We just finished a Consumer Attitudes survey about what factors are important for good and bad customer service. We're using this data to help refine the metrics we generate on our Service Quality Tracker surveys, and I think a lot of readers will be interested in the results, too. The survey involved 400 people drawn from our consumer panel, and had a margin of error of +/- 5 percentage points.
One of the questions we asked was which factors people thought were most important in providing good customer service over the phone. They could select as many choices as they wished from a list (the order of the list was random for each participant to avoid bias). The answers were:
- Make it easy for you to reach a live person (if necessary) - 82%
- Be courteous, polite, and professional - 75%
- Wait only a short time to talk to a human (if needed) - 69%
- Handle your question or problem on the first call - 63%
- Be willing to transfer your call to a supervisor if the agent isn't helping - 59% (statistically tied with 4th place)
- If you have to call more than once for the same problem, be able to talk to the same person each time - 49%
- Follow up (if needed) to let you know that your problem was solved - 45% (statistically tied with 6th place)
- Keep the total call as short as possible - 32%
- Provide an easy-to-use self-service option (where possible) - 31% (statistically tied with 8th place)
- Do more to help than you expected - 31% (statistically tied with 8th place)
We also asked participants to choose which factors they feel are most important in providing bad customer service over the phone--as with the good service question, they could select as many choices as they wanted from a random-order list. The choices and results were:
- When you have to call more than once for the same problem, you have to start over from the beginning each time. The company doesn't keep good enough records of your earlier calls. - 68%
- You're forced to go through repetitive or irrelevant steps to get help - 68% (statistically tied with 1st place)
- The person you spoke to was incompetent, or wasn't trained properly - 61%
- You had to wait too long to talk to a person - 60% (statistically tied with 3rd place)
- The person you spoke to was rude or unprofessional - 56% (statistically tied with 4th place)
- The company doesn't do things it promised to do, like fix a problem, issue a credit, follow up with you, etc. - 53% (statistically tied with 5th place)
- The self-service system was difficult or impossible to use - 48% (statistically tied with 6th place)
- The company refused to admit making a mistake, even when there's obviously a problem - 46% (statistically tied with 7th place)
- The customer service representative won't transfer you to a supervisor when asked - 44% (statistically tied with 7th place)
- The company made it difficult to find the right options to be transferred to a person - 44% (statistically tied with 7th place)
- The quality of the service is inconsistent, and you never know if you will get good or bad service - 39%
- The person you spoke to didn't have the authority to help you - 37% (statistically tied with 11th place)
I found it most interesting that the most popular "good" service options were not mirrored by the most popular "bad" service options. The most common things customers associate with good customer service can be summarized as "make it quick and easy to reach a person, and make that person polite and professional."
In contrast, the top two things customers associate with bad service boil down to "don't make me jump through hoops." Those hoops can be either be having to start over each time (which is more often a complaint with live, rather than automated service), or having to go through needless extra steps (which can be either badly-designed IVR or poorly scripted agents, but most customers probably associate this with having to go through multiple layers of IVR menus).
Making it hard to reach an agent was all the way down at #10 on the list of complaints. Maybe this is because hiding the agent has become so common that it's practically expected rather than a marker of below-par service.
I think in general any factor (good or bad) in the top half of its list is probably worth paying attention to. The top-half "good" factors are most likely to be noticed and appreciated by customers, and the top-half "bad" factors are most likely to be pet peeves. If you're worried that your service is subpar, the first thing to do is make sure you're not making customers jump through hoops, repeat themselves, or start over from scratch each time they call.
If you want to provide excellent service (and you've already eliminated the obvious problems), the first thing to do is make it easy for customers to reach an agent if needed, and that the agents are acting professionally.