Customer service the true killer app

I practically have RCN’s phone number memorized. When my bill was mysteriously doubled, I had to redial the cable company so many times after being hung up on that it is etched in my brain, right next to the hold music I heard for an hour each time. I even considered canceling my service, which is why I’m convinced that if a company be it a cableco, telco, wireless carrier or Internet provider had a solid customer service experience (not to mention allowed consumers to bypass those pesky automated menus), they would dominate the market. Customer service is paramount, arguably more so than the speed of a network, the features of a cell phone or the number of high-definition channels offered via IPTV.

At least 5,000 consumers agree with me. Forrester Research recently announced its Customer Experience Index (CxPi) for 112 firms spanning nine industries. Making up the lower echelon of the list were wireless carriers, television and Internet providers sad news for the telecom space. In terms of usefulness, usability, and enjoyability, 5,000 consumers surveyed dubbed them failing to perform.

Perhaps even more surprising was that wireless carriers, coming in fifth, beat out TV and Internet providers. Internet providers came in third to last on the list of nine and TV service providers followed, beating out only medical insurance providers (at least they can claim that). Still, it is a dismal state of affairs when your TV brings you less joy than your phone, which in turn is also failing to live up to your expectations. I don’t think we can blame the Writer’s Guild for this one.

So, the question remains: Are consumers demanding more or is the industry delivering less? The answer may well be both. Forrester analyst Bruce Temkin, who conducted the survey, said that to some degree, the carrier and service providers tend to focus a lot on their products and the protection of their territories rather than on the needs of their customers. It can be a double-edged sword as service providers get caught up offering the latest advancements to attract customers, yet overlook the customers they already have. On the flip side, as customers hear more and more about the capabilities of IPTV, mobile handsets and the Internet, they come to expect the technologies to work more quickly, efficiently and right now.

A ray of hope from the Forrester study for telcos is that they were not included in the television space. With consumers so displeased with the eight satellite and cable companies included in the survey, a significant opportunity exists for telecom providers to differentiate themselves based on their quality of experience in this space.

And it’s not just a North American phenomenon. Increasing customer dissatisfaction is leading to higher churn in the UK as well. The solution may come from a better product or more likely from simply communicating the utility of a product, how to use it and enjoy it through stronger customer service. In terms of the overall worldwide customer experience, it might just be the one thing that service providers can’t substitute for faster speeds, cheaper prices or technological innovation.

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