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First rule in Customer Service: Talk to your customers

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Do you ever feel like some companies just don’t want your business? If so, you are not alone. American Express recently did a study about the level of service being provided by vendors of all sorts and the results were bleak.  They found that 78% of Americans have quit a transaction because the customer service was poor. Ouch.

Of all the ways customers were disappointed, one stood out in particular: The inability to get a person to answer the phone. Survey takers responded that two of the most annoying phrases in the English language are, “We’re sorry, but we’re experiencing unusually heavy call volumes. You can hold or try back another time,” and, “Your call is important to us.  Please continue to hold.” That one gets me every time.  When I get an important call, I answer it.

We all know that most businesses these days are trying to do more with less.  Consumer spending is down, margins are low and there is a great deal of pressure to do whatever it takes to secure the bottom line.  But there are a couple of good reasons why companies should avoid decisions that cause customers to feel neglected.

The most important reason is that we are now living in a social world, and people share their experiences. The American Express survey found that consumers tell twice as many people about their bad experiences with a company than their good ones. With referral services like Yelp, Angie’s List and Google Places becoming ever more popular, one upset customer has the ability to impact future business like never before. There’s also upside revenue potential. Americans are willing to spend an average of 13% more with companies that provide “excellent” customer service.

While many companies know that great customer service is important, most aren’t really sure how to achieve it. Like a lot of other business metrics, the first step is to establish a baseline and then measure against it. Do you know how long your customers wait on hold or how frequently they are forced to leave a voice mail message? Do you know when your call volumes spike and have a plan to answer those calls?   With the right tools you can gain insight into where and how often you are touching your customers, and achieve the highest level of customer service possible.

I’m hopeful that great customer service is alive, but perhaps it is asleep and businesses just need better tools to awaken it.  It reminds me of what Miracle Max said in The Princes Bride, “It just so happens that your friend here is only MOSTLY dead. There's a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive.”  Slightly alive indeed.