Some things are so obvious, you wonder what business executives are thinking. If they are.
A business of any size exists for its customers. Without the revenue from their purchases, there is no business. Companies can leverage laws to force customers to buy from them, but even that effect is limited. A cable company may have a virtual monopoly is a specific service area, but it can’t force customers to pony up for optional services such as pay-per-view. And most customers don’t. Tick people off and they find ways of getting back at you.
In fairness, companies face a tug-of-war between profits and costs, and most executives see customer service as a cost. For that reason, they
- Replace people with automated voice response or call direction systems — which consumers hate with a passion.
- Reduce staffing at call centers. (“Your call is important to us. Please hold for the next available agent. Your wait time will be approximately 45 minutes.”)
- Replace experienced field service personnel with lower pay, semi-trained and less dedicated contract employees. (As an employer, you get what your pay for.)
As a researcher, one of my very first projects was for a Midwestern utility that had raised customer management to an art form. Literally. Customers who called with billing problems or service outages were happier with the utility than those that had no reason to call.
That’s because the utility understood what customers really want:
- Prompt attention, and
- Keeping people informed on the status of actions being taken on their behalf.
Consumers are realistic; they don’t expect perfection. That just doesn’t happen where humans are concerned. How you handle problems when they occur makes all the difference.
Smart managers learn that some shortcuts just aren’t. If you lose customers, or if you increase the number of service calls to solve a problem, then the shortcut you took doesn’t save you anything. In fact it may increase your costs substantially.
Thus it was with amusement that I read the list of US companies with the poorest ratings for customer service. The list includes almost every cable and wireless provider. The cable companies are shaded; Sprint, T-Mobile and AT&T are on this list, and Verizon is very close to inclusion.
Other notable companies are
- K-Mart (financially struggling)
- Bank of America
There’s no great surprise about who is here.
The chicken-and-the-egg question: Does cost cutting inevitably cause poor customer service? Or does poor customer service inevitably create the need for cost cutting? And where are companies using the resources that should be put int0 rebuilding relationships with customers?
- Evan Comen, Samuel Stebbins and Thomas C. Frohlich, “The Customer Service Hall of Shame,” 24/7WallSt., 23 August 2016. http://247wallst.com/special-report/2016/08/23/customer-service-hall-of-shame-4/7/