High-Tech's Disconnected World: Customer Service

You may know the feeling: You're talking on a cell phone when your call gets dropped. You've been disconnected. You're frustrated. You may even think of switching to another wireless service provider.

You tell your friends and family how bad your service provider is. To blow off more steam, you decide to post your complaints on the Internet to protect the masses.

In the treacherous arena of customer service, a similar kind of literal and psychological disconnect -- on multiple and alarming levels -- summarizes the current relationship between technology company executives and their consumers.

Accenture discovered this by doing a research study focused on answering: What is the status of customer service among technology companies?

What was surprising were the large number of customer service disconnects, misperceptions, misalignments, and puzzling attitudes -- and the wide chasm that exists between what corporate executives and what consumers think about customer service.

Paradoxically, however, the study also found customer service to be a treasure chest of opportunities for those same companies and others.

Among the most important research discoveries:

  • Consumers will no longer tolerate average customer service from technology companies -- three-fourths will leave those companies;
  • consumers have lower perceptions of the services they receive than technology executives perceive they provide;
  • consumers' desires don't match these executives' customer service investment priorities;
  • consumers are dissatisfied and frustrated with most self-service technologies; and
  • many companies are focused on winning the sale from a customer (thereby winning the battle), but don't stay focused on keeping that customer happy after the sale (thereby losing the war).

These companies providing no better than average customer service are speeding full-throttle toward disaster. They seem to think customer service amounts to a mechanical afterthought -- sort of like paying to send business letters to customers, vendors, and suppliers. There appears to be a lack of appreciation for and understanding about the importance of customer service in growing their businesses.

They need to adjust their thinking, attitudes, and delivery of customer service -- or risk financial and customer losses. Worse, they risk missing some of the greatest growth opportunities to make their customer relationships stickier, more loyal, and more profitable.

Too many technology companies are causing a rift between the quality of customer service they perceive they are providing, and the quality their customers perceive they are receiving.

In discussing this perception gap with several senior executives, we found that they believe customer service quality among technology companies isn't as high as customers think. But, surprisingly, few of the executives thought their companies were the ones with the perception-gap problem.

Specifically, 75 percent of technology companies surveyed claim to provide "above average" customer care. But 58 percent of consumer technology customers rated their satisfaction with service experiences as "average" or "below average."

The troubling truth is that too many of these technology companies are striking out in customer service. This is primarily because they're too focused on cost reduction.

Making matters worse is the fact that new technology hasn't solved their problems. Much of the self-service technology that companies have tried to use in recent years, such as automated voice response systems, aren't satisfying nearly enough customers.

According to the research, 77 percent of industry leaders have invested in self-service capabilities during the past two years, even though the capabilities rank last or nearly last on customers' improvement preferences. And only 14 percent of customers rated their self-service experiences during the same period "much better," with 33 percent rating it "about the same" and 22 percent "worse."

By providing average and below-average customer service, these companies are risking unprecedented viral retaliation in which consumers can blog on the Internet or send emails expressing their anger about poor customer service. This instantaneous feedback over the Internet has emerged as one of the most powerful forces ever to affect customer service.

Too many technology companies have their eyes focused on the wrong customer service issues. They're managing customer service to save money rather than to improve the customer experience. It's not surprising that customers are unimpressed with those investments.

Losing customers is one of the worst things a company can allow to happen, because of the exponential repercussions. Conventional business wisdom is that it typically costs a lot more to gain new customers than to retain current ones. For a technology company, it may cost an additional $10 to $15 invested in customer service to please a customer and retain them. But to lose that customer is catastrophic -- in some industries, such as satellite TV, it can cost a company as much as between $500 and $600 dollars to land a new customer.

These problems have continued to escalate. To cure these ills, a whole lot of re-examining, re-tooling, and re-engaging needs to be done. The study can be accessed by going to www.accenture.com/customersupport.

About the Author
Brett Anderson has nearly 20 years of experience in the consulting industry. He is the global managing director of Accenture's Communications and High Tech Customer Relationship Management practice and managing director of the company's Denver office. Mr. Anderson received his Bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from Colorado State University.

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