Customer Service Is The Worst Touchpoint

I recently published a report called Experiences Across the Customer Lifecycle that examines how satisfied US consumers are with four interactions (researching a product/service, purchasing a product/service, using a product/service, getting customer service) across 14 industries.

In 12 of the 14 industries, customer service was the lowest (or tied for lowest) rated interaction. Across all four touchpoints, hotels are at the top and health plans are at the bottom. Here are some of the highlights from the analysis:

I also examined how consumers rated individual companies. Here’s a shout-out to the companies that outperformed their industry averages by more than 10 percentage points:

  • Researching a product/service: Credit unions, American Express, AT&T, DirecTV, USAA, Amazon.com, Verizon, and Barnes & Noble.
  • Purchasing a product/service: Credit unions, American Express, Medicare, Vanguard, Visa, Apple, Aol, Southwest Airlines, and ING Direct.
  • Using a product/service: Credit unions, Apple, Medicare, USAA, and Toshiba.
  • Getting customer service: Credit unions, Kaiser, Apple, Cox Communications, American Express, Visa, USAA, Barnes & Noble, Marriott, Kohl’s, Southwest Airlines, and Verizon.

The bottom line: The entire customer lifecycle needs and upgrade, especially customer service.

About Bruce Temkin, CCXP
I am a customer experience transformist, helping large organizations improve business results by changing how they deal with customers. As part of this focus, I examine strategy, culture, interaction design, customer service, branding and leadership practices. I am also a fanatical student of business, so this blog provides an outlet for sharing insights from my ongoing educational journey. Simply put, I am passionate about spotting emerging best practices and helping companies master them. And, as many people know, I love to speak about these topics in almost any forum. My “title” is Managing Partner of the Temkin Group, a customer experience research and consulting firm that helps organizations become more customer-centric. Our goal is simple: accelerate the path to delighting customers. I am also the co-founder and Emeritus Chair of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA.org), a non-profit organization dedicated to the success of CX professionals.

12 Responses to Customer Service Is The Worst Touchpoint

  1. Jim Tincher says:

    The title of this piece really isn’t a shock. Neither of the two lower-rated processes involve a reward. Buying something gives you the reward of acquiring the product or service, and using it obviously does as well. But researching and calling customer service are inherently without immediate reward.

    That said, I agree that there’s a lot to learn from the companies that are effective even in these two difficult areas.

  2. Rich Mewes says:

    Hello from a fellow Stratus alum! (9/88 – 10/02)

    I’m wondering if there are current studies that tie customer sat to increased sales/revenue? This might be one way to make the case for quality.

    I can’t recall the source but years ago I remember reading that a study was done which indicated a 1% increase in customer sat translated into a 2% increase in sales.

    Regards,

    Rich

  3. John Ely says:

    Again, great message here. Good customer service need not be difficult or unattainable. The biggest reason I’ve found (at least here in the U.S.) is that companies have their training budgets WAY out of whack. The people who can make the biggest impression, front-line customer service personnel, get the least amount of training. When they are trained, it’s usually technical-based and not customer interface-based training.

    Most people have experienced very low standards when it comes to service and we “settle” for it. Even worse, most executives think their companies are providing excellent service when the opposite is true. I don’t blame the people…just the inadequate processes and priorities.

  4. P. Tsaldari says:

    I think this is such a great blog! OK since we all agree the system is flawed. Every time I go to even suggest we institute a program from the bottom up, from the rank and file crew that mans the front lines customer service position, management says “no”. It’s a UFO (Unidentified Flying Object). So where is the cure?
    Many thanks,
    PT

  5. P. Tsaldari says:

    Great Article I wish to share:

    Poor Customer Service Costs Companies $83 Billion Annually

    http://www.mediapost.com/publications/?fa=Articles.showArticle&art_aid=122502
    Jack Loechner, Feb 18, 2010 08:15 AM

    PT
    http://ptsaldari.posterous.com

  6. Bruce,

    Interesting report – and I cannot argue with your conclusion: the customer lifecycle is obsolete because the changes in consumer behavior for the past 10-15 years have turned it upside down. Organizations have not yet noticed this, the few that did are usually at the top of your reports, or the ones who have don’t care to change their ways. I believe that the lifecycle has moved away from being a cycle into being a continuum – there is not start point or end point, just a series of interactions between organizations and consumers that must be tended to.

    Thanks for the data!

  7. Barry Dalton says:

    Bruce,
    I agree with your bottom line. The entire lifecycle needs an overhaul. But, let me suggest that customer service is the not the first place to focus energy. Customer service is literally at the butt end of the process. As the expression goes, “S” rolls down hill. So, while certainly we have all witnessed first hand endless opportunities to improve training, recruit and train better, improve the culture and execution of front line service employee empowerment, you have to first look at the hand customer service is dealt on a daily basis.

    Customer service is left cleaning up for the mess that is created at all those upstream customer touch points, even those that indirectly touch the customer. The real opportunity lies in identifying and eliminating the root causes of service demand in the first place; what Bill Price correctly calls “dumb contacts”.

    Your industry data points directly to this paradigm. Looking at the industries that are at the bottom in satisfaction ratings, you’ll see a direct correlation (in the non-statistical sense). Those industries at the bottom are also those that are the worst offenders of creating unnecessary demand for service.

    Health plans – multiple contacts to understand coverage, gain pre-authorization, follow up on claims, on claims denied

    TV (cable) – no need to say any more here

    Utilities – monopolistic enterprises that again drive unneeded demand upstream for service

    So, if the enterprise really wants to impact the entire customer experience, across all points in the lifecycle you describe, like any reengineering/six sigma effort, find the root causes of service demand and fix those first.

    Excellent data! Thanks

  8. If you are considering a position in user support, you will need to have the following skills:
    1. A Great Listener – Customers want you to completely understand their issue with the hope you will be able to assist them in resolving their problems quickly and efficiently. You will gain their respect if you let them completely explain their issue and respond in a positive manner. Take time to listen to their situation before jumping in with your resolution. Ask questions when you feel you have heard the issue and repeat some of their problems to let them know you were listening.

    2. Professionalism – Having the ability to speak well and clearly over the phone or in person will be crucial in your interaction with the customer. A customer representative that acts in an un-professional manner will quickly become unwanted and only frustrate them further. You need to be a patient, professional and calming influence when interacting with customers at all times.

    3. The Desire to Solve their Problem – User support requires you to have the fundamental sincerity to help others. Once you understand their issues, your desire to resolve them quickly and efficiently will make you the go to guy or gal for future needs. Your credibility and reputation will get you the visibility you need to move on in other areas.

    Gravity Gardener
    http://gravitygarden.com/build-customer-loyalty/customer-relationship-jobs.html

  9. Bruce Temkin says:

    Hi everyone: Great comments on this post.

    Rich: Great to hear from a Stratus alumn! P. Tsaldari, thanks for providing a link to some information. I’d also take a look at the ACSI site (theacsi.org). And look at my post: Customer Experience Boosts Revenue.

    John: I totally agree; it’s not the people that are the problem with customer service. I always tell clients that you need to look at the environment. Take a look at my 6 Laws Of Customer Experience; people do what is measured, incented, and celebrated. And, as you mention, they need to be trained and have the appropriate tools.

    Esteban: Yes, relationships are more like a continuum.

    Barry: Maybe the “S” in service should refer to what flows downhill — you are absolutely right. The problem shows up in customer service, but that does not make it a problem that the customer service organization is responsible for. A large wireless company found that they were causing real customer service problems because its bills did not match the expectations set with consumers when they opened an account. Take a look at my post: My Manifesto: Great Customer Experience Is Free.

    Gravity Gardener (interesting name): Thanks for the list of skills for user support people.

  10. Pingback: There’s Little Delight For Customers « Customer Experience Matters

  11. Pingback: Are you as blind to your relationships as companies are blind to their levels of customer service? « The Comparative Advantage

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