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How to eradicate customer service complacency

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/Jirsak)

We’ve all been there: trapped on a call with a customer service agent for what feels like hours, with a person who struggles to understand basic information about who you are. They take forever to answer simple questions or put you on hold multiple times as s/he has to “look into that for a minute,” only then to transfer you to another department, where the dance continues. Receiving poor customer service might seem like a trivial thing, but if this – or any similar example of frustrating customer service, such as a lack of response on social media or email – sounds familiar to you, you’ll know that it can often be the difference between whether or not you stay loyal to a brand.

If that’s a sentiment that rings true to you, then don’t worry – you’re certainly not alone. A recent Pega study found that only 10 per cent of customers, globally, said their typical customer service experience was ‘excellent’, while a similarly low number (11 per cent) said it was enjoyable. Of those who expressed dissatisfaction, two thirds (63 per cent) said that they’d rather ‘clean the toilet’ than have to contact customer service…seriously, they said that! So, if there’s so much widespread disaffection with the state of service being provided, why isn’t more being done to improve it?

Believe it or not, one of the primary reasons many organisations don’t address their customer service issues, is that they don’t perceive there to be a problem in the first place. The same study found that an overwhelming 89 per cent of business decision makers feel that the level of customer service they offer is positive – a number which looks more than a little generous next to a comparatively smaller sample of 54 per cent of customers who said that they feel the same way.

The problem with this is that such complacency can have serious consequences for businesses who aren’t on the same page as their customers. 77 per cent of customers agree that the standard of customer service they receive is a major determining factor in their loyalty, while exactly three quarters say that they have previously stopped doing business with an organisation because of poor customer service. Almost half (44 per cent) even said that they immediately stop any purchase process they are in and move to another vendor once they have a negative customer service experience.

What’s the solution? The good news is that all hope isn’t lost for businesses who find themselves in this situation, although as with any other major concern, the first step towards overcoming your problems has to be admitting that you have a problem in the first place. Organisations have to shake themselves out of their inertia and take proactive steps to measure the impact – whether it’s good or bad – that their customer service is having. If it’s the latter, then they need to recognise the urgency of the situation and take immediate action to make things better.

Arming the front-line customer-facing staff

There are a number of ways that they can begin to do this, but the starting point should, in most cases, be to ensure that they truly know their customers and understand them as individuals. This is more important than many business decision makers care to admit, with many, once again, failing to grasp the size of the challenge they face. Indeed, the unfortunate truth is that many customers don’t feel as though their relationship with organisations is anything more than a transactional one. Our study found that just 23 per cent of customers felt that businesses understand them and their customer service preferences ‘extremely well’. Tellingly, 87 per cent of businesses said that they felt they knew their customers well by comparison. One of those two groups is wrong. I’ll leave it up to you to determine which.

To achieve this level of customer understanding and empathy, organisations have to be prepared to arm their front-line customer-facing staff with the tools they require to provide the level of service their customers are demanding. Solutions are available that can help them to understand customer context, adeptly resolve customer issues, and provide more relevant, consistent, and knowledgeable service as a result. But perhaps the real question is this: how prepared are the key decision makers within organisations to invest in the level of transformation that is required?

If they’re not, and they’re already losing customers to competitors as a result of their own complacency, then exactly what will it take for them to wake up, recognise that there is a real issue and start to address it? Clearly, poor customer service is no new thing, but in today’s socially-enabled world, a positive brand reputation provides you an invaluable currency, just as negative experiences can spread like wildfire and tarnish your brand before you know it. The truth is that there’s never been a more important time for business leaders to step up and address the potentially damaging consequences of the customer service they provide. If they don’t, then by the time they do decide to act, it might well be too late.

Tom Libretto is Chief Marketing Officer and Senior Vice President, Pegasystems