Although companies have invested heavily in technology and other resources to provide better customer service, many businesses are finding that being able to create satisfied and loyal customers is more difficult today. Hurdles include a daunting rise in customer expectations; challenges posed by the Internet, social media and online word of mouth; and poor execution of upgraded corporate complaint-handling policies.
Since the 1970s, the authors have conducted six customer satisfaction surveys patterned after a baseline survey by the U.S. Office of Consumer Affairs. Their latest survey found that:
• The explosion of online social networking and other communication tools has raised the stakes in the area of customer satisfaction.
• The intensity of negative reactions seems to be increasing.
• In addressing complaints, companies are failing in their efforts to create one-stop services with technology and people dedicated to resolving customer problems.
So, what can companies do to improve the level of customer satisfaction? The authors identify five areas of focus.
1. Encourage unhappy customers to complain, but be prepared to resolve the complaints. Today’ unhappy customers expect businesses to handle customer service flawlessly (even if it is outsourced to a third party).
2. Understand what results your investments in customer service will produce. Since the 1970s, companies have invested billions of dollars in upgraded corporate complaint-handling practices. Only 20% of recent complainants were “completely satisfied” with the results of their complaint (compared to 23% in 1976).
3. Recognize that technology has limits — and that some customers want to interact directly with a person. Only 6% of today’s complainants consider the Internet their primary channel for complaining. The authors say that online communication channels might be utilized more effectively to steer customers to live complaint handlers rather than pursuing totally automated solutions.
4. Be aware that customers may be even more influenced by positive online word of mouth than by negative word of mouth. By a margin of 46% to 19%, prospective buyers cited positive posts more often than negative comments as being most influential on their future purchases.
5. For most customers, customer dissatisfaction is about more than money. Only 26% of survey respondents wanted financial compensation for their lost time, inconvenience or injury. Many more people seek nonmonetary remedies, such as an explanation or apology.