Some Companies Need a Customer Service Reality Check

Ann All

It's human nature to have a somewhat inflated view of our own achievements. This helps explain the yawning chasm of perception between how CEOs think their companies serve their customers and how the customers actually feel.


According to a recent Accenture survey, 75 percent of technology company CEOs consider the customer care provided by their companies "above average." Yet nearly six in 10 of customers were either "somewhat upset" or "extremely upset" with their latest customer service interaction.


These results echo similar findings from Harris Interactive and RightNow Technologies. Ninety percent of respondents say they've had a negative customer support experience, and 53 percent of them cited inability to get help over the phone or via the Web as their greatest customer service frustration.


Rather than assume they are among the relatively few companies providing service that pleases -- or at least doesn't displease -- customers, CEOs should take a reality check, advises an Accenture analyst.


Tech companies have an unfortunate tendency to focus on products rather than service, says the analyst in an MSNBC article. "They have historically focused on cost avoidance. ... The entire customer service organization is an afterthought."


Many companies try to cut costs by cutting back on human beings and automating the customer service process as much as possible, or by offshoring service jobs. Yet they could end up paying dearly for these strategies -- as companies like Dell have discovered. A whopping 81 percent of customers who feel they have been treated poorly will look to purchase from a competitor the next time.


A customer service phone call typically costs between $10 and $30 a pop, says Accenture. That seems a small price to pay when compared to the costs of new customer acquisition, which often run into hundreds of dollars per customer.


Many companies emphasize the wrong metrics when assessing the performance of their call centers, says consultant Pete McGarahan in a recent IT Business Edge interview. A large volume of calls isn't necessarily a bad thing, he says, provided customers come away feeling better served.


Rather than using metrics that cause service agents to rush through calls, he suggests using root calls analysis and call management to determine why customers are calling and what proactive actions may make those calls unnecessary.


While customer disloyalty can cost companies big, the inverse is also true. As noted in a MarketingProfs article, McKinsey & Company found that repeat customers generate twice as much income for companies as new customers.


Interestingly, many executives charged with improving customer service recognize that IT can help them do so. According to recent Vanson Bourne research, 76 percent of customer service execs feel that increased IT investments would improve service, and eight out of 10 respondents would welcome assistance from IT departments.

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