Traditionally, many companies looked at customer service as a cost center, a necessary expense that had a negative impact on margins. They saw it as an obligation, and tended to underfund the fuction. Key metrics for customer service included: how quickly customer service representatives could resolve an issue (i.e., get a customer off the phone), and how inexpensively could the company train and pay its reps.
Those sort of metrics aren't designed to deliver customer service. They're designed to reduce the amount of time and resources are used to deal with customers. That was because companies looking to those metrics didn't realize they were engendering poor reputations that was hurting sales.
But in the Social Media Age, customer complaints are more easily aired to the world, on blogs, Twitter, Facebook and other platforms.
These days, a lot of companies are using Twitter as part of its customer service channel. They monitor what people are saying about their company, and try to address issues before they biol over. Frank, at @comcastcares does a great job helping Comcast customers resolve their problems. I posted a complaint about too many phony services calling me to update my free YellowBook online listing, and got an response from @Yellowbook_Help that was pretty helpful.
After it had implemented changes to save money around its customer service function, Dell found that it may have saved money but the cost-cutting move had a negative impact on sales. The realization among consumers that Dell was not paying attention to customer service erupted when influencer Jeff Jarvis posted his complaints on his BuzzMachine blog.
As aa result, Dell found that it had developed a poor reputation online due to poor customer service. The company realized it was losing potential sales due to poor customer service, and revamped its priorities.
Dell was smart enough to make changes. Dell now has well trained customer service reps who actually help its customers. The company also realized that it needed to have an online listening strategy to address consumer complaints aired in the blogosphere. This renewed focus on customer service has helped the company turn around what had been a negative reputation.
That doesn't mean there haven't been bumps in the road; there were some issues around Christmas around waiting times, but the company has decided to invest in customer service, and it has largely paid off.
Howver, there are a lot of companies that continue to the cost-savings approach to customer service, and have shown themselves to not be interested in actually delivering customer service. I will be writing about my recent experiences with Toys R Us in a future post.