Customer service is one of my “issues.” Despite lots of data showing its importance to brands and marketers, it remains elusive — most customer service experiences (on the phone or in stores) are mediocre to bad. And most brands pay insufficient attention to service, despite their lofty rhetoric to the contrary.
What triggered this post is a piece in the NY Times about cruise lines and others increasingly creating segregated, exclusive experiences for the wealthy and providing perfunctory or basic experiences to everyone else. Here’s an example from the article, regarding customer service on Royal Caribbean cruises:
For example, room service requests from Royal Suite occupants are automatically routed to a number different from the one used by regular passengers, who get slower, less personalized service.
Another example is the exorbitant “VIP experiences” that theme parks are increasingly selling. If you’re wealthy and want to be separated from the “plebs,” I suppose these are great developments. If you’re part of the mass of those not accessing these privileged experiences they might inspire envy or resentment. However it’s part of a larger, disturbing pattern in the culture and economy.
Corporations and brands should be doing everything they can to provide great customer service across the board. Service is one of the few differentiators in a market of increasingly “commoditized” experiences. But because service is generally seen as expensive and not an integral part of branding or marketing, many companies are trying to minimize costs (e.g., offshore call centers, IVR-based call avoidance) or have a bifurcated system where the highest-spending customers receive a higher level of service and others get the minimum.
Poor service erodes brand value and has a direct impact on the bottom line. Good service experiences do the opposite and create loyalty. There’s plenty of evidence to support this. The graphics above are based on survey data collected by Zendesk. But there are plenty of other supporting findings.
Most obviously, bad service shows up in online reviews.
Given all the research and advocacy about the importance of good service at a time of declining brand value and loyalty I’m surprised that companies are A) not more focused on customer service as part of their marketing efforts or B) focusing largely on high-value customers to the neglect of the bulk of their customers (airlines are a great example of the latter).