Customer Service Myth Breaking: Customer Service Quality Will NOT Improve Over the Next Few Years
|Despite all the propaganda and trying to wish it so, there's no way that technology and social media are going to improve customer service in the near future. Technology almost never works to fix "human" based problems.
As is the case every year, people stick their oars in and make predictions for the next year, and there's tons of pundits telling us what is going to happen in 2011 in the worlds of both social media and customers service — two intimately linked topics. Most of the “experts” I've read seem to express their predictions as unannounced HOPES masquerading as tea leaf readings, and since both topics attract rather strong fanatics, it's not surprising. So, we're going to make OUR predictions, based on numbers that are usually not circulated much, because, quite honestly, people don't want to consider the downsides of their hopes.
#1: Pundits tend to agree that customer service will improve in 2012 due to increased corporate awareness of the power of customers coming about as a result of their acquiring voices through social media.
As customers we all want better service, although I sometimes wonder at a) how much we are willing to pay, since it's not free for businesses to offer good CS; and b) how unreasonable customer demands often are (talk to any customer service rep).
Business, however, look at customer service as overhead, particularly in terms of after-sales, and while it may be true that more companies are realizing that PR, marketing and customer service are merging, they are not going to put more money into customer service. What they are doing, at least the major corporations, is opening up social media channels IN ADDITION to continuing to support existing methods of contact, thus spreading their resources more thinly.
Overall, customer service quality will drop in 2011-2012. On one hand the “old” channels will remain atrocious in terms of complications, level of automation, response time, quality of customer service reps, etc, or even worsen if that's possible. On the other customers who have figured out that contacting companies via the “new” social media will discover that, in 2011, at least towards the end of the year, that path will not be faster, or easier. Companies will no longer respond so quickly on social media as the more aggressive ones have in 2011 as the new toy loses luster.
Customers will realize that contacting companies for customer service via social media simply adds another layer to the communication task, and also realize companies shift from social media to phone or email anyway to complete the communications and problem solving.
Continued Profitability For “Good Enough” Customer Service
Underlying a lack of improvement is a basic tenet that has not changed. Companies who offer “good enough” customer service will continue to thrive business-wise. They will continue to make profits, experience growth (such that is possible in a tough economy), have their share prices move with the market or above it, even while they may cut customer service and support staff, or outsource it to the backwoods of Dildo, Newfoundland, Canada (no offense to the Dildodians).
The same companies that have been cursed by customers as having terrible customer service (see the various surveys for past years) will be on the list again for 2011. Comcast, a company heralded as doing remarkable things with social media and customer service will continue to be among the worst perceived. Wal-Mart will be around the top of the bottom. Several banks, including Citibank, who hired the social media/customer service guru responsible for Comcast's surge (well no, it didn't and neither will Citibank). The usual airlines and telecoms will be there.
And none will suffer from the perceptions of poor customer service in any visible financial ways, except if there's an untoward singular event (like a plane crash).
That's because their customer service is “good enough”, and customers simply do NOT behave like most of the pundits think they behave. Of course, there's also the fact that for a number of sectors, there IS no competition that offers better customer service, and that's because they are ALL doing “good enough”, because it works.
Conclusion on Customer Service Quality for 2011:
Sorry folks. We'd all like to see better service. Companies would be better advised to reduce the channels they use, but use them very very well, and concentrate their customer service resources. Imagine a company that says: “No, we don't offer support through email, or social media, or even through our store sales staff as an after sales service. Instead, CALL us at our toll free number, and we guarantee, you will speak to a helpful, knowledgeable person within FIVE minutes of calling, and [make whatever promises/commitments work].”