So Why Does Customer Service Stink?

Apr 14, 2015

Almost every day, it seems, there is another report on why enabling an excellent Customer Experience is vital for companies.  Here are just a few examples of these albeit motherhood points they make:

--Customers choosing to do business with businesses based on how they are treated.  For example, the 2015 inContact Consumer Research Study revealed that 70% of American adults are willing to pay more for good service.

--Customers’ propensity to comment, positively and negatively, on social media about companies based on their Customer Experience.

--That it costs less to retain and grow existing customers than to acquire new ones.

Here’s the rub. For at the same time there is a steady stream of reports on companies delivering a terrible Customer Experience.  That includes, according to the stunning ICMI/LiveOps report blogged here, contact centers actually preventing contact center agents from providing excellent service.

So what gives? Why is the Customer Experience seemingly awful in face of the stream of evidence and recommendations that excellent customer service is essential for companies’ livelihoods?

Here are several theories:

1.       Rising expectations.  It isn’t the Customer Experience that has changed. Instead, customers are demanding better service from agents, and from retail staff, than they had done in the past.  Customers are now much more knowledgeable about products, services and suppliers, and they have this information at their fingertips on their wireless devices. They also have spent their scarce time in self-service before reaching out to company representatives, and they are understandably impatient.

2.       Corporate skepticism.  Companies know that when customers decide to lay down their cash, as opposed to answering surveys, customer service is in the back of the line. Need, convenience, features, style, and price matter more.  Customers may gripe on Facebook and Twitter about companies, and threaten to leave them. But bottom line they still pass over the bills and the payment card numbers.  There are countless examples of this: airlines, cable and telcos, hotels, software publishers, vehicles…

3.       “Market convergence” and maximizing profits.  The goal of the free market:  competition leading to lower prices and excellent service, is opposite of the goal of the market’s players, which is to maximize profits by raising prices and cutting costs, like customer service.  “Market convergence”: where each company mimics their competitors, takes place.  Market convergence occurs in maturing markets (like ours) where there is player consolidation, product and service commoditization, flattening of innovation lead times, and higher barriers to entry. The airlines are a great example. If one carrier gets away with a fare hike or cutting seat pitches the others follow suit

4.       Only the “front of the curtain” counts. George Orwell was right. Some are more equal than others, like the 1%-10% affluent customers who have most of the buying power.  Companies naturally cater to them with an excellent Customer Experience. As for the rest, well, here are some peanuts.

5.       Sales is cool. Support is OK. Service is for wimps.  Society gives its greatest rewards to aggressive behavior, as in sales, because it brings results, like money.  Society also respects those who can fix problems, like customer/IT support. But society places much less value on serving others.

 What are your thoughts on whether and why Customer Service stinks?

Brendan Read


Brendan Read is Senior Industry Analyst with over 25 years’ experience covering business, communications, staffing, and technology. He has worked in, prepared reports, and blogged on a wide range of topics including customer contact, CX, CRM, IoT, social media, supply chain, and BC/DR. He also has backgrounds in construction, manufacturing, materials, resource extraction, site selection, and transportation. He examines the broad economic, environmental, innovation, political, and social mega trends, and their impacts on businesses, markets, and society.

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