Service with a snarl

Here’s a disturbing sign of the times: Younger consumers are so accustomed to poor customer service that they’ve come to expect it, according to a study of 303 adult, college, and graduate students conducted by Douglas Manor, NY-based consultancy Ernan Roman Direct Marketing.

The study notes that most of the students have been “raised” on automated call center menus. That’s why they’re less like to be bothered by “menu clutter,” the lengthy lists of phone prompts and options. Only 57% of the students surveyed said such clutter bothered them, compared with 78% of all adults.

A dubious bright spot: The students were less likely to have their opinions of a company swayed by poor customer service or bad contact center experiences.

This doesn’t mean that if you cater to young adults, you needn’t invest in top-notch service, however. While they may not drop a company that offers poor service, they are more likely to keep buying from a company that delivers good service. Ninety percent of the students said a good contact center experience would make them more willing to buy from a company; 88% said they’d be more likely to recommend a company following a positive experience.

What should marketers do? Consultant Roman says, yes, companies could continue to provide poor service with the attitude that “Well, teens expect poor service, so we’ll give it to them” — or they could recognize how important high-quality customer service.

But stepping up your service is a better idea. Generally speaking it’s seven to 10 times more expensive to generate a new customer than it is sell to an existing customer. “By propagating lousy customer service,” Ronan says, “marketers are perpetuating churn, lack of loyalty, and the perception of companies as simply commodity providers, hence not worthy of loyalty.”