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Saving Your Customer Base, Is Your Customer Service Driving Customers Away?

Updated on January 10, 2014

Knowing Customer Expectations

In recent years I noticed a decline in customer service. It actually started in a dentist’s office in 2007. The dentist seated four other people while I was in the chair. A procedure that should have only taken an hour was dragged out from 1pm (my appointment time) to 7:30pm. This is not an exaggeration. No, I did not have some bizarre issue, in fact nothing out of the ordinary happened accept that the dentist was over scheduled. Because I knew this dentist personally, I know that this behavior was in fact their mode of operation. This was offensive to me as a single parent because, it was almost as if this dentist did not think my time was worth anything. Despite having known this dentist for over ten years, I switched to a dentist that would see me during my off hours and get me in and out in a reasonable amount of time. Total loss to the first dentist was over $5,000.00 in my out of pocket costs as well as $16,000.00 they lost in payments from my insurance company. A few days ago my mother called me and within moments related a similar story concerning that same dentist, I urged her to switch as well. What is wrong with this Dentist? He does not meet the expectations of his customers.

Customer Service Survey

If you go through the Taco Bell drive-thru, the drive-thru cashier will give you a receipt with survey web address. Chances are, if you look at the bottom of the receipt from your groceries, specialty stores, and even DirecTV, you will see they have given you an option for a survey. At some point a myth was created that a company would be able to gauge their customer service through the use of a survey. Yes, I said this is a myth. The emperor has no clothes and you cannot tell what employees are doing by making them survey pushers.

Why are surveys unreliable? Let’s start with the obvious. Who is motivated to fill out a survey? PEOPLE WHO ARE MAD! That is correct, the people who are most likely to fill out a survey are those angry customers who did not get what they wanted (and even some who do get what they want but do not agree with the time it took to do it). Think about the last time you wrote a nice letter about someone who helped you. There is a good chance that you have never written such a letter. I am not saying you are bad person but let’s face it, writing nice letters about the quickie mart cashier is not high on your priority list. However, let that same cashier take another customer before you when you were next in line and someone is going to hear about. This is human nature, not rocket science.

The second reason customer service surveys do not work is that managers know about them. That’s right, the person you are reporting knows they are being reported. In every retail/business setting the manager figured out a way to skew the customer service scorecard. Well that sounded awful shady didn’t it! Many companies hang a manager’s bonus and their job on the customer service survey. Imagine your job being held by such an easily skewed system. At times employees are following strict company policy when they upset a customer. Why would you hold a manager accountable for your policy? Due to these paradigm managers often hold back survey requests and fill them out themselves.

The final reason customer service surveys are unrealistic is they are too vague to give you an idea of the customers’ expectations or experience. Most surveys use the Likert format. This means that you choose between five answers for each question. It may look something like this:

Was the store clean and organized?

Somewhat dirty/ dirty /Somewhat clean/ Clean/ Very clean

What is the problem with this question? The problem is it does not tell you what parts of the store were dirty or clean. One person’s perception of clean is not the same as another person’s. And since one person’s clean is another person’s dirty, as a company you have no idea if the actual standard is maintained. This perception difference may cause a store to have a high or low skewed score.

If you own your own company then you should get to know your customers. Is the customer priority: time, price, quality, or attention? If you do not know your customer then how do you expect your employees to know the customer? Whatever that customer expectation is, that should be the company focus. The other things are going to be incidental. Additionally if you are not willing to put effort into meeting the customers’ expectations then do not expect your employees to close that gap without any resources.

How Important is Customer Service?

Customer service can make or break a company. Companies rely on their regular customer service for return business. Through a numbers study Harrah’s corporation realized that 85% or their revenue was coming from 5% of their customers. The company was surviving on repeat customers. Since that time many other companies have realized the importance of repeat business. Loyalty programs and customer incentives have become industry standards for businesses like Kohl’s Department store.

One of the biggest issues with customer service is finding the right employees. Part-time employees are transient because, they are always looking for one job that will pay all their bills. Employers who skimp on employee quality are going to get what they pay for in terms of customer service. I remember watching someone return a worn comforter to Walmart, the employee did not even check to see if the product was from Walmart. This is typical of part-time employees who possess limited loyalty toward the success of the business.

Invest your employees in what they are doing. Give them incentives to drive your business. Create a culture that revolves around that customer. Some customers do not want to be hassled; they are self-sufficient and are happy if you leave them alone. Other customers are going to require lots of help. Know which one is which and act accordingly. With the competition in so many markets today it is even more important that customer service is at the top of your list. Just don’t expect to know about it from a survey.


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