Customer Service is Getting Worse, Says American, Canadian Consumers

ALPHARETTA, Ga. -- Empathica Inc., a leading provider of Customer Experience Management (CEM) solutions to some of the world's most respected brands, reported Friday that American consumers feel customer service has slipped since the first quarter of this year.

According to its Second Quarter survey of 11,000 American consumers, the percentage of Americans who said customer service is getting worse rose to 61.7 percent, up from 55.2 percent in the first quarter. Likewise, the 31.5 percent who responded it wasn't getting worse in the first quarter fell to 24.8 percent in the second quarter survey.

Of the 4,000 Canadians who were also surveyed, 50.3 percent felt customer service was getting worse (compared to 45.4 percent in the first quarter). So while Canadian consumers don't feel service is suffering as much as Americans do, the downward trend remains the same in both countries.

"This is an increasingly problematic concern for retailers," said Dr. Gary Edwards, executive vice president of client services at Empathica. "Along with economic uncertainty, we're finding consumers have become more impatient to receive the service they desire when they visit retail, restaurant and financial establishments today. Of course there are the companies that prove to be the exception, but for others it appears they are failing to recognize the potential consequences poor customer service can have on the overall success of their business."

Age Matters According to survey results, American consumers between the age 45 and 54 are most dissatisfied with customer service today, yet those 55-64 had the largest percentage increase in dissatisfaction between quarters.

"American consumers have been hard hit by the economy across the board," explained Edwards. "When they do choose to spend their hard-earned money and don't have an excellent experience, they're definitely less likely to visit that establishment again. Expectations for service are still elevated, perhaps out of frustration. Retailers need to take note of this and ensure they create in-store and online experiences as enjoyable and hassle-free as possible. Retailers need to be clear in identifying what they're doing right in addressing customer needs, and implement initiatives that will optimize employee behavior to deliver these elements consistently in every location, every day."

Downward pricing pressures oftentimes lead retailers to simply cut staff, without consideration of how it will impact the customer experience. That said, the answer is rarely to "spend your way clear" by adding more labor costs. Discover the elements critical to the experience of your brand, and consider eliminating elements that are not, added Edwards.

What Retailers Can Do
Edwards offered some advice for retailers looking to bring the promise of great customer service, and the reality of delivering great customer service, back into alignment:

• Allow CEM to Have a Say. Allow Customer Experience Management individuals a seat at senior management meetings. This will give the customer a voice in companywide initiatives and make it a priority to deliver on differentiated service at critical customer touch-points.
• Don't Be Defensive. Don't take a defensive view that better customer service automatically translates into labor cost implications (i.e., more people on the floor), and thus justifies sweeping it under the table. Oftentimes, customer service can be drastically elevated by simply instructing employees about what they need to do better and by the same token, where they can reduce effort to create efficiency. It can be achieved by knowing, first and foremost, what your customers want that drives their loyalty. This leads to the next point.
• Conduct Better Training. Reinforce the right behaviors with team awards, and make sure employees have action items coming out of company meetings. Don't assume employees will know how to deliver on customer expectations; instead, make them privy to customer feedback and daily reinforcement of what you and the customer expect of them.
• Discover the Pathways to Customer Loyalty. Map out the ideal experience journey of a customer. Then verify the unique elements for your brand that drives a pathway to loyalty, via advanced statistical path analyses.
• Obsessively Monitor and Manage the Detail. Every retail or restaurant unit requires vigilant and constant monitoring and management to ensure that what matters to customers is being delivered. Attending to the small details that matter leads to large rewards in customer advocacy.

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