Two Out of Three Americans Would Rather Do Household Chores than Deal with Customer Service Reps

by Diane Berenbaum

The results are in—consumers are becoming increasingly frustrated with the level of customer service they receive. How fed up are they? “Digging Deeper on Customer Service,” a study conducted by Luntz, Maslansky Strategic Research, clarifies just how disgruntled consumers have become, despite the increasing number of companies touting service as a top priority.

The American Public is Exasperated by Declining Service

According to this 2007 study, 79% of the general public has not seen any improvement at all in customer service over the past five years. And, when provided some alternatives, consumers made some rather surprising choices: 

  • Nearly two out of three Americans would rather take out the trash than speak to someone from customer service.

  • Four out of five Americans would rather have 24 hour customer service from fully informed “live” people than a date on Valentine's Day.

These statistics speak volumes about the public's perception of customer service today. The survey found that much of America's frustration is directed toward automated response systems. As a matter of fact, one-third of the public reports complete exasperation when they hear a computer pick up a phone line and 45% immediately hit zero when they hear an automated response.

It's Only Getting Worse

Dimension Data, which publishes industry-renowned benchmarking reports, discovered similar findings on a global scale. Their 2007 report indicated a significant decrease in the levels of customer satisfaction, regardless of location—the overall score declined from 82% in the prior year to 68.3%. 

Asia-Pacific topped the list with the highest decrease in satisfaction - it fell an astounding 22.1%, moving from 84% to 61.9%. North America fared only slightly better, declining 21.1%.

This is not good news for organizations that differentiate themselves on the basis of service. So, what can you do to combat the downward trend and deliver consistent, exceptional service in the eyes of your customers? Follow these five pieces of advice and you'll be well on your way:

1. Take a Close Look at Your Current Systems and Processes

There has been an influx of technological solutions designed to improve the efficiency of the customer service function. There are systems that take over multiple functions performed by “live” agents. Others ensure that no minute goes underutilized during a workday. But, how many of them actually contribute to a higher level of customer service? 

It seems that some technological advances implemented to make contact centers more efficient, may have made them less effective in the eyes of their customers.

Look at your own systems and identify the ones that detract from the customer experience. While some technological advances provide valuable data allowing the organization to give proactive and personalized service, others detract from the customer experience. And, in some cases, they frustrate customers to the point of defection.

Most of us can recall a service scenario where a system “issue” played a prominent role. Just the other day, I saw an exasperated sales associate on the phone at an appliance store.  When he looked up, he said, “I punched in all the information they needed and they just asked me for the same information again! This is ridiculous!” And, time consuming and destructive to the customer relationship.

The mood of the customer has a significant impact on their perception of the service received. For example, if a customer has waited a long time or answered the same questions over and over, no matter what happens next, he is now predisposed to have a negative impression of that experience.

Take the time to review your systems and processes and determine if they are actually damaging your customer's perception of service.

2.   Focus on What Matters Most

Your employees directly influence the behavior and attitude of your customers. You may have great products and snazzy marketing, but their impact pales in comparison to the people delivering service to your customers. Create and support a culture that encourages the delivery of flawless service and you'll see your customer satisfaction scores soar.

3.   Seek Input from Your Associates

To develop a true service culture, it's best to engage the hearts and minds of your associates. Resist the urge to just tell them what to do; instead, ask them to share their thoughts on how to improve service. Not only will you obtain great ideas, you will also gain their respect and commitment. 

Furthermore, frontline employees are the ones who have seen and heard it all. Often times they can provide specific issues that drive customer complaints. Conduct focus groups and ask associates: 
  • What's getting in the way of delivering great service?
  • Which systems/processes are making things more difficult for the customer?
  • What customer complaints are systems-related?
They'll appreciate the opportunity to share their insights and will feel more valued as a result. And, you'll get the information you need to move closer to your customer satisfaction goals.

4.   Empower Your Associates 
Provide associates with the resources they need to fully serve each customer. Then allow them to make decisions and take actions that are in the customer's best interest, especially when doing so would save a disgruntled customer. Demonstrate to your associates that you trust them and they will rise to the occasion.

5.   Re-Train, Reinforce and Reward Extraordinary Service
You just can't “hope” that associates will know what to do, even if you tell them. Excellent customer service skills are learned behaviors (and clearly we don't see them modeled too often given the statistics). 

Take time to train your associates, focusing on real-life interactions and the specific behaviors that contribute to a great impression. Provide the information and practice needed to prepare them to handle any call. And, don't stop—keep on training, reinforcing and rewarding the behaviors to help associates master those skills that matter most.

Pay more attention to your technology and your people and you will be well on your way to consistent exceptional service delivery. Your customers will look forward to speaking with you, and will gladly leave their household chores for another day.
Diane Berenbaum is a long-time contributor and former editor of the MAGIC Service Newsletter. She has more than twenty-five years of experience as a consultant, coach, and facilitator. Diane is the co-author of How to Talk to Customers: Create a Great Impression Every Time with MAGIC® .
Before and After
Before and After
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