When it comes to service, customers' favorite mantra is, "I want what I want, when I want it, and how I want it." According to the "Customer Experience Impact Report," there's a greater emphasis on the "when" than companies might realize.

The report, conducted by Harris Interactive and sponsored by RightNow Technologies, suggests that maintaining customer loyalty hinges on listening to customers and addressing their needs immediately -- whether in the store, online, or on the phone. "These customers are saying, 'I don't want to waste my time,'" says Jason Mittlestaedt, RightNow's vice president of marketing. "They want it known that their time is important, and that businesses need to respect that and take care of them as quickly and as appropriately as possible."

Respondents' key complaints all came back to the problem of not respecting customers' time: 71 percent of the 2,551 U.S. consumers surveyed think companies haven't adequately trained their staff, 46 percent think companies have poor business processes, and 56 percent are frustrated by their inability to reach a live human agent via the phone or Web.

But wasting time is not just in problem resolution. For instance, if a customer's online shopping cart disappears, or the Web site goes down, that will lead to dissatisfied customers just as much as the call center experience.

All this translates into significant dissatisfaction: 23 percent of respondents said that their overall experiences with all the companies they've dealt with over the past five years were generally negative; and 94 percent said that they had a less-than-positive experience with a company. On its own that stat may seem insignificant—we all have bad customer experiences—but the concern is that more than two thirds of those surveyed stated that they would never again do business with a company after a negative experience.

"It all comes back to customers not wanting to waste their time," Mittlestaedt says. "The root problem is that there are issues with the ways companies interact with their customers. It's essential that a customer's needs are met right away, and adequately so. [Customers] keep saying 'my time is important, I need what I want when I want it -- and I want a quicker, more effective solution to getting what I want.'"

Serve, just don't deliver
Nearly two thirds of respondents said that outstanding service is their number one driver for purchasing from one company over another (ahead of lowest price and best quality). So how do customers define outstanding service? Seventy percent of respondents want knowledgeable and personalized service, and nearly 70 percent say that first-contact resolution, whether by phone, email, or the Web is also a primary driver of customer satisfaction.

"When you step back and think of outstanding service over product price and even product quality, it tells you that you're going to win and retain customers based on delivering outstanding service; the leeway in those other areas is how you drive margin and health into a business," Mittlestaedt says.

It all comes down to understanding individual customer needs and delivering efficient, results-oriented interactions from that insight. "That root of positive experience for a customer is when a company delivers them the exact right knowledge they need at that specific time," Mittlestaedt says. "That's how you build loyalty." He points out that the breakthrough businesses of the past 36 months such as YouTube, MySpace, and the ever-growing eBay all essentially "harnessed the power of customers, and listened to their suggestions on how to build, design, and run those businesses."