Comcast (and Telcos) Must Improve Horrific Customer Service

When Ryan Block tried to cancel his Comcast service, he ran into a customer interaction from hell. The call was so bad that he recorded part of it and posted it online. The insanity of the conversation has driven it viral.

My take: I don’t think that the problem is a mis-trained rep, which is what Comcast claimed in its official response. Block is one of many, many people who have suffered through painful interactions with Comcast. The company “earned” the bottom two spots in the 2014 Temkin Customer Service Ratings, falling well below 231 other organizations. This type of pervasive problem stems from systemic issues, not from how a specific rep behaves.

While Comcast is the worst offender, bad customer service is an epidemic across the entire telecom sector, especially in TV service and Internet service. So Comcast is merely the worst of a bad bunch.

1405_TCSR_IndustryThe problem with the firms in these industries is that most of them grew up with geographic monopoly power. Without any viable competitors, their operating cultures focused on exploiting customers, not on satisfying them. As competition increased, they reacted poorly by starting a frenzy to acquire new customers and then doing whatever they can to entrap those customers.

Here are three recommendations for the entire telecom industry:

  1. Reward customer loyalty, not disloyalty. Any company that provides better pricing and service for new customers than it does for existing customers is institutionalizing disloyalty. Stop this practice. Focus more on holding on to good, loyal customers than pining for new customers. Sales from new customers might decline in the short-run, but the increase in retention and word of mouth will improve the business in the long-run. This revised focus will align internal incentives with a focus on improving customer experience.
  2. Build CX competencies, not a new veneer. The experiences that customers see are a reflection of how the company operates. So improving and sustaining good customer experience will requires organizations to build four CX core competencies: Purposeful Leadership, Employee Engagement, Compelling Brand Values, and Customer Connectedness. Want to know how you’re company is doing? Complete Temkin Group’s CX Competency & Maturity Assessment and compare your results to our benchmark of large organizations.
  3. Benchmark yourself against CX leaders, not each other. If telecom companies compare themselves to each other, then they don’t look too bad. Comcast is only marginally worse than Time Warner Cable or Charter Communications. Stop fooling yourself. It’s not good enough to be better than your peers, they’re also pretty bad. Set your sites on delivering customer service like USAA and Amazon.com.

The bottom line: Telecom firms need to build loyalty, not acquire customers.

 

USAA and Amazon Top 2014 Temkin Customer Service Ratings

We just published the 2014 Temkin Customer Service Ratings, the fourth year of the ratings. It uses feedback from 10,000 U.S. consumers to rate 233 organizations across 19 industries.

Download dataset for $295

For the second year in a row, USAA earned the highest score in the Temkin Customer Service Ratings. USAA’s banking business took the top spot and the company’s insurance business tied with Amazon for second place in the ratings. Rounding out the top 12 companies in the ratings are Chick-fil-A, Publix, H-E-B, USAA (credit cards), credit unions, Starbucks, Costco, QVC, and Trader Joe’s.

The prize for the worst customer service goes to Comcast, which earned the lowest two scores in the ratings for its Internet service and TV service businesses. As a clear sign of collective customer neglect, Internet service providers, TV service providers, and health plans earned 11 out of the bottom 13 positions in the ratings.

The remaining companies with the lowest Temkin Customer Service Ratings are Highmark (BCBS), Time Warner Cable (TV service and Internet service), Coventry Health Care, Charter Communications (TV service), Verizon (Internet service), HSBC (credit cards), US Airways, Qwest (Internet service), Cablevision (Internet service), CareFirst (BCBS).

1405_TCSR_HighLow3

Here’s how the industries compare with each other:

1405_TCSR_Industry

The 2014 Temkin Customer Service Ratings shows that companies have made improvements in customer service between 2013 and 2014. Led by investment firms, credit card issuers, and insurance carriers, 14 of the 19 industries earned higher average ratings in 2014 than they did in 2013.

The average company improved by 2 percentage-points between 2013 and 2014, with 31 companies increasing by 10 or more points. The companies with the most improvement over last year’s ratings are Humana, Cox Communications, Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, Apple Store, TD Ameritrade, American Family, KFC, Hyundai, and Food Lion.

Four companies saw their Temkin Customer Service Ratings fall by more than 14 points between 2013 and 2014: Coventry Health Care, ACE Hardware, Staples, and Fifth Third.

1405_TCSR_GainersLosers

Methodology:

The data was collected from an online survey of 10,000 U.S. consumers during January 2014. Quotas were set to mirror the U.S. census data for age, income, gender, ethnicity, and geographic regions of the U.S. population.

Temkin Customer Service Ratings are based on asking consumers the following question about companies with whom they’ve had a customer service interaction during the previous 60 days: “Thinking back to your most recent customer service interaction with these companies, how satisfied were you with the experience?” Potential responses range from 1= “very dissatisfied” to 7= “very satisfied.” Temkin Customer Service Ratings are calculated by taking the percentages of consumers who respond with a 6 or 7 and subtracting the percentage who respond with 1, 2, or 3.

Download dataset for $295

Temkin Ratings website
You can view a sortable list of results from the Temkin Customer Service Ratings as well as other ratings on the Temkin Ratings website.

 

Congratulations to Customer Service Industry Leaders

Today is the first day of Customer Service Week, so it’s a great opportunity to once again congratulate the industry leaders in the 2013 Temkin Customer Service Ratings (60% or more is a strong score):

  • Airlines: Alaska Airlines (67%)
  • Appliance maker: WhirlpoolSamsung (51%)
  • Auto dealer: Toyota (62%)
  • Bank: USAA (75%)
  • Computer maker: Apple (57%)
  • Credit card issuer: USAA (63%)
  • Fast food chain: Chick-fil-A (70%)
  • Grocery chain: Hy-VeeTrader Joe’s (69%)
  • Health plan: Kaiser PermanenteTriCare (59%)
  • Hotel chain: Marriott (65%)
  • Insurance carrier: USAA (76%)
  • Internet service: AOL (47%)
  • Investment firm: Charles Schwab (71%)
  • Parcel delivery: FedEx (58%)
  • Rental car agency: Advantage (68%)
  • Retailer: Ace Hardware (71%)
  • Software firm: Blackboard (56%)
  • TV service: Bright House Networks (46%)
  • Wireless carrier: Virgin Mobile (46%)

I also want to congratulate the organizations that are improving. These firms earned 2013 Temkin Customer Service Ratings that are 15 percentage points or more higher than their 2012 ratings: Citibank, U.S. Bank, Hyundai, Nissan. Citigroup, and Old Navy.

It’s also a good time to reiterate the distinction between customer service and customer experience. I like what Amazon.com’s CEO Jeff Bezos had to say on this topic:

Internally, customer service is a component of customer experience. Customer experience includes having the lowest price, having the fastest delivery, having it reliable enough so that you don’t need to contact [anyone]. Then you save customer service for those truly unusual situations. You know, I got my book and it’s missing pages 47 through 58

The bottom line: Happy Customer Service Week!

USAA On Top of 2013 Temkin Customer Service Ratings

We just released the third annual Temkin Customer Service Ratings of 235 companies across 19 industries based on a study of 10,000 U.S. consumers (see full list of firms).

Download entire dataset for $295

Company Results

Here are some company highlights:

2103TCSR_TopBottomFirms2103TCSR_IndustryLeadersLaggards

  • USAA earned the top two spots for its insurance and banking businesses. Other companies at the top of the ratings are credit unionsAce HardwareCharles SchwabDollar TreeChick-fil-ASonic Drive-InHy-VeeCostcoTrader Joe’s, Advantage, Publix, and H.E.B.
  • TV service providers and Internet service providers earned nine out of bottom 10 spots in the ratings.
  • For the second straight year, Charter Communications took the bottom spot. The rest of the firms in the bottom five are Time Warner CableCox CommunicationsOptimum (i/o), and CareFirst.
  • The following companies earned ratings that were 15 or more points above their industry averages: USAA (insurance and banking), Alaska Airlines, credit unions, Advantage, Kaiser Permanente, TriCare, Charles Schwab, and Bright House Networks.
  • Five companies earned ratings that were 15 or more points below their industry averages: Apple Stores, US AirwaysRadioShack, HSBC, and 21st Century.
  • Twenty-three percent of companies earned “strong” or “very strong” ratings, while 37% earned “weak” or “very weak” ratings.

Temkin Group also examined year-over-year results for the 171 companies that were in both the 2012 and 2013 Temkin Customer Service Ratings and found that:

  • Forty-four percent of companies improved their ratings while 47% experienced a decline.
  • Twenty companies showed double-digit increases, led by: Citibank (banking and credit cards), U.S. Bank, Hyundai, Nissan, Old Navy, Charles Schwab, Continental Airlines, and Piggly-Wiggly.
  • Eleven companies showed double-digit decreases, led by: LG, Giant Eagle, Toshiba, Cox Communications, ING Direct, and Budget.

Industry Results

Here are some industry highlights:

2103TCSR_Industries

  • Grocery chains, retailers, and fast food chains earned the highest average Temkin Customer Service Ratings, while TV service providers, Internet service providers, wireless carriers, and health plans earned the lowest ratings.
  • On average, credit card issuers, banks and fast food restaurants improved the most while appliance makers, TV service providers and investment firms declined the most.

Calculating the Temkin Customer Service Ratings

During January 2013, Temkin Group asked 10,000 U.S. consumers to identify the companies that they had interacted with on their websites during the previous 60 days. These consumers were asked the following question:

Thinking back to your most recent customer service interaction with these companies,
how satisfied were you with the experience?

Responses from 1= “very dissatisfied” to 7= “very satisfied”

For all companies with 100 or more consumer responses, we calculated the “net satisfaction” score. The Temkin Customer Service  Ratings are calculated by taking the percentage of consumers that selected either “6” or “7” and subtracting the percentage of consumers that selected either “1,” “2,” or “3.”

Download entire dataset for $295

Temkin Ratings website

To see all of the companies in the Temkin Customer Service Ratings as ell as all of our other Temkin Ratings and sort through the results, visit the Temkin Ratings website

The bottom line: TV service providers deliver terrible customer service

IBM’s Watson Hopes To Be Your Customer Service Agent

IBM’s Watson was a runaway winner on Jeopardy, but that game show victory wasn’t the ultimate goal for Big Blue’s analytical monster. It turns out that IBM is focusing Watson’s power on a new domain, customer service.

IBM will be rolling out an “Ask Watson” capability that provides customers with answers across several channels:  Web chats, email, smartphone apps and SMS. Companies will eventually add a voice recognition front-end to Watson, which will allow Watson to answer direct calls. Initial users of the service include Australia’s ANZ Bank, Nielsen, Celcom, IHS, and Royal Bank of Canada.

My take: Yes, yes, and yes! Self-help analytics such as Watson will become a critical, mainstream capability for most large companies.

Natural language processing (NLP) has reached the stage where this type of self-service analytics can provide enormous value for customer service. We already see companies making use of virtual agents/assistants from companies such as VirtuOz and Oracle in narrow domains. Think of a smarter version of Apple’s Siri, an application that can tap into all of the company’s databases to understand who the customer is, what products and services she may own, and any previous interactions that she’s had with the company. Using that information, an analytical powerhouse like Watson should be able to deal with an increasingly larger portion of customer issues.

Will Watson and its peers be able to handle all customer service inquiries? No. But they can be smart enough to understand what they don’t know and transfer the request to a human agent.

The bottom line: Prepare for more interactions with Watson and his friends.

The Excellent Economics Of Service Recovery

Most customer service and CX professionals intuitively understand that their companies need to do a good job in recovering from an experience miscue. An unhappy customer is never a good thing. So we decided to do a quantitative analysis of the relationship between service recovery and consumer spending. As you can see in the chart below:

  • Any improvement in service recovery has a positive effect on future spending patterns.
  • Moving service recovery from very poor to neutral limits the amount of decrease in future spending.
  • Moving service recovery from neutral to very good not only limits decreases in spending, but also increases the number of people that will spend more in the future.
  • Companies that do a very good job with service recovery have more customers planning to increase spending than decrease spending.

Companies that want to improve their service recovery should follow our C.A.R.E.S. model:

  • Communication (clearly communicate the process and set expectations)
  • Accountability (take responsibility for fixing the problem or getting an answer)
  • Responsiveness (don’t make the customer wait for your communication or a solution)
  • Empathy (acknowledge the impact that the situation has on the customer)
  • Solution (at the end of the day, make sure to solve the issue or answer the question)

The bottom line: Mistakes are inevitable, so recovery is critical.

Customer Service Drives Sales

This past week was National Customer Service Week. To celebrate, I’ll start by giving kudos again to the leaders in the 2012 Temkin Customer Service Ratings.

  • Publix
  • Hy-Vee
  • Credit unions
  • Chick-fil-A
  • H.E.B
  • Sam’s Club
  • Winn-Dixie
  • ShopRite
  • Aldi
  • Starbucks
  • Giant Eagle
  • JCPenney

I also decided to look deeper into our customer service data to examine the relationship between customer service and repurchasing. It turns out that we have data on over 90,000 customer service interactions. As you can see in the chart below, consumers that have a better customer service experience with companies are much, much more likely to buy from them again.

The bottom line: If you care about sales, you need to care about customer service

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