Is Customer Service Getting Worse, or are Customers Just Getting Smarter?
“Customer service isn’t getting worse. Customer service is getting harder.”
This was the message that Barak Eilam, the CEO of NICE, a technology company focused on customer experience solutions, shared with an audience of customers at the recent NICE Interactions users conference in Las Vegas. How profound. And, he’s right.
Surveys in the customer service world are coming back and indicating that customers perceive customer service to be worse than last year. W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University finds that in 2013 customer problems climbed to 50% from 45% in 2011 and 32% in 1976. Yet, at the same time companies are marketing and bragging about how they provide great customer service.
Here’s my take. The customer is smarter than ever when it comes to customer service. The best companies are becoming benchmarks for others to aspire – not just in their own industry, but across all industries. Companies such as Apple, Amazon, Zappos, Ace Hardware, Ritz-Carlton, Nordstrom and others are consistently top performers in the world of customer service. They are very proud of it, and they tell the world about it, thereby educating the consumer on what really good customer service looks like. As a result, customers hope to get this level of service from all of the companies they do business with.
That just makes it harder for companies that aren’t quite as customer focused, and that is a good thing. Companies that really want to compete and stand out are being forced to raise the bar and give customers a better experience. It can only be good for customers – and good for business.
So, how does a company begin to not just meet, but exceed the customer’s expectations? How do they raise the bar? A good start is to identify the typical customer’s journey. Determine all of the main touch-points or front-line interactions. Think of each of these interactions as a link in a chain. If there is a weak link, figure out a way to strengthen it to eliminate or mitigate problems and customer complaints. Look at the strong links and determine what might be done to make them even stronger.
At the same time, take a look at what is happening behind the scenes to support these front-line interactions. The systems and people behind the scenes can make or break the front-line customer experience.
There is no doubt that some companies aren’t good at delivering customer service. But what about the ones that try, yet fail? Is it that they are bad or getting worse? Maybe not. Maybe they are failing because the bar has been raised and the customer is expecting more. Maybe it’s just getting harder.