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Customer Service Isn't As Rotten As It Used to Be, But...

By Adrienne Burke | Small Business

Customers don’t need to read Yahoo to know that customer service generally stinks, but maybe customer service agents do. 

We reported last December that a survey of more than 1,000 adults revealed that nearly half of shoppers say customer service is worse during the holiday season.

According to new research commissioned by CorvisaCloud, the cloud-based contact center provider, things aren’t so great the rest of the year either. Fewer than 40 percent of the 1,200 people polled online via uSamp in late August chose “personal and conversational” as the best way to describe their phone interactions with customer service reps. And 10 percent described them as “or helpful but not friendly.”

The rest? They consider most customer service agents to be scripted and robotic, abrupt and unfriendly, unhelpful or not qualified. And most believe that the top priority of most customer service reps they deal with is to make a sale—more important than making the customer happy, keeping the customer, or resolving the issue. 

Customer service is so poor, in fact, that 60 percent of survey respondents admitted to losing their temper with a customer service agent at least once within the last year.

The good news is that most people say their customer service experiences are getting better, not worse. And small, independent businesses far outrank large companies on satisfying service.

Considering that 55 percent of customers say they prefer contacting customer service by phone instead of email, text, social media, or in person, and 75 percent of them contact customer service from a mobile device, here is some data from the survey that might point your business’s customer service team in the right direction.

1. Keep hold times short. Customers say that immediate customer service responses and knowledgeable agents are the top reason they’ll continue doing business with you. Keep a customer hanging on hold longer than 15 minutes, and chances are great that you’ll lose them. Only 17 percent say they’re willing to wait any longer than that. About one-third say 0-5 minutes on hold is their limit.

2. Train your agents. Along with reducing hold times, customers say that “agents who speak more clearly and are easy to understand” is an area in need of improvement. “More informed agents” is next on their list. And after speedy and knowledgeable, customers rank “polite customer service agents” as a top reason they’d come back.

3. Be hospitable. The hospitality industry gets the most points for providing the best customer service. Financial institutions and retailers follow. Whatever you do, don’t model your customer service after the travel industry, utility companies, or cable and internet providers. They’re consistently ranked lowest.

4. Be Anderson Cooper. Asked which celebrity persona they’d like in a customer service representative, 30 percent of respondents chose the straightforward and smart silver-haired broadcast journalist, Anderson Cooper. And let your funny quirky types know that after Anderson, more customers would prefer a sweet and empathetic Jennifer Garner to a Tina Fey.

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