Author Emily Yellin looks at the role customer service and call centers play in modern society, and ways companies can use them to improve business retention.
There are lots of villains in Emily Yellin's engaging book, Your Call Is (Not That) Important to Us: Customer Service and What It Reveals about Our World and Our Lives, and just one lone hero. That would be 75-year-old Mona Shaw, who, after being mistreated by a national cable company, took her husband's claw hammer to its local office, caused some minor property damage and wound up telling the tale on Good Morning America.
Shaw's is a story almost everyone in America can tell to one degree or another. Americans make 43 billion customer service calls - and according to a 2001 poll by the Pew Charitable Trusts (cited by Yellin), 94 percent of Americans find it "very frustrating to call a company and get a recording instead of a human being." An annual "Customer Rage" study by Arizona State University consistently finds that about 90 percent of respondents who have had a bad customer experience with a company shared it with other people. Of the 77 percent who engaged with the customer service department of the companies in question, 57 percent decided never to do business with that company again. And, Yellin points out, new social networking tools give unhappy customers a bullhorn that companies can ignore only at their peril.
So why do businesses rely on this customer-alienating system? Money, Yellin explains. On average, she writes, each customer service call fielded in the U.S. costs $7.50; the same call can be handled overseas for just $2.35; and an automated system can do the job for 32 cents. Not surprisingly, many companies are finding this a false bargain. A study by MIT's Sloan School of Management shows that outsourcing customer service tends to lower a company's American Consumer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) score and its stock price - with a drop of roughly 1 to 5 percent in the company's market capitalization.
As for solutions, Yellin points to Zappos, Apple, FedEx and Amazon, among others, where senior management has placed customer service at the top of its priorities. "The way that companies treat the customer service function and customer service workers is the way they treat their customers," she says, and her implication is plain: Empower your customer service reps to solve problems, and customers will reward you with repeat business. Fail to do so, and you may be facing an angry mob.
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