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Superior Customer Service Capabilities Are Key Factors In The Journey To High Performance (Executive Summary)

May 27, 2008
Superior customer service is one of the hallmarks of high-performance businesses. In fact, recent Accenture research has found that for high-tech companies, above-average service is virtually required to ensure repeat business and strong customer advocacy.

Yet many companies delude themselves into thinking that their service experiences truly please their customers. While companies applaud themselves for the "improvements" they have made in their service capabilities, their dissatisfied customers are desperately seeking--and often finding--alternative providers of today's most desired high-tech products.

While great service instills strong loyalty, average or even slightly above average service still will result in substantial customer churn.

According to Accenture's Technology Industry Customer Support & Service Survey (which polled both executives at global high-tech companies and consumers of high-tech products and services) approximately 75 percent of consumers said if they had an "extremely high" level of satisfaction they would purchase from that provider again.

But stunningly, only about one-fourth of consumers said that they would buy again from a company that, in their minds, provides only average service, and just 19 percent said they were likely to be more loyal to such a company. This means companies whose customer service capabilities are only as good as those of their competitors will likely lose nearly 75 percent of their customers, and companies with which customers have a moderately high level of satisfaction stand to only get about half of those customers to buy from them again.

Level of satisfaction with customer service directly correlates with propensity to be a repeat customer.

There's considerable disparity between how companies and customers perceive the state of customer service, as well as in the service priorities expressed by each group.

Eighty percent of high-tech executives in our survey described the customer service satisfaction of their overall customer base as moderately or extremely high, with 54 percent rating their service and support an 8 or higher on a scale of 1=very poor to 10=excellent. But 57 percent of consumers polled described themselves as somewhat
upset, very upset or extremely upset when they accessed customer service channels from such providers, and 78
percent still believe their provider's customer service is at or below the level of service offered by competitors.

Furthermore, 77 percent of high-tech executives reported having implemented new customer self-service capabilities within the past two years, and a large majority believe these new capabilities have resulted in faster resolution of customer problems and higher customer satisfaction. But nearly half (46 percent) of the consumers polled said they have had to access customer service channels between two and four times to resolve their problems.

And, despite companies' "new capabilities," one-third of consumers rated their customer service experience with such providers about the same as--and 22 percent said it was worse than--two years ago. Overall, 61 percent of consumers believe technology has not improved the service they receive from high-tech companies.

Finally, consumers' two most important wishes for customer service are to have their problem solved completely (ranked first, cited by just under 70 percent of respondents) and quickly (ranked second, named by 65 percent). Conversely, the top service agenda item for companies is increasing revenue opportunities from service and support. Similarly, while only 11 percent of consumers said they value the ability to solve a problem themselves with online tools, nearly 40 percent of high-tech executives said increasing customer self-help capabilities via the Web was a top-three agenda item for them in the coming year.

Four key actions can help high-tech companies deliver the kind of service that customers demand.

Given the preceding challenges, as well as ongoing competitive and market forces, high-tech companies must stop making incremental improvements in how they respond to customers' request for assistance and, instead, completely reinvent customer support and service. Four key actions should be part of that effort:

1. Address customer support early in the support lifecycle.

As customer requests for help get escalated in a company, the cost to serve that customer and address his or her needs increases dramatically. That's why it's vital for companies to do what they can to resolve customer issues as early as possible by providing effective self-service options that enable customers to quickly and easily solve most problems without assistance -- but do so in a way that's sensitive to customers' concerns about self-help technology.

2. Use technology more effectively.

Companies should take advantage of the technologies available that make it easier for agents, customers and channel partners to find what they need to solve customers' problems. For instance, a content and knowledge management system -- featuring a sophisticated technical content search and display engine and complemented by new technical knowledge management processes and infrastructure -- can substantially reduce calls to agents and agent support time while enhancing first-call problem resolution.

3. Train and develop agents to be more capable and personable.

Because consumers generally prefer the human touch when seeking advice, agents must be well-equipped for their jobs. More comprehensive training and development programs, combined with new incentives, are called for to encourage and reward appropriate, personable agent behavior.

4. Create a superior customer service experience.

Establishing a differentiated, positive service experience requires organizations to shift their thinking from service
starts after the sale to service sells the product; from service is elective to service is embedded in the product or
solution; and from service is operated as a cost center (with "call avoidance" being a key metric) to service is operated as a profit center (with customer intimacy being a differentiating feature).

The tools, approaches and resources exist today for companies to create world-class customer service capabilities that live up to customers' expectations while remaining fiscally sensible. While such capabilities may be considered by many companies to be an option today, they truly have become a competitive necessity especially for those organizations seeking to build enduring customer loyalty and achieve high performance in an
ever changing world.
About the Author
Brian M. Sprague is the Global Managing Director of the Service Management capability within Accenture's Customer Relationship Management practice. Thank you for reading and if you found this article on customer service and support interesting, please register at: www.accenture.com/customerservicereport for our latest white papers now. Copyright 2008 Accenture.
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