For years, even as companies preached the customer-service gospel out of one side of their mouths, they
stressed the importance -- and even the preeminence -- of innovative product features out the other. The general
impression many companies gave was that a great product, even if not supported by attentive service, trumped all else.
A recent customer service study conducted by
Harris Interactive on behalf of software provider Verint Systems, however, suggests that this thinking could be dangerous. Of the 2,300-plus adults surveyed this past May, 88 percent said they believe a company with solid customer service is "more enticing" than one with "the hottest, most innovative product offerings." A mere 12 percent of customers prize a hot, innovative product over one backed by superior service.
"There's a lot of talk about how customer service should be a priority, but companies have been slow to put it into
action," says Ryan Hollenbeck, senior vice president of global marketing for Verint Witness Actionable Solutions.
"What I think [this study] shows is that companies that put some thought into customer service and back it with action will see a real payoff."
The study also reveals how customer service experiences drive much of the word of mouth on which many consumers
base their purchase decisions. Ninety percent of respondents noted that, on average, they tell at least one person about their unfavorable customer service issues; 85 percent tell multiple people. The numbers more or less hold for favorable experiences: 88 percent share their positive ones with at least one person and 81 percent share them with several.
"We're all hot to give our opinions, and more and more those opinions are tied into the service we receive,"
Based on the survey's findings, Hollenbeck offers several practices that could help companies build positive opinions
among their customers.
Companies, whether overtly service-conscious or not, should frequently measure customer satisfaction with the
service experience, he says. While quality-of-product evaluations by customers make for great reading by a
company's core of designers and engineers, quality-of-service ones give a more inclusive picture of the overall
Along those lines, organizations should not only actively seek out customer feedback, but they also should prioritize
it based on company goals and customer value. "If somebody thinks strongly enough about an experience to tell you about it, that's someone you can learn from," Hollenbeck notes.
Additionally, companies should consider eliminating the usual silo-based approach to customer service. All feedback should be shared with the specific department it addresses (e.g. billing, product development), rather than sent to a single individual or entity focused on customer-related issues.
"Companies have so much information coming in from the call center, but so little of it actually gets to the people that it could help," Hollenbeck says. "If marketing is rolling out a new campaign and customers are calling in about it, share the calls with the marketing department. If there are product issues, share them with the engineering
department. That gives them a sensitivity to what the customer is feeling."
Expand up to the executive level
Moving forward, Verint and Harris expect more companies to make customer service a part of the C-level
agenda. Hollenbeck believes this will entail closer analysis of areas and functions not commonly associated with
"Companies will start thinking about every one of the business processes they have around the customer," he predicts.
"Everybody goes right to the call center, but that's just one contact point. How about back-office processes, the
places that handle billing? For a financial services company, how about the bank branches? Taking a closer look at those interactions is what will drive results."