The story is always the same whenever a new survey is released about customer service. Telcos, Banks and Utilities consistently top the list for complaints and customer dissatisfaction. The big question is, why? Most of these companies spend a lot of time and money in training and development, so what is causing this seemingly chronic problem? There are three primary reasons:
1. They’re Big, Customers are Small
From the minute you make the call and reach their automated phone system, you know that you are a very tiny minnow in an ocean of customers. When you finally get through to an agent – which can often be an excruciating process – you know that they can’t stray from company’s internal policies and processes. Your personal needs and situation appear irrelevant. They have Rules, and if you want the privelege of being one of their customers, you must follow them. Customers often profess a profound sense of helplessness and lack of control. Yes, we can vote with our feet and move someplace else (except for Utilities, where you can’t even do that), but we know that the next company won’t be much better. We feel, for all intents and purposes – trapped.
For those companies that actively work to overcome the negative customer perceptions created by their bigness, they face a significant challenge. Fairly or unfairly, people have a natural distrust of large organizations, and they are natural targets for people who like to find fault. How many times have we heard people mocking companies such as McDonalds and Wal-Mart? Despite the fact that they remain two of the most successful organizations on the planet, people seem to love to hate them. For many people, Big = Bad.
2. They’re Public Companies
Creating a sustainable customer service culture takes time, investment and patience. The payoff is there, and can be huge. There are countless studies and case histories to support this. But these three things are almost impossible to achieve in an environment that is driven by quarterly financial reports. Shareholders look for one thing – profits. Long-term, even medium-term planning, can be CEO killers.
They also look for straight-forward ROI. It’s easier to sell them on an automated phone system, for example, that promises costs of pennies for every call, than it is on teams of live, skilled agents that can cost ten times that, or more. These are hard numbers, and are easy for people to grasp. Selling people on the bigger picture can be a futile and frustrating endeavour. The value of live agents – more first-call resolution, reduced conflict, higher customer loyalty, higher customer retention, more positive word-of-mouth – is profound, but almost impossible to definitively quantify. Bean counters have a difficult time making the connection between the expense line and the revenue line.
3. Customer Service is a Line Item – Not a Philosophy
Organizations that have a genuine customer focus are the ones that have embedded it into their corporate DNA. From the CEO down, customer experience is treated as the primary objective – the primary meas by which they turn a profit. This is not the way most companies do business – despite what it might say on their mission statement.
All you have to do is look at the job description and KPIs for people in leadership positions. Are behaviours and activities related to customer satisfaction number one? Most often they are not. Are performance bonuses linked to service performance, or customer satisfaction – or are they more weighted toward productivity and efficiency? All too often, we see HR or Training Department initiatives thwarted because the skills and behaviours they teach are not actively championed by the very leaders the programs are developed to assist. Why does that happen? Because their real priorities lie elsewhere.
It Doesn’t Have To Be This Way
The sad fact is that it doesn’t have to be this way. There do exist large companies who have overcome these obstacles to customer engagement and satisfaction. There are the classic examples of Disney, Southwest Airlines, Amazon, Apple and Four Seasons. The advantage they had, of course, is that customer experience was part of their makeup from their very starts. They didn’t have to undo pre-existing beliefs and create new ones.
But imagine what would happen if, for example, a Telecom company was able to make the transformation. Imagine if people started to talk about them in the same breath as Disney or Southwest. Where do you suppose that company would be sitting in their hyper-competitive market. You’ve got it – right at the top.
What will it take? For an organization to actually transform themselves, they will need four things:
a) A CEO who is absolutely passionate about customer service, supported by shareholders
b) An objective transformation of the organization’s policies, processes, people and practices
c) Customer experience accepted as the primary focus of everyone in leadership positions
d) Time and Patience
Shaun Belding is CEO of The Belding Group of Companies, a global leader in customer service and employee performance consulting and training. He writes and speaks extensively on service excellence and employee engagement.