95% of the People Who Read This Won't Get It

I have a challenge for you.

This post describes one of the biggest issues faced by customer service leaders. My prediction is that 100 percent of the people who read this will think they understand, but 95 percent actually won't.

My challenge is to prove to yourself that you're in that elusive five percent who get it. Let's start with a picture:

Photo credit: Jeff Toister

Photo credit: Jeff Toister

I took this picture on the sly.

A colleague and I were eating dinner in an airport restaurant. We had just attended what was then called the American Society for Training and Development's International Conference and Exposition. The woman in the photo had too.

I know this because of two clues.

First, you can see she's reading Keith Ferrazzi's book, Never Eat Alone. Ferrazzi had been a keynote speaker at the conference. His book revolved around the idea that the key to success was building connections with other people.

The second clue was she had the official conference tote bag at her feet. Just like about ten other people in that airport restaurant.

Look carefully and you can tell she doesn't believe what she's reading.

She might agree intellectually. It's a great concept - we can all point to important relationships in our lives that have helped us succeed. But, she wasn't living it. She sat through her entire meal without connecting with anyone else.

That's the issue faced by many customer service leaders.

We tell ourselves we're customer-focused even when we're not. We make the mistake of thinking service is easy or self-evident so we don't put in the effort. We crow about our awesome culture when it's really just an empty slogan (Exhibit A: John Stumpf).

It's why a recent Execs In The Know study found that 79 percent of executives think they're meeting the needs of their customers, but only 33 percent of customers surveyed agree.

Meanwhile, the real work of service doesn't get done. 

Leaders fail to articulate a clear customer service vision. Customers are surveyed, but the data is barely analyzed and rarely acted upon. Training is meager or ineffective. Products are defective and remain that way. Processes are broken and departments operate in silos.

My guess is you're nodding as you read this.

But, how do you know you are truly committed to serving customers? You can find out by taking the challenge.


The Challenge

This challenge consists of one simple question: 

Are you the person in the restaurant?

Obviously, I don't mean literally. I mean, is this picture a metaphor for how you approach customer service or are you fully committed?

Consider a few things before you answer. This person had made some effort. She spent time and money to travel to a conference. She was open to new ideas and struck enough by the speaker's message that she bought his book. After a long week, she was still motivated enough to start reading it immediately after attending.

It's okay to be that person. Just realize that she's not truly committed. 

ICMI Research: Contact Center Leaders Are Disconnected

There are some big gaps between what contact center leaders believe and their customers actually perceive.

The International Customer Management Institute (ICMI) and inContact asked contact center leaders to respond to the same set of survey questions that consumers were asked in an earlier study. The earlier, consumer study was conducted by Harris and inContact. The answers from the two groups were then compared.

The ICMI and inContact report, Smarter Service For The Connected Customer, reveals several areas where contact center leaders misunderstand their customers.

Here are a few highlights. You can also purchase the full report here.

Photo credit:  Patient Care Technician

Gap #1: More Selling Than Service

Many contact centers are too eager to sell.

Contact center leaders and customers were asked whether companies put more effort into selling than they do providing excellent customer service.

  • 80% of Customers say Yes
  • 12% of Contact Centers say Yes

Perhaps the most famous example is Comcast. They've been criticized for turning every cancellation request into an annoying encounter with an aggressive salesperson. The worst example might have been a cancellation call from July 2014 that went viral. It turns out that Comcast's internal guide for handling cancellations is really a manual on aggressive sales tactics.

Seriously, contact centers! Stop with the selling. If you want to sell more, you need to serve more


Gap #2: Poor Service Is Expensive

Contact center leaders can be oblivious to the impact of poor service.

One survey question focused on whether customers were likely to switch companies after a bad customer service experience.

  • 86% of Customers say Yes
  • 19% of Contact Centers say Yes

That's a pretty big gap. Perhaps contact center leaders expect their customers to adopt some form of customer service Stockholm Syndrome.

There's no shortage of research to suggest that poor customer service is costly. A recent infographic from the Temkin Group highlighted several key areas where a poor experience can hurt the bottom line:

  • Customers buy more from companies with good service
  • Customers are more forgiving when companies generally provide good service
  • Customers trust companies more when they provide good service


Gap #3: Relationships

Customers despise having to tell their story over and over to different people. They'd much rather have a single point of contact to help them the whole way.

Companies don't seem to realize this. 

One survey question asked customers whether they expect to continue talking to the same agent when they switched from online chat to phone.

  • 64% of Customers say Yes
  • 20% of Contact Centers say Yes

Another survey question asked customers whether they expect to be able to call back the same company representative if multiple contacts are required.

  • 67% of Customers say Yes
  • 24% of Contact Centers say Yes

There's some science behind this. My own research suggests that customer satisfaction increases significantly when customers know an agent by name.


Moving Forward

So, why the disconnect?

One of the more telling statistics from the report was this: only 39.2 percent of contact centers actually use the data they collect to identify customer trends. 

Which begs the question, what's the point of having so much data in the contact center if you're not using it? Many contact centers are data rich and insight poor. 

There are clearly opportunities to get to know customers better and improve service. The real issue is whether contact center leaders will do it.

The customer service disconnect

There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.

- Mark Twain

The first time I saw that quote was in an angry email from the President of the small catalog company I had started working for three weeks prior. They were starting to grow and had hired me to help them improve training and employee performance. The company President took exception to a report I wrote that predicted the average order size would go down since the new catalog targeted a wider customer base with a slew of high volume, low priced items.

This turned out to be a tipping point for the company. The average order size did go down, but there were soon other signs that the President (and majority owner) was disconnected from his customers. He remained doggedly loyal to old suppliers even as quality and delivery problems led to mounting customer complaints. The company launched a new line of products that consumed precious resources without coming anywhere near the success of the original catalog. The company started losing loyal customers, ran into cash flow problems, and went out of business for good a few years later.

Unfortunately, this head in the sand approach to customers isn’t uncommon. A 2006 Bain & Company study found that 80% of companies surveyed felt they delivered superior customer service but the customers of only 8% of those companies agreed. It makes you wonder what the management teams at the other companies were thinking.

This disconnect isn’t confined to senior management. I have run a small experiment many times with companies and have received very consistent results. I ask a room full of customer service reps to rate the customer service they personally deliver on a scale of 1 – 5 with 5 being best. Next, I ask the reps to look around the room and assign a rating to the entire team. On average, the reps rate themselves a 4 while rating the team a 3. The math doesn’t add up but it does show that most of the reps believed they were better than their peers even without any objective basis for reaching this conclusion.

Possible Explanations
There are a range of explanations for this disconnect. It might be the company culture, the individual's ego, or perhaps a natural tendancy to ignore blind spots. Please leave a comment if you have an idea about the underlying causes. Better yet, how do companies solve it?