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Customer Service Standards = Big Impact on Business

Sadly, many companies still don’t think that their poor customer service record has an impact on their business but they need to think again because in customers’ eyes, it does., Nearly 50% of consumers said they have switched suppliers of goods or service in the past year due to poor customer service experiences. Of those, the largest percentage switched banks, home telephone service providers, Internet service providers, utility companies and mobile phone operators. Interestingly, two industry segments that are well-known for their customer service struggles – airlines and cable and satellite TV providers – were among those where customers had been less inclined to take their business elsewhere.

On the other hand, customers did praise those market sectors where they felt that companies were providing satisfactory and quality service. Banks led the way, followed by Internet service providers, retailers, airlines, cable/satellite television providers and home telephone service providers. Yet despite being among the “least-switched” type of companies due to poor customer service, mobile phone companies and hotels were named by only 30 percent and 35 percent of consumers respectively, as having satisfactory and quality service.

So what do customers really want from a company’s customer service function? Although most people didn’t have strong agreement on the most important aspect of a satisfying customer experience, one item – named by 34 percent of all survey participants – did stand out from the others: the ability for a customer service agent to assist with all needs, rather than forwarding a request to different representatives for help with each product or service. In the second tier of aspects critical to a good service experience are the following:

  • The ability to discuss problems with service agents;
  • The amount of time it takes to resolve a problem or query;
  • The quality of the customer service agents response;
  • The manner and approach of service agents.

Rounding out the list are aspects named by less than 10 percent of respondents, including speed of response, convenient payment options, benefits offered to compensate customers for their troubles, and bills that are easy to understand.

These responses suggest a number of steps that companies can take to improve their own customer service activities and hence provide the satisfying service experience that customers are constantly looking for. The first step should be boosting the ability to understand and predict customer behaviour – with the understanding that it is impossible for a company to provide customers with great service if it doesn’t know anything about them. To do so, a company must create a single view of the customer, which typically depends on having a data warehouse into which all relevant internal customer data – often widely dispersed throughout the organization – is fed. This data includes customer contact information, products or services purchased, mode of purchases (Web, store, call center, catalog) and the value of purchases. Importantly, this information must be augmented by external demographic data on customers. By combining a customer’s transaction history with key data such as number and ages of people in the customer’s household, median income of the customer’s neighborhood, and the customer’s heritage, a company can transcend the one-dimensional, internal picture of a customer that purchase history alone provides.

With a single view of it’s consumer base, a company is much better positioned to work with customers on the customers’ terms and therefore provide them with the help and information most relevant to individual consumer situations. A complete picture of customers’ histories and preferences enables a company to develop an overall customer experience blueprint: one that plans for the best customer experience along the entire customer service value chain. Whether for a low-value customer or a platinum account, the blueprint designs the right customer experience for each customer segment, making the design truly actionable and providing an underlying financial model to track operational improvements and bottom-line impact. The blueprint makes sure companies achieve the best possible balance between customer satisfaction and cost to achieve that satisfaction.

For example, the customer experience blueprint can help companies determine which customers prefer and merit service via automated, technology-based channels – email, sms, online chat and automated phone systems – and which should have their issues handled by a live representative. Such a determination ultimately will boost customers’ satisfaction with the service and the mode in which it was rendered.

For those issues that must be handled by a live person, a single view of the customer provides all customer service agents with complete customer information (including demographics and service and purchase history). This information reduces the number of questions agents must ask customers and minimises the amount of time it takes to resolve customers’ issues. When access to an integrated customer database is paired with new desktop applications and workflow management tools, agent productivity and responsiveness to customers is boosted even further. For instance, agents at some leading companies are more effective at serving customers because their tools give them access, through natural language query, to multiple knowledge sources to find the information they need regardless of the product or service in question. Customers, thus, do not have to be handed off to different representatives – thereby eliminating one of the principal sources of customers’ frustrations.

I think by now everybody should be under no illusion that providing great customer service is a critical factor in a company’s ability to compete in its market and grow profitably. In understanding what customers expect when dealing with service agents, and making the constant changes necessary to always and consistently accommodate customer needs and preferences, companies will be better positioned to achieve the best performance by offering the branded customer experience that is fundamental to building strong customer loyalty and higher lifetime customer value.

Author: Tim Easton - Published: 08 March 2007


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