American and Canadian consumers believe that customer service is suffering in today's economy, according to a survey of 13,000 shoppers by customer experience management (CEM) firm, Empathica.
Some 55% of US consumers feel that their country's customer service is getting worse, while 13% are unsure and 32% haven't noticed customer service suffering at all.
Canadians were less negative about customer service, with 45% indicating that customer service has got worse, compared to 39% who said it hasn't got worse, and 16% reporting that they are unsure.
Regionally, in the US, consumers in the South were more likely to say that customer service is getting worse (58%), compared to those in the West (49%).
However, the company warns, marketers who think that customer service doesn't matter much should be careful, as the study also found that customer service is so important to US consumers that 20% of respondents value good customer service more than good food. Younger people (aged 18-34) represented the majority of this group, despite also being the most forgiving of a bad experience at a restaurant.
Older customers (aged 55+) were more willing to interact with store or restaurant management to either express their dissatisfaction, or offer a compliment.
"With consumers reducing their spending, they now have heightened expectations when they do go out," explained Gary Edwards, executive vice president of client services for Empathica. "There is less tolerance of poor service, which is a huge challenge for casual and fine dining restaurant brands struggling with lower traffic, less incoming cash, and higher expectations to deliver."
The survey also found that those who receive poor service - even at a restaurant they've been to several times - can cause huge damage to a brand. One in four US consumers stated they would tell others not to go there, in addition to never going again themselves. But even more Canadians (28%) said they would take the same actions.
But, while overall restaurant spending was down in 2009, the survey showed increased customer loyalty. In the current economy, consumers indicated they have been just as loyal (68.3%) or more loyal (15%) to specific restaurants.
The now commonplace practice of discounting and couponing - something unheard of for most casual dining brands even a year or two ago - seeks to entice new customers. A coupon is most likely to encourage American consumers to try a new restaurant (44%), while only 28% of Canadians agreed. In fact, a restaurant coupon or discount offer recently prompted 62% of Americans to go to a restaurant that they might not have otherwise visited, while only 39% of Canadian consumers said the same thing.