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Failing at good customer service

We talk a lot these days about good customer service. After all, improving it is a key component in our Grow Boating initiative. But thinking our customer service is good doesn’t make it so.

Indeed, many dealers could actually be failing. That’s because they mistakenly believe their effective use of today’s technology — email, mobile media, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and other social media — provides for 24-7 communication that strengthens their customer relationships. That all has its place, of course, but the boat has left the dock if we fail to realize that "old-school" still rules.

That’s a conclusion we can draw from a recent American Express-sponsored study. It found that despite all our talk and enthusiasm for using technology to improve customer relations, the things that make a customer satisfied or not haven't changed much at all. Here are some highlights (or lowlights) from the study results:

Sadly, only 7 percent of the consumers studied said customer service interactions usually exceed their expectations. A slightly better — but still very poor — 23 percent said they believe companies “value their business and will go the extra mile.” Only 33 percent said they think businesses have increased their focus on customer service. Ouch!

So what to do? Quality personal interactions still top the list for good customer service, according to those surveyed. Either phone conversations or in-person help were mandatory for 76 percent who also gave a thumbs-down on assistance by email. It is live interactions on which good service will turn or burn.

One third of the respondents in this study singled out a rude or unresponsive employee as the top factor that has caused them to take their business elsewhere. Put another way, in a separate study, a whopping 89 percent reported they have actually started doing business with a competitor after a poor customer service experience.

Do we genuinely seek honest customer feedback? It is essential. However, capturing their opinions isn’t always easy. That’s because 91 percent of customers won’t complain that they’re unhappy. Rather they’re convinced the business really doesn’t care. So they just leave.

In this game, timing is everything. If the customers knew that there would be an immediate response to their feedback, 81 percent claimed they would gladly give their time to provide the business with honest feedback.

All of us in business could do well by learning from another Customer Experience Index survey that identified what customers say they want: (1) be available by phone; (2) big quick to respond; (3) listen carefully to what they’re saying; (4) always be friendly and sympathetic; and (5) take time to know your customers and their history.

Ah, but here’s the encouraging note I wanted to find. Most people said they will spend more — often significantly more — for great service. Two-thirds said they’d do it and the premium they'd pay, on average, is 13 percent more. In fact, 75 percent cited they have spent more in the past. Good customer service has its rewards.

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