Customer Experience News & Trends

4 places where the customer experience stinks

You can learn a lot about how to create a customer experience on Main Street, especially from the companies who are doing it poorly.

Customers aren’t exactly satisfied, despite all the public efforts companies make to keep them happy. The national American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) — a quarterly measurement of customers’ feelings toward service in all industries — has only nudged up 1.5 points on a 100-point scale in the 18 years since its inception.

In those years, we’ve seen the advent of loyalty plans, online shopping and the evolution of telephone voice recognition systems aimed at revolutionizing customer service operations. Countless thought-leaders have trained millions on new customer service techniques. Thousands of companies have installed Customer Relationship Management (CRM) programs.

Yet, customers say they only get marginally better service today than they did nearly 20 years ago.

Who’s good, who’s bad

The reason? Comparing industry to industry or company to company, some might argue that there are a considerable number of businesses that got much worse at customer service while a smaller number of businesses got remarkably better. And in the end satisfaction stays just about even.

There’s good news in this: Business leaders who want to improve the customer experience through service can learn what to do from those companies that shine — and what not to do from the companies where service is rated low.

Here are four retailers who are known for poor service and unhappy customers — and how to avoid their mistakes. Then you’ll see four retailers praised by customers and trend watchers for their continued strides in providing great service.

1. Walmart

Not only do customers rate the retail side of this organization low in the “discount stores” category of the ACSI, they say its supermarket is nearly as bad. On a recent ACSI, Walmart scored at 71, and its supermarket came in at 72.

The giant retailer has always sold on price, advertising rock-bottom prices and offering to beat any price the competition posts. The problem is this: They’ve long treated customer service as an add-on.

Walmart decided to focus on price and efficiency, rather than service. Customers find it tough to get help once inside the store. When a customer does see someone who works there, they don’t always get the most qualified help.

The lesson here: The price-focused business model works for some — after all, Walmart is profitable year after year — but most of today’s businesses must put customer service first. In fact, many top companies have found that when they do, the financials fall into place. Start at the top and get an executive to champion a customer service mission for the company.

2. Netflix

The majority of online-only retailers score well on the ACSI with an average score of 82. Netflix, on the other hand, came in at 76.6. It’s downfall from customer service grace started with a huge pricing overhaul that included a near 100% increase in fees. Customers might have accepted the fee spikes because the movie service was so convenient. But the company made the change confusing, and when customers complained, Netflix responded rather arrogantly.

The lesson here: It’s OK to make changes, even increase prices — as long as you make the changes as simple as possible for customers to grasp. Then, if there are issues, respond with empathy and helpfulness so customers see they’re getting valuable service for their money.

3. Sears

Sears has struggled for years to survive in the retail market because of changing demographics and business models. But customers kept coming back because it was a solid retailer in their little towns and big cities for generations. That was until the store let process and policy take over for practical employee-to-consumer decisions.

Consumers complained — and it went viral — about highly restrictive coupons, limited rewards in its so-called rewards program and poor delivery of service.

The lesson here: Front-line employees who deal with customers the most should be trained and encouraged to do what’s right in individual situations. If that means honoring an expired coupon to make a $500 sale happen, or adjust the delivery route to accommodate a time-pressed father working two jobs, so be it. The important part is to make sure employees are trained on the best ways to adjust to every situation and to ensure direct supervisors back employees’ decisions.

4. TJX Companies

Who doesn’t love a good bargain? TJX Companies — parent company of T.J. Maxx, Marshalls and HomeGoods — delivers the bargains. Customer satisfaction? Not so much.

On paper, TJX looks great — sales were up 12% in the most recent year. But it only garnered a 76 on the ACSI. Imagine what sales would be if more customers were satisfied or extremely satisfied when they left the stores.

The lesson here: Discounts are a great way to get customers in the door — and keep them coming back. But the only way you’ll get customers to spread the word about your company, and spend even more time buying from it, is to provide exceptional customer service. TJX Companies’ stores have enough staff in the stores to handle the work that needs to be done. But there is seldom anyone there to offer help to customers. And an offer of help — whether customers take it or not — often is enough to keep customers happy longer.

Now the standouts

The Temkin Group considers three things when it ranks the best customer service providers:

  • Functionality (Did the company completely fail or completely succeed at providing what customers needed?)
  • Accessibility (Was it easy or difficult to do business with the company?), and
  • Emotional impact (Did the company upset or delight customers?)

Those are the top hierarchical needs of nearly every customer in every situation, according to Temkin. If the first need — functionality — isn’t met, the other two are inconsequential. If all the needs are met, companies will leave lasting impressions on customers.

These four companies do just that, according to Temkin’s research.

1. Publix

It’s a grocery store with a strong following. It has the trifecta — top ratings in all three categories. Customers find what they want easily and they’re treated well by the employees.

One secret to the chain’s success is adapting to customer needs. For instance, when the economy took a tailspin and many customers lost jobs or were financially affected, Publix made discounts more visible so customers could see ways to save money at every turn in the store.

Another secret: meeting needs unexpectedly. Example: A customer in a Florida store lamented that no rotisserie chickens were available when she was shopping. The store manager apologized, which the customer accepted and went on with her shopping. A few hours later, the manager showed up at the woman’s home, delivering a freshly roasted chicken and the rest of the fixings for a meal.

The lesson here: Respond to the clear customer needs immediately. And when you can’t, find ways to make it up to them — even if it means going out of your way to do so.

2. Trader Joe’s

People are passionate about food, so it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that another grocery store sits at the top of a list of customer service superstars. One of the best things about Trader Joe’s, according to fans and even first-time customers, is the professional help that’s available at all times in the niche’ grocery store.

Employees are trained on every product. They’ve experienced most of the products. They spend time learning the best uses for the products and are full of suggestions on best-fits for customers. Most importantly, they are as passionate about the products they’re selling as the people who are buying them — so they can almost always effortlessly connect.

The lesson here: Hire people who care about your products and/or industry. Continuously train them on your products and company so they share the vision and want to help customers in a way that benefits everyone.

3. Amazon

Amazon continues to top lists around the world for great customer service and experience — even though customers’ interactions with the company happen predominantly online and seldom with a person. Amazon has nearly perfected the process, so customers’ first two needs — function and access — are met constantly and quickly.

That’s enough to keep them happy without any personal or emotional connection.

The lesson here: Get the process right first. Customers won’t rave about a restaurant if the waiter is nice, but it take three hours to get an entrée. Regularly test all of your customer service channels for ease of use.

4. Chick-fil-A

Remember here: Chick-fil-A is not a five-star restaurant. It’s a fast food chain. Yet, even people who enjoy five-star dining give the chain high satisfaction ratings.

One reason: Employees don’t treat customers like numbers moving through their system of take order, deliver food, move on. They are encouraged to connect with customers, remember them and invite them back. In fact, many stores have an employee whose job it is to walk around the dining area and connect with customers.

The lesson here: Customer service is everyone’s job all the time. Cooks, clerks, janitors, CEOs, accountants, etc. need regular training on who the customers are and what satisfies them. Even better, every employee should be given opportunities to share ideas and best practices on how to keep customers happy or improve the experience.

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