As I read more and more about ongoing customer service problems at the post-merger United Airlines -- problems that have occurred across all channels of contact -- boy am I happy that I haven't had any business trips in the past few weeks that required its services. Apparently, this has been the sort of systems migration and process transformation that people will use in case study handbooks for months to come as an example of what not to do. Nearly two weeks after the official merger, and the airline still hasn't gotten its act together.
This looms large in my mind not just because I happen to fly this particular airline a great deal, but because the sorts of problems that United has experienced are, sadly, not all that uncommon.
The fact is that many companies continue to look at the customer service function as a cost center. Bad, bad mistake in these days of social business. A poor customer service function is one of the quickest ways to completely lose a customer that you have spend bazillions of marketing dollars to win. So why is it that executives continue to shortchange investments in this function, seeking the lowest cost options?
A small personal example. In the past two weeks, I have had occasion to reach out via email in two different customer service scenarios. In both cases, it took more than five days for the businesses to respond -- although they actually did in the end, which sort of shocked me (sad to say). Neither response had the effect of making me feel more favorably inclined toward the businesses. Both focused on excuses, not resolutions.
The irony is that both organizations that I contacted had basically forced me to use email, which is one of the fastest growing vehicles for customer touch. A newly published guide from ContactBabel (sponsored by Zeacom) called "The U.S. Contact Center Decision-Maker's Guide (2012 - 5th edition)" found that the use of email has jumped by 67 percent in the past five years, while the use of Web chat has grown by about 50 percent. Has your own company kept pace with that investment?
Here's another question: What would you think about a business that took five days to call you back after you reported a customer service concern over the phone? My guess is you would have taken your business elsewhere on day two or day three.
News flash, people: Social media and social networks are changing the rules for customer service. Get with the program or all the marketing dollars you spend could be for naught.
Some 2011 research from Forrester Research, cited in its report "The State of Customer Experience, 2011" suggests that a 10 percent improvement in customer experience -- something that is definitely tied to the support that a person gets before, during and after the "sale" -- can have a substantial impact on a company's revenue. In the case of a big company, that impact could exceed $1 billion. Plus or minus. Your call.
Forrester's more recent 2012 report, "Navigate the Future of Customer Service" offers more than a dozen trends that should be considered by those in customer service, customer experience or customer support roles -- however you want to describe it. Here are the issues that really strike home for me:
(Image by Ray Smithers, courtesy of Stock.xchng)
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com