Putting customers on hold imperils goodwill

Automated self-help systems failing, survey finds

We hate automated customer service systems. That’s the key finding of a recent study by Accenture (see Computerworld, May 28, page 26). It’s important to note that the study didn’t look at how well we like acquiring, installing, integrating, operating and maintaining customer service automation. It was about how well we like being on the receiving end. Short answer: We don’t.

Wait, it’s worse: We not only hate being subjected to automated customer service, we’re also irritated enough that we’re ready to change vendors in the hope that we’ll have better luck elsewhere.

Worse still: Vendors are clueless about just how bad things are.

Accenture actually commissioned two separate surveys. In one, 1,200 customers of technology companies were asked what they thought of their suppliers’ customer service. In the other, executives at 35 technology vendors were asked how well they believed their customer service systems performed.

The disconnect is stunning.

Three-quarters of vendors believe their customer service is above average, and 54% say theirs is up there with the best in the industry.

Meanwhile, 78% of customers say their vendors are only average or below average.

Among vendors, 57% say they have higher customer satisfaction because of new technology they’re using for customer service, and 71% say customer problems are being resolved faster than before.

Among customers, 61% say service has not improved. And 57% actually describe themselves as somewhat, very or extremely upset by lousy customer service.

How can vendors be getting it so wrong? Sure, with only 35 vendors interviewed, the margin of error on that survey is well into double digits. But for the IT customer survey, the error is a lot smaller. We really are unhappy with our suppliers’ customer service.

The answer turns out to be pretty simple. According to the survey, when we go through a vendor’s customer service process, we want our problems resolved quickly and completely, preferably the first time through.

Instead, 64% of us have had to go back more than once to get problems solved. And 58% of us are not at all satisfied with the telephone-based self-help customer service that lots of suppliers have foisted on us.

See, it’s not just you. We all hate this stuff. Meanwhile, vendors think this run-customers-in-automated-circles approach is a big success because it cuts their costs. They don’t seem to notice that it also kills customer loyalty; Accenture calculates that customers with merely average satisfaction have a 73% likelihood of looking for another supplier.

That’s how much we don’t like automated customer service systems.

So — ask yourself, how do our customers like our customer service?

No, “customers” doesn’t mean business-side users calling the IT helpdesk. Think about the actual customers who buy your company’s products and services. What kind of automated customer service hoops do they have to jump through?

Touch-tone phone mazes? Endlessly circular voice-response systems? “Self-helpless” websites with support systems too finicky to make finding answers practical?

Sure, you know how much money your company saves by shunting customers into the automation. But do you track how many customers give up on that support website, and why? Do you keep metrics on how long it takes customers to use your automated phone support systems, and whether they appear to get the answers they need?

Put bluntly, are your company’s customers any happier with your customer service automation than you are with that of your IT vendors?

And if you don’t know, isn’t it about time you started finding out?

After all, we know that IT people — who like technology, like using it and spend their days and nights putting it to work — are fed up with lousy automated customer service. And if we hate it so much, how do you think customers who aren’t bitheads must feel?

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Tags managementautomationself-service

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