Providers of communications and high-tech products and services give away, on average, 28% of the technical service and support they deliver to business customers each year, simply because they lack insight into what customers are entitled to receive, according to research from Accenture.
The research consisted of two simultaneously administered online global surveys - one for providers and the other for customers. It explored the state of business customer service in the communications services, communications equipment, electronics and high-tech industries, querying more than 650 senior executives from 11 countries.
"While there are some legitimate reasons why providers might give away technical service-especially to their biggest, most important customers-lacking enough customer insight about what customers are entitled to receive is not a good enough reason to give it away at no charge," said Brian Sprague, a senior executive in Accenture's Customer Service and Support practice. "Providers must obtain the customer insight needed to make more informed decisions about whether to give away the service and, if so, to whom, or if they should charge for these services. In today's challenging economic climate, businesses need to find innovative ways to grow and improve their revenues."
The research uncovered another serious problem. Nearly 30% of business customers surveyed are considering switching to another provider because they are dissatisfied with the quality of customer service they receive. With their current providers each of these customers spends, on average, US$15 million on products and customer service per year. The research also revealed that 70% of business customers said that it's possible for a provider to create an experience that "locks in" their future business. At the same time, 70% of providers said that improving the overall customer experience and customer satisfaction ranks as their main business priority for 2009.
When asked why they are challenged in delivering superior service, the three reasons providers cited most often were their lack of supporting technology (selected by 30% of respondents), a dearth of trained resources (29%), and non-existent definitions of support processes (22%). According to providers and customers, the quality and competence of service agents, along with their ability to address customer concerns on the first phone call or e-mail, rank as the two most important factors in delivering a superior, differentiated service experience.
Respondents were asked to explain, in their own words, what they consider to be the main characteristics of a superior, differentiated customer experience. Their responses fell into several categories, the top three of which were: knowledgeable staff and accessible support (32%); efficient and timely problem resolution (26%); and proactive, personalised solutions (21%).
"Customers look to the quality of customer service they receive, or other higher-end offerings, as a way to differentiate between providers," added Sprague. "They're saying: 'Be there when I need you and make sure you take care of my problem quickly, without sending me to another person. Make it a superior experience for me'. These providers need to determine what customers really want in a service and support experience, which means becoming truly customer-centric - aligning service capabilities to anticipate and address customer needs. By doing so, they can more effectively differentiate themselves from competitors and strengthen customer loyalty."
The research also found that, compared with customers in Europe or Asia, those in North America are more loyal to their providers and less likely to have switched providers or considered doing so. And if North American communications and high-tech companies deliver a distinguished and superior customer experience, they have a 20% better chance than European and Asian companies of generating more customer service revenues from the same customers.
To build the kind of service and support capabilities that can help them achieve high performance during and after the current economic crisis, Accenture recommends six actions communications and high-tech companies should take:
- Enhance the content on the service and support portal;
- Invest more in training and developing customer service agents;
- Enhance the knowledge of each provider's installed base;
- Improve first-call or email resolution;
- Improve the overall customer experience of self-service, not just reduce costs;
- Implement analytical and diagnostic tools.
An executive summary of the report, entitled 'Achieving high performance through customer service and support', has been made available for free download from Accenture's web site - click here (PDF document; no registration needed).