Bruce Temkin found that two-thirds of companies he surveyed want to provide the best customer service in their industry, yet three-quarters are unwilling to make the financial investment needed to hit this goal. "Other competing priorities" as a general category is identified as the largest barrier to service improvement: in other words, "we don't want to spend the time or money on it right now."
This finding should come as no surprise to anyone in the customer service business. Nearly every wave of technology adoption has been driven by cost reductions, not service improvement: from the ACD in the 80's to speech recognition in the 90's to workforce management and virtual call centers in the new millennium.
Perhaps I'm an optimist, but I believe that (almost) no company makes a conscious, strategic decision to irritate and annoy its customers; but many customers end up irritated and annoyed with the treatment they receive. The problem is those "other competing priorities." When faced with a decision to invest in improving the customer experience or something else, most companies choose the something else.
There are exceptions. A number of companies have built strong brands through careful attention to the customer experience. You can probably name several off the top of your head: Apple, Zappos.com, Lands' End. There's no special magic here (other than the special magic it takes to successfully execute any business strategy)--these companies have made the strategic decision that "other competing priorities" have to come after the customer experience.
Bruce thinks that in 2011 we will see some companies breaking away from their competition as they "get" that the customer experience matters. I agree, but I also think that this is nothing new. Companies that decide to pay attention to customer service (and the attention is more important than spending money) have been breaking away from the pack for years.