The Power of Superior Customer Service

Posted by Cynthia Henry on Jul 23, 2013

We all know what outstanding customer service isn’t:

An experience so bad that you are frustrated, possibly even screaming mad. An experience so bad you lose your temper and say things you didn’t intend to say to the person on the phone or behind the counter. You might even hop onto Facebook to complain to everyone you know about it.

And then what…?

Chances are high that you won’t work with that company or organization again.

Research tells us 86 percent of consumers have quit doing business with a company because of bad customer service. That’s up from 59 percent just four years ago, according to Harris Interactive’s Customer Experience Impact Report.

Customers are in control of purchasing decisions as never before. The wealth of information online allows buyers to quickly compare features and prices and customer reviews. Social media makes instant critics of us all. So the stakes for good customer service are higher than ever before.

Customer Service Infrastructure…Or Lack Thereof

While brands today have more tools and best practices to deliver superior customer service, bad things still happen every day. Many companies selling products online just don’t have the customer service infrastructure to deliver an optimal experience. Channels aren’t connected, and those gaps quickly show.

A quick example: I recently attempted to buy a purse online from a well-known company. I got all the way to the checkout process, and the site functions just stopped working. After 15 minutes of madly clicking away, trying to make something happen, I clicked on the “live help” button. Although the person on the other end was friendly and perky; he was also 100 percent clueless as to how he might be able to help (“Oh, I can’t solve online issues.”).

He encouraged me to “call Customer Service.” After I asked him for the number (please!), he directed me to an office that had closed 90 minutes previously. Once I finally got to one of the 24-hour customer service professionals, things got even worse. Not only was the representative unpleasant, she was no help. I finally gave up. No purse. And look; here I am, telling all of you about it (name withheld to protect the guilty).

Why Customer Service Often Stinks

So why does this kind of thing still happen? Simple; customer service is complicated. First it’s all about human beings, who don’t always behave nicely under pressure. Some people are just not cut out for the role. In addition to having a pleasant and helpful personality, a good customer service rep must also possess the ability to quickly solve problems in challenging situations, sometimes with quite challenging people.

Second, many companies just don’t have an integrated customer service approach. Although this seems inconceivable in this technology-enabled age, as noted above in the purse example, different channels can be completely disconnected from one another.  Customers end up getting pushed from one on-hold message to another, becoming more and more frustrated with each handoff and delay.

Finally, although most companies would claim that “customers are our first priority,” it’s a simple fact that in service industries, the quality of a customer experience can be a slippery and intangible thing. It’s far easier to create, track and enforce quality measures in manufacturing industries, where problems can be clearly monitored, and processes adjusted accordingly.

Like manufacturing, service quality involves a tangible (explicit) element, such as that darned purse, a hotel suite, or even a specific sales professional. But service industries also include many intangibles, with far more subjective measures — such as trust, reliability and expertise. We’ll talk more about the challenges of measuring service quality in future articles.

At the end of the day, delivering consistently good customer service is a cross-functional activity that needs to be the focus of the entire organization. We believe this topic is so important, we are going to present a series of posts here addressing it.

We’ll look forward to your stories and opinions. You’ve all got them, both good and bad.

For now, we’re going to stay focused on the positive. When’s the last time you received such excellent customer service that you went out of your way to tell others about it? Tell us what it takes to deliver the kind of customer service that keeps you coming back.

Interesting Infographic:

The State of Customer Service in a Consumer Driven Market

Coming Up in Our Series: 

Best-in-class: Three brands that differentiate — and win — with exceptional customer service


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