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By B.L. Ochman

The vast majority of companies have got customer service backwards.

Instead of having the most highly paid executives dealing with customers – the company’s most precious commodity – they have poorly paid or minimum wage employees handling customer service in stores, online and on the phone.

I don’t care how much companies spend on advertising, marketing, or social media. If customer service sucks – they might as well put a match to the money.

The Customer Experience Impact 2010 report reveals that 82% of consumers in the U.S. said they’ve stopped doing business with a company due to a poor customer service experience. Of these, 73% cited rude staff as the primary pain point, and 55% said a company’s failure to resolve their problems in a timely manner drove them away.

The report showed that 85% of customers would pay up to 25% more to ensure superior customer experience. And 66% said good customer service is the biggest driver to spending more money.

Americans are fed up with poor customer service: so much that 64% have walked out of stores because of bad service and 67% have hung up on a call before even getting their problem addressed, according to a new Consumer Reports survey.


“There’s a feeling on the part of Americans that companies are deliberately making it difficult for them by burying phone numbers, sidestepping calls and steering customers to online FAQs instead of live human beings,” said Tod Marks, senior project editor for Consumer Reports.

Lest you think this is an American issue, a new poll found that citizens of the United Kingdom spend three-and-a-half years of their lives being angry. The average Brit reported spending one hour and nineteen minutes a day in a foul mood and the number one cause cited for their ill-tempers was—bad customer service!

Top 8 steps to improve customer service

1. Make executives – not minimum wage employees – handle customer service. Having poorly paid, poorly trained customer service reps is among the most annoying – and ridiculous – mistakes companies make. Nobody would need to come to work if it were not for customers. Make the highest paid, best-trained employees of the company deal with customers: the top executives.

2. Make it easy to get a human being on the phone. Customer service inaccessibility has promoted the growth of such services as Get2Human Dial a Human and Get Human which includes a contact list of companies which offer customer support on Twitter.

3. Empower the people who answer the phone to make decisions and actually help customers. Take “That’s the company policy and there’s nothing I can do about it” out of the vocabulary of customer service personnel. Don’t tell customers “that’s the first time anyone has complained about that,” (so what!) and don’t precede every sentence with “I know how you feel.” (you don’t)

4. Don’t piss people off. Fire anyone who deals with the public after one rude encounter with any customer. Companies that listen to their customers, and thank them for their feedback – sincerely – won’t make customers so angry that they’ll vent online (Yes, I know that many customers are rude and abusive. They often don’t start out angry.)

5. Have enough well-trained salespeople in stores to help customers quickly and well, no matter how crowded the store is. The Apple store in SoHo has 350 employees helping customers.

Expensive, right? The Wall St Journal reports that Apple stores’ annual retail sales per square foot have soared to $4,406. That’s much higher than Tiffany & Co.’s $3,070 and electronics retailer Best Buy’s $880.

Every Apple store employee I’ve ever met acts like they want you to be happy. And they are empowered to do what it takes. The philosophy clearly is that the customer comes first. Contrast that to Best Buy, where sales people are immensely adept at getting rid of customers by saying “that’s not my department.”

6. Accept that customers usually have a point. Surely there are people who just can’t be satisfied. But the vast majority of people who have a problem with a product or service are honest people who have a point. They may be the best early warning system of design or service flaws that a company could ever find.

7. Listen to customers! A long while ago, I ran a consumer complaint handling service called Rent-a-Kvetch. Its simple premise was that I wrote complaint letters for people who had problems with products or services.

Every single person who came to me had tried, in one way or another, to talk to the company, store, or person before they came to me. And nobody had listened to them. They were frustrated or angry enough that they’d often spend more than they’d paid for the product to hire me to complain for them. They wanted to be heard!

8. Give customers the benefit of the doubt. Customers have plenty of outlets for their complaints these days, and can get plenty of advice on how to complain. But you’ll be a lot better off when you surprise and delight them with great service the way Apple, Zappos, LL Bean and a few – very few – other companies do.

To make matters even worse, companies can now make customer service even LESS human by substituting “Intellitars” for human customer service reps. “How about a customer asking specific questions about your line of products and having a life-like face of the company give a spoken response in conjunction with a set of images with further detail?” asks a PR rep for Intellitar.

FAIL! How bout having the CEO talk to customers!