Irene and Sandy Prove Why Customer Service Matters

Customer Service, photo:

In the days and weeks after Tropical Storm Sandy there was a deluge of frustrated East Coasters complaining about the general lack of good customer service, especially from utility providers.

Angry citizens went on the radio to gripe about being put on hold for hours on end only to be transferred to a recorded message. “We’re doing our best,” and “It’s not possible to please every single person,” was the standard response from over-burdened officials.

In August 2011 much the same thing happened when Tropical Storm Irene whipped up the East Coast and caused major disruption in New England. Beyond property damage, New Englanders like myself had to suffer lengthy power outages.

We called our power companies and sat on hold for eons before being transferred to (you guessed it) recorded messages, which were not at all informative. So we emailed complaints instead and could almost hear the messages disappearing into someone’s junk mail folder. Finally, we angrily tweeted to them (and about them), voicing how ludicrous it was that we not only were without power for days on end, but more importantly, that no one was telling us why it was still out and when we could reasonably expect it to be turned back on.

New England power companies are being fined millions of dollars for their poor performance following the storm (as well as a freak snowstorm over Halloween 2011). Regulators said their findings were based on 16 public hearings, 13 evidentiary hearings, and more than 1,200 exhibits. They concluded that the utilities failed in their public safety duties during their response to local public safety officials regarding downed wires.

Yeah, okay, so maybe there’s a difference between how disaster situations impact customer service and your everyday run-of-the-mill interactions over a faulty modem, but still, Irene and Sandy got me thinking about how essential it is for companies and their products—whether they be a TV or electricity—to be both reliable and accountable from a customer service perspective.

Think about it. You, as a consumer, want your TV to work. But, in the event that it’s not working, you want to pick up the phone, talk to human being, and have your TV serviced as quickly as possible. If they can do it remotely, that’s a bonus.

Customer service counts. A recent Time Magazine article points out that less than half of consumers worldwide are satisfied with the businesses they regularly interact with. Yet according to an Accenture survey 85 percent of consumers who switch providers say the company could have retained their business by doing something differently, resolving the problem during the first contact rather than requiring multiple phone calls and follow-ups for instance, or giving them some kind of reward or special treatment as thanks for being a loyal customer. Supply quick, correct service and you keep your customers.

Although some companies are still not playing the service game, many more are starting to pay attention. At a recent Aberdeen Group Customer Service Officer summit 64 percent of attendees indicated that their organizations are placing more importance on service, especially given current economic conditions.

Gartner Group agrees, stating that “most product-centric companies are recognizing the need to move to solutions and create and/or improve their service businesses to improve overall corporate revenue, margins and profits.”

Makes sense to me. If the technician is able to fix my problem the first time I call, I am much more likely to stick with that company/product. Or at least not send out angry tweets about them.

Have your customer service experiences influenced your loyalty and future purchasing decisions?

Photo Credit: Seattle Municipal Archives on Flickr

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