Since 2007, when we launched an ambitious, company-wide initiative aimed at achieving a new level of customer service, we have invested heavily in training. In fact, according to our HR department, we conduct over 1,200 employee hours of traditional, classroom style customer service training per year, nearly all of it in-house and using our own content.
Recently, I began to ask myself if, given the influx of technology-driven self-help processes and other online interactions, the impact of customer service is not the same as it was. In other words, is the traditional paradigm of customer service undergoing a reinvention that will mandate a change in the scope and focus of our approach to training our people?
According to a recent study on customer expectations by American Express, the answer is a resounding “no.”
The study was conducted by an independent testing firm based on customer surveys. The conclusion: Regardless of technology and so-called self help systems, the biggest factors affecting customer loyalty are the same as they were generations ago. In other words, “old school” still rules. Here are four key findings from the study:
1) Most customers continue to think that customer service in general does not meet their expectations. Only 7% of those surveyed said that the customer service interactions typically exceed their expectations. And less then 25% of them think that companies “value their business and are willing to go the extra mile for them.”
2) Most people will spend significantly more for great service. In fact, two-thirds of consumers surveyed said they are willing to spend an average of 13% more with a company that delivers excellent customer service. On the other hand, over 50% reported that they decided not to conclude a transaction with a company based on a poor prior service experience.
3) Personal attentiveness still matters most. For issues like product assistance or returns, 65% of respondents prefer live phone or in-person assistance over technology such as live chat. For even more serious concerns, the number climbs to over 75%. And less than 10% prefer web or email assistance.
4) The quality of these live interactions make or break customer loyalty. 33% of customers cite a “rude” or indifferent service representative as the most likely customer service issue that will cause them to quit a brand or company.
There is one rule that has changed: The age-old theory that dissatisfied customers will tell exponentially more people about their experiences than happy ones. According to this study, consumers tell an average of 15 people about their positive experiences and 24 people about their negative ones. So even though the court of public opinion still punishes bad service more than it rewards good service, the fact is that social networking and other forms of technology have made it easier than ever to praise good performance… a promising trend!
To me, this study is good news! It only reinforces everything we’ve committed ourselves to in our approach to customer service. Despite the progressive influence of the digital age, customers still value responsive, courteous, empathetic, “old fashioned” treatment–and they will pay more and be more loyal to those who make it happen.
What has been your experience? Do you believe customer service has gotten better — or worse? If you’re in business, have customers’ expectations changed? If so, what has changed the most? I’d love your input!