Why Many Service Firms Fail at Customer Service

Field service managers and higher-ups like to puff out their chests when they talk about their commitment to providing friendly, “best-in-class” customer service. And yet a study released last month in Britain, carried out by YouGov and paid for by Cognito, painted a much less rosy picture of customers’ service experiences.

The study sparked an interesting discussion on LinkedIn’s Service Management 2.0 Group. We’ve tried to synthesize that thread here and distill it down to a few main points:

It Starts at the Top

Service technicians, or call center receptionists, are the people who interact most closely with customers, but they take their cues from superiors. Does a company’s manager demonstrate that customer service is a priority, rather than just talk about it in the abstract? Do they keep customer-satisfaction statistics? Or, as Michael Olmsted, a V.P. at optical device manufacturer Satisloh says, do they walk the walk?

“You need to ensure you do not have a ‘do as I say, not as I do’ environment,” he writes. “A short example would be a customer calls looking for the manager and the manager doesn’t treat this as a priority, or even asks the person to put the customer in their voicemail. Rudeness is not always expressed verbally. Leading by a positive and enthusiastic example never gets old.”

Companies Aren’t Willing to Pay for Great Service

All the things that go into great service — hiring great workers, investing in product and service training, allowing employees to spend enough time with each customer —add up. But it’s hard to quantify how much it’s worth to a company, so it gets squeezed. Merle Brockshus, a sales manager in Iowa, says that layoffs and cuts on personnel take their toll on workers’ ability to properly serve customers.

“This creates an environment that breeds poor service,” she says. “And rudeness is one aspect of this. … Most of the time the customer gets frustrated, shuts down, and when contracts are due, move on to a different company for service or want a huge price decrease to match the decreased level of service [they] are getting …”

Language Matters

The little things count, too. Says Martin Prior, a customer service and operations manager for Fujifilm, “Customer service is all about the way you say things, not what you say. Companies need to invest in simple people skills, not expect staff to know or understand.”

“‘We cannot get an engineer to you until tomorrow’ is full of negatives and makes a customer think it’s not good enough,” Prior writes. “‘What we can do for you is book an engineer for tomorrow’ starts with a positive and is more can-do.”

The take-away? Don’t just pay empty lip service to customer service. Technicians are the face of your brand. First impressions matter. By cutting back on the costs associated with training and developing these front-line workers — and clearly stating your company’s expectations of them — you hurt your company’s reputation.

Any additional ideas? Please feel free to comment in the field below.

ABOUT Ian Stewart

Ian is a veteran journalist who has covered sports for various news outlets. Previously, he was managing editor for an electronic-book publishing company and a public relations writer.