There’s No Excuse for Bad Customer Service in 2013

Time Magazine recently ran an article about how 2013 could be the year that customer service improves – at last!  ( Could 2013 be the Year that Customer Service Gets Better?) The article implies a general ambivalence on the part of major companies and CEO’s who appear to be clueless about the importance of customer service.

I disagree with the idea that companies are oblivious to the customer service problem.  Instead, most companies I speak with are trying to tackle the problem, but struggle with making meaningful progress. The customer service problem crosses all departments within a company and depends on hundreds or thousands of people – and often involves technology changes requiring process and metric changes.

When I talk to companies around the globe, I find that employees in sales, marketing, customer service, and the C-Suite certainly understand the importance of customer service and the ability of either good or bad customer service to impact their business. Individually, we have each had bad customer experiences, and we know their potential negative impact, but organizational policies and structures, legacy systems and general inertia get in the way.

Customer service extends beyond the contact center. We understand that it is important, and we have access to technologies that can help. What is missing with some companies is the top-down organizational imperative to improve customer service in a meaningful and sustainable way.  This is a journey – although companies can have some quick wins, sustainable progress is measured over months and years, not days and weeks. Several trends are converging that give me hope that in 2013 customer service improvements will accelerate across the board – for large companies and small.

Excuses do not work anymore with the rise of social media and mobility.
Customers know companies that provide great customer service and expect it from all of their suppliers. And, they use social media like Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin or crowd sourcing applications like Yelp and Tripadvisor to tell their friends, family, and strangers when they have excellent customer service or bad customer service.  If a customer has a complaint, they now potentially tell thousands of people rather than perhaps five or ten as was the case just ten years ago.

Social media and mobility giving customers the instantaneous ability to give feedback is changing the way customers interact. We cannot say that the technology is not there or that the product/service we are supporting is too complex. Cloud delivery means that powerful capabilities are now available to companies with lean (or no) IT organizations. And, we have over 40 years of industry and contact center best practices to draw upon. Customers simply will not accept those excuses any more – and they are holding companies accountable in public forums.

Customer experience has C-level attention.
The C-suite now realizes that customer service can be a competitive differentiator rather than simply a cost center. A growing number of executives hold titles related to customer experience and customer success. Moreover, the C-suite understands that a direct correlation between customer satisfaction and revenue and profits exists.

It is true that you cannot manage that which you do not measure, so it is good news that metrics like Net Promoter Score (NPS) and Customer Effort Score (CES) are having more visibility at the highest levels of the organization. See our recent blog post on Three Things Every Company Should Track. With high-level focus on these metrics, organizations are gaining the executive mandate to address structural and process barriers that are getting in the way of a great customer experience.

Innovative technologies are rapidly changing the customer service landscape.
Mobility, the cloud, big data and social media are just a few of the technologies that are reshaping the customer service landscape. Customers with smart phones and tablets would rather use these devices to interact than a desktop system and a land line. Customers expect the same type of experience whether they go to a retail store, call a contact center, Tweet a customer service complaint, or e-mail a company. The good news is that the technologies exist to offer one seamless conversation across all different customer touch points. It is, however, more difficult to rally a company behind the customer service mantra, ensure all the processes are in place to deal with customers consistently, and give customers quick, fast, efficient resolution to their issues.

See our recent blog post on the mobile opportunity in customer service for an illustration of the rise of different channels.  Companies cannot afford to neglect these capabilities – again, the success of the leading companies will put continued pressure on the rest to keep pace.

A watershed year?
I do believe that there will be continued progress in 2013 on customer service and that more and more companies are making customer service a key part of their strategy. I am optimistic that companies will realize that bad customer service is too big a business liability and excellent customer service is a valuable differentiator. And, I’m looking forward to seeing the ways that innovative companies will find to forge new customer relationships through great customer service.

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