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Managing customer expectations is biggest barrier to great service, ASQ data says

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Build long-term partnerships, emphasize communications, and address issues quickly to improve customer service

Managing customer expectations and communicating with customers are among the top challenges facing customer service departments — an area in which most companies don’t see as a top priority — according to a survey by ASQ, the world’s leading authority on quality.

The survey was fielded in November and polled more than 600 quality and customer service professionals worldwide. Results indicated little disparity from country to country.

In addition to managing customer expectations — cited as the top barrier by 29 percent of respondents — 20 percent of respondents said communicating with customers was their No. 1 challenge, while 16 percent said educating customers about products and services was their biggest hurdle. Thirteen percent of respondents said providing customers with timely service was the biggest challenge and 12 percent said training and retaining good staff was the top barrier.

These issues often lead to customer dissatisfaction. According to the survey, the most common customer complaints are:

  • Long waits, such as store lines, waiting for shipped products, etc. (25 percent)
  • Lack of clear communication (20 percent)
  • Errors or inaccuracies, like billing, payments, etc. (17 percent)

According to the survey results 31.7 respondents from the United States and 45.5 percent of respondents from Mexico said managing customer expectations is the top challenge. In India, however, 50 percent of respondents said communicating with customers is the biggest challenge.

Because customer service is sometimes provided through third-party businesses located in other countries, customer service representatives (CSR) with heavy accents can pose challenges to companies and organizations, according to John Goodman, ASQ customer service expert and vice chairman of Customer Care Measurement and Consulting.

Goodman said research shows customers are often more cautious when speaking with a customer service representative with a heavy accent.

“Research has proven that — when talking to a CSR with an accent — customers look more intensively for errors, and once they decide in their mind that the representative is not competent, it’s difficult to recover,” Goodman said.

Fifty-four percent of companies say they resolve more than 50 percent of their customer quality issues within a reasonable time frame set by their organization. Twelve percent don’t set a timeframe for resolving issues and 14 percent don’t measure resolution of customer issues at all.

“Complaining customers tell you where your processes are failing and probably alienating ten times as many customers who are simply not telling you, costing you a huge amount of revenue — it is the lost repeat business you don’t even know you lost,” Goodman said.

In an effort to understand customers better, many companies have begun to measure customer satisfaction on a regular basis. Respondents ranked the following as the most common measurement methods:

  • Customer satisfaction surveys (75 percent)
  • Voice of the customer programs (48 percent)
  • Focus groups (21 percent)
  • Technology to measure or quantify customer needs, expectations, and/or satisfaction (20 percent)

How Much Is Good Service Worth?

Companies are much more likely to invest their resources in areas other than customer service, the survey finds. Four percent of survey participants rank customer service initiatives as a top priority compared to 38 percent for new product or service development, 18 percent for information technology and 13 percent for marketing and advertising. 

“Investing in service is a critical strategy for profitability because encountering a problem doubles customer sensitivity to price and a second problem doubles it again, resulting in degraded margins,” Goodman said.

The majority of companies (36 percent) also responded that they have not created a management level customer service position to help manage the customer service experience, while 28 percent say that service is managed through the customer service department and 20 percent say that it is part of the quality department. 

Advice for Improving Customer Service

Survey participants offered up the following advice for improving customer service experiences:

  • Change the approach to customers from a transactional focus to building long-term partnerships.
  • Consider a rapid response team charged with identifying and resolving customer service issues.
  • Systematize responses to customer complaints such as using a standard form for Root Cause Analysis.  Try to analyze failures to see if systematic issues can be resolved.
  • Educate product teams on what the customers’ expectations are and what the team’s priority is.
  • Make sure to share service survey analysis with upper management so they can support changes in service delivery.
  • Address issues as timely as possible, in-the-moment is preferred. 

About ASQ

ASQ is a global community of people dedicated to quality who share the ideas and tools that make our world work better. With millions of individual and organizational members of the community in 150 countries, ASQ has the reputation and reach to bring together the diverse quality champions who are transforming the world’s corporations, organizations and communities to meet tomorrow’s critical challenges. ASQ is headquartered in Milwaukee, Wis., with national service centers in China, India and Mexico. Learn more about ASQ’s members, mission, technologies and training at www.asq.org.

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