Service is the Bedrock for Business Performance

Customer Engagement
Customer Experience
In today's economy, the importance of customer service is the bedrock for a sustainable business--and quite possibly paramount for survival.

In today's economy, the importance of customer service is the bedrock for a sustainable business--and quite possibly paramount for survival.The best performers are actually doing more to step up service in this recession.

Take the British-based sandwich chain Pret A Manger, with stores in New York City, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. The company's detailed approach to employee training and investment in service initiatives have led to enthusiastic employees, known for asking customers about their day. Pret a Manger's sales reflect the success of this approach: Its U.S. store sales have increased 40 percent over the past year and global profits globally have risen 37 percent.

And Sprint, which is reshaping its customer support strategies based on the insight that it gleans from customer feedback, has been seeing its subscriber base mushroom. The telecommunications company has added 1.1 million net subscribers over the past five years and was named a J.D. Power 2011 Customer Service Champion.

However, according to the recently released 2011 Temkin Customer Service Ratings, which surveyed 6,000 U.S. consumers about their customer service experience at companies with which they've recently interacted, few companies deliver strong customer service. In fact, of the 129 companies included in the ratings, 70 percent were rated either "weak" or "very weak." And only 12 yielded a "strong" rating. None received a "very strong" rating.

Of those bottom-dwellers, Charter Communications and Comcast received the worst ratings for both their Internet service and TV service offerings. Not surprising, perpetual service leaders USAA and Edward Jones took the number one and two spots, with "strong" ratings.

Other findings include:
 Retailers, hotel chains, and investment firms top the list. Retailers and hotel chains are the top-rated industries, though they only earn an average score of "okay." Health plans, Internet service, and TV service providers are at the bottom with an average rating of "very weak."

 The leaders of many industries aren't strong. Even Bright House, the highest ranked firm in the TV service industry, earned a "very poor" rating.

 RadioShack and HSBC most underperform their peers. Eighteen firms were at least 10 points below their peers. Radio Shack and HSBC's banking business were both 22 points below their respective industries' averages.

The findings conclude that emphasis on service still remains low for many companies. To survive, businesses in every industry need to reshape their strategies and refocus their energy on service. Continual and intelligent investments will pay off in the long term.