technology consumers in Asia, Europe, and North America.
Fifty-four percent of executives surveyed rated their service and support 8 or higher on a scale of 1 (very poor) to 10 (excellent), while 57 percent classified their customers' service satisfaction with the company as moderately high and 17 percent as extremely high. Consumers' sentiments, however, were not nearly as optimistic; more than half--57 percent--of consumers polled described themselves as somewhat upset, very upset, or extremely upset when they accessed customer service channels, according to the report.
Much of the difference between customer service being provided and the customer service being received is attributable to investment, how investment is used, and the nature and focus of the company, says Brian Sprague, a partner at Accenture and report coauthor. "The customer service executives have really had a tough battle on their hands. They have not had enough money to invest to do the things that they need to do and when they do invest they have been very cost focused rather than customer service focused. They are encouraged to be very frugal in trying to manage to the bottom line." Additionally, he says, many high tech companies "are very focused on the latest bells and whistles...and as a result a lot of that energy and focus in those companies is still focused on the product rather than being customer centric."
Additional findings indicate that there are notable differences between the top customer service priorities for companies and consumers. According to the report, the two most pertinent service priorities for companies were increasing revenue creation opportunities from service and support (43 percent) and increasing customer self-help capabilities via the Web (37 percent). However, the top two for customers were solving problems completely (69 percent) and solving them quickly (65 percent). Just 13 percent considered having the ability to solve a problem using online tools without the help of an agent as a top priority.
The research also highlights an oft-noted, but still extremely relevant, truism: Customer service can substantially impact the bottom line. The chances of consumers that rate their service satisfaction as average buying from that company again falls from 51 percent to 27 percent, according to survey findings.
Overall, there has to be a cultural shift at companies with product-centric mindsets Sprague says. "It's something you can't just do at the VP of service level. It has to be throughout the entire company, meaning that appropriate incentives need to be put in place, [you must have the] appropriate capabilities to decide what is the customer experience that you want to create, and then work throughout the entire organization to deliver that customer experience."
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