High Expectations, Struggling Satisfaction Ratings

Consumers are holding companies to an increasingly higher standard of service, and their dissatisfaction with the results is shown in a new survey report from Accenture. In a six-nation survey of nearly 6,000 individuals, Americans gave their highest level of satisfaction to postal services, banks, and utility companies--none of which earned the approval of even half the survey base. Bringing up the rear were online retailers, car rental brokers, and travel agencies, showing that neither the old nor the new economy is exempt from disapproval. "The years of corporate cost-cutting has widened the [satisfaction] gap in various ways--increased hold times, less experienced staff to solve the problem, and more work that the consumer has to do to solve their own problem," says Robert Wollan, Accenture global managing partner, customer contact transformation practice. Few companies have been immune from these pressures, but some have shown greater dexterity in the transition. "When you look at some of those industries that fared better, you look at those that have managed or set their customers' expectations--in some cases high and in some cases low," Wollan says. For instance, instant-gratification or occasional-use service providers tended to fare better in the public eye: Most utility interactions are limited to bill paying and occasional outages, while postal services run on a predictable daily cycle. According to Wollan, companies must address their satisfaction shortfalls by striving to improve entry-level service options, and by providing higher-quality service at premium prices. Nearly two in three respondents indicated that they would be willing, in principle, to pay more for improved service, even though cost-cutting was the second most popular reason to switch providers, trailing only a desire to speak to a live person on support calls. The success of the postal service is a prime example of differentiated, higher-cost services that have not created undue customer angst. "I'm willing to pay less for everyday kinds of mail where time and immediacy aren't important, but when I have something that absolutely positively has to be there overnight, I'm willing to pay more," Wollan says. "Consumers will manage the portfolio of options that [meet] their needs at that time." Providers of high-complexity goods and services are suffering consumer backlash due to what Wollan calls "bleed" in customer service standards. Instead of comparing banks to banks and healthcare providers to healthcare providers, customers expect the same immediacy, personalization, and efficiency they receive from their best client relationship. "Managed care providers are being held to the same standard as banks that spend ten to twenty times as much in services related to costs of goods sold," he says, "which is a real wake-up call for a lot of industries." According to Wollan, even companies in high-scoring industries or those that feel secure in their own internal satisfaction metrics can't lower their guard: "Loyalty is really won and lost interaction by interaction." Related articles: Consumers Want a Shorter Path to Service Delivering Top Line Customer Service
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