Service Call

Mar 01, 2005 10:30 PM  By

Ideally, Customer Service Day (if there were such a thing) would be every day. But sadly, it would, if instituted now, come around with the same frequency as the days devoted to bosses, secretaries, or mothers — once a year. Customers are getting short shrift from merchants, and we’re not the only ones caviling. Consider the results of the latest American Customer Satisfaction Index: a dramatic overall drop in the last quarter of 2004, a plunge in the retail sector, and a startling decline in the rating of long-standing service leader Amazon.com.

In his commentary on the ACSI results, University of Michigan professor Claes Fornell notes that over the years, the ACSI and growth in consumer spending (which accounts for nearly 70% of GDP) have been strongly related. When customer satisfaction drops, so does spending — boding yet more trouble for an already shaky economy. Dr. Fornell points to retail cost-cutting as a key reason for customer dissatisfaction. “Through heavy discounting, the holiday season did bring in more buyers for both traditional and online retailers,” he writes. “But because some companies also cut costs, resources to serve the increasing demand were sometimes lacking, resulting in crowding, longer lines, and slower service.”

E-mail customer service wasn’t much better, according to a recent Forrester Research Inc. survey. All of the 20 organizations participating in the study failed Forrester’s e-mail experience review criteria. Among their flaws were failure to deliver essential content, missing context, confusing layouts, and poor message headers (like this instant classic: “RE: [T2004112901ACS010Z2069411]”).

In this special issue, we highlight some key areas of operations where small changes can bring big payoffs in service quality and customer satisfaction. Some problems may seem insurmountable, but as with most things, starting small and measuring well works best, suggests logistics expert Debra Ellis of Wilson & Ellis Consulting. And there’s no getting around the fact that it is essential to invest in talent. Not only can qualified people make up for mediocre technology, but they alone can provide the environment that is conducive to happy customers and repeat sales. Most CRM implementations fail, Ellis says, because “the service part of the puzzle is often missing. Customers want to be served, not manipulated or managed.”