Companies ill-equipped to deliver better service

New survey indicates businesses are increasingly focused on improving customer service, but are not providing adequate technology to do so.

Communications executives say customers come first, but many struggle to understand customer needs and feel ill-equipped to provide better service, according to a new study released Wednesday.

Commissioned by Oracle, the survey was conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit and polled 164 senior executives globally from organizations in the information, communications and media industries. The report, titled Conquering Convergence, aimed to determine why companies are intensifying their focus on customer needs amid the growing adoption of Web 2.0 tools and user-generated content, which have enabled customers to "exert influence" over companies.

Survey respondents recognized the value of emerging technologies such as blogs, home-produced commercials and personal videos. Some 68 percent said such technologies offered an opportunity for businesses to increase revenues or margins, while 39 percent said they were using these tools to achieve customer-focus goals.

The respondents indicated their companies were increasingly focused on becoming more customer-centric, but many said they felt poorly equipped to do so, the study found.

Although 92 percent said their companies had a strategy in place to enhance customer service, and 69 percent planned to be even more customer-centric, only 15 percent ranked their customer focus programs as highly successful.

Respondents said the low success rate was partly due to insufficient technology. Some 25 percent said their company's technology was inadequate to enable them to stay abreast of customer preferences, and nearly one-third of those surveyed struggled to deal with inaccurate customer data.

Only 25 percent said their companies developed methods to forecast patterns of consumer purchases, and 26 percent revealed their companies were able to produce customer analytics to facilitate up-selling or cross-selling at the time of interaction with the customer.

Only 38 percent said they had a 360-degree view of the customers, which included information on the customer's purchases, contact history, preferences and demographics. About 25 percent of respondents said their companies had developed predictive customer buying models.