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Surprise!: Customer Service is Good (Almost) Everywhere Today

What the Most Recent Data on Customer Satisfaction Tells Us - In Short, It’s Time to Seriously Up Your Game!

By David WyldPublished 5 months ago 9 min read
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Surprise!: Customer Service is Good (Almost) Everywhere Today
Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

Introduction: Morning (or Mourning) Joe

We’ve all been there. In fact, you may have just come from there! We’re there just minding our own business in the breakroom, hoping that there might be donuts or cake to go with that last cup of coffee (well, maybe!) for the day that we’re making.

By Rod Long on Unsplash

And in walks Joe. Joe is mad! Joe proceeds to tell you about THE worst customer service he has ever experienced - something that just happened to him moments before. Now whether it was about him getting his $6 morning cup of coffee, him finally going to the doctor for “that thing,” or him shelling out a grand for a car repair, and the damn thing still makes “that noise,” you know the drill. Joe has to vent about what just happened to him to someone - and on this morning, you are that “lucky” someone!

By Ocean Ng on Unsplash

Over the next 5 minutes (though it seems like 30!), Joe proceeds to tell you blow-by-blow about the “series of unfortunate events” that led to him being so displeased with that coffee shop, the doctor’s office, or the car dealership. You nod your head at what you think - or hope - are the appropriate times. And when Joe actually stops the machine gun-paced staccato of words that are coming out of his mouth for a few seconds, you think that it might be best to use your active listening skills and cautiously interject an “I understand completely” or an “Oh! How terrible!” every once in a while, so as to keep Joe’s blood pressure within the safe zone and not have to test your CPR skills.

By Martin Splitt on Unsplash

Finally, Joe gets to the end of his tale of woe. By then, you’ve finished the “cup of joe” that you came to get from the breakroom and need to make yourself another after all of that complaining. In the end, you do see Joe’s point. The coffee shop, the clinic, the car dealer’s service area, whoever was the antagonist in Joe’s story - they messed up (and they messed up good!). The bottom line is this: After listening to Joe’s travails, you, yourself, will be considerably less likely to try that particular business - or at least that branch, location, or outlet of it.

By Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Word of Mouth Marketing

What you have just read is Exhibit A on the power of word of mouth in marketing. Word of mouth is the most powerful force in marketing - more powerful than all the advertising, all the promotion, all the PR (public relations), all the “everything” that one can possibly do to get customers in your store - whether that is in the “real world” or online. Anyone who runs a small business or manages a chain location of a major company knows that word of mouth can work powerfully for you - or just as powerfully against you.

By Joshua J. Cotten on Unsplash

Positive word of mouth - happy customers sharing their great experiences with you, your employees, your product and/or services, etc. - is the best free marketing that there is! That is why many companies will offer some form of appreciation to customers who will leave them a positive review online. Yes, today, a happy customer is able to share their good experience not just with a few friends but with the world! That is why most customer-facing businesses also offer some form of a referral program, whereby you reward an existing customer with some token of appreciation (e.g. a free burger, a free tire rotation, 20% off their next visit, etc.) for bringing a new customer into the fold. Encouraging positive word of mouth, especially in the age of social media and online reviews of everything from restaurants to doctors, is one of the best ROI (return on investment) moves any business can make in its marketing efforts.

By Kristina Flour on Unsplash

However, on the flip side, upset customers - well, former customers - like Joe are the breeding ground for negative word-of-mouth marketing. And yes, having angry, motivated people who will not just talk about your business badly with their friends, colleagues, relatives, and yes, even just random people on the street if they are really angry, can not just work against all of your marketing efforts, but seriously jeopardize your ability to be successful. This is especially true in the age in which we live today, where one negative online review, one negative comment on a firm’s Yelp or Travelocity page, or one customer who rants on video about his or her bad experience with a company, its products, or its services can go viral! In a matter of minutes, a company can see its goodwill - and its reputation - and its top and bottom lines - take a hit! And suddenly, in short order, any business can be in a serious crisis if even a single, upset - and motivated - customer wants to share his or her bad experience with the world!

By Andre Hunter on Unsplash

And so, as great as positive word of mouth is for all businesses, negative word of mouth can be even more powerful - and destructive! That is why there is a whole industry out there today - and not just a cottage one at that - geared to defending a company’s reputation online. These firms, some Mom and Pop and some now pretty sizeable, scour not just their clients’ own social media presences but the wild, wild Internet to make sure that angry customers are sought out for placation, not ignored at one’s great peril! In short, making angry customers happy - or at least neutral - when service failures happen (and they inevitably will, even in the best of companies!) is the best strategy for consumer-facing companies - of all sizes and types and across every industry - to take today. In short, proactive customer experience (CX) management is in today - largely because the downside risk of the angry customer is so huge today.

By Blake Wisz on Unsplash

Customer Experiences Are Surprisingly Good Today

The very good news is that despite the “baaaaaaaaad” stories you hear from your coworkers, your Uncle Steve or Aunt Anne, or from your neighbor who you try to avoid at all costs, customer service - pretty much across the board - is relatively good in America. In fact, the most recent numbers show that customer service - and, with it, customer satisfaction - is doing relatively well across the service sector - well, with one glaring exception!

Recently, the Qualtrics XM Institute published their 2023 Global Consumer Study, finding that around the world, customer satisfaction with services is down overall as businesses continue to struggle to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. However, domestically, in the United States, customer satisfaction is doing relatively well. How well? According to the experts at MarketingCharts, customer service among service-based businesses is much higher than what one might think when hearing and reading the “bad” customer service stories that circulate in-person and online. As can be seen in Figure 1 (US Consumer Satisfaction with Experiences, by Industry), most customers who provide reviews on their most recent encounter with a business - from their supermarket to a hotel to their bank and more - are giving positive reviews about their customer experience. In fact, business types that we typically might think would have more customer service “issues,” like mobile phone providers, insurance companies, auto dealerships, and credit card companies, receive large positive (4 or 5-star satisfaction ratings) from consumers. Even utility companies and healthcare providers at present receive 70% or better satisfaction scores.

Figure 1: US Consumer Satisfaction with Experiences, by Industry

Source: MarketingCharts, “Which Industries Are Delivering the Best Experiences?,” January 2024 (Used with permission)

So what is the lone exception to the high customer satisfaction ratings for American organizations? As you can see in Figure 1, our dealings with government agencies are still problematic, having the lowest rate (58%) of consumers giving positive reviews on their latest interaction with a public sector organization. Now, while some may look at that number and say something to the effect of “it’s not that bad,” since more government “customers” had positive, as opposed to negative, experiences - at least based on consumer ratings, the truth is that customer satisfaction appears to still be problematic in the public sector. You cannot see the numbers in that chart and not see a gulf between consumer satisfaction with a vast swath of the American service economy and customer satisfaction - or dissatisfaction - in their dealing with government agencies.

As a strategic management professor and consultant with a great deal of experience in working with public sector leaders and administrators over the years, I can tell you that the idea of good government customer service is a perennial goal across all levels of government - federal, state, and local, not an oxymoron in their minds. Management across the public sector knows that they need to “up their game” in regard to customer service - and they do recognize, by and large, that their constituents are indeed their customers as well. Thus, they recognize that improving customer satisfaction with their interactions with government agencies is very important today - and a key - perhaps even the key - to helping maintain their jobs as elected and appointed officials!

And the customer satisfaction game is only going to get harder going forward, as, indeed, the bar is being raised across the American economy. For decades, The American Customer Satisfaction Index has tracked American’s degree of satisfaction with specific industries and with the state of customer service overall. As can be seen in Figure 2 (The American Customer Satisfaction Index, 2000-2023), global customer service satisfaction in the United States has been on a rebound as of late, rising from post-COVID lows by 2% overall in the past 18 months. With rising levels of customer satisfaction across the board, this means that to be judged as providing good or even exceptional customer experiences, you and your people will really have to go above and beyond. As customer expectations rise in regards to what it takes to make for a satisfying experience, everyone in the organization will need to “up their game” and be focused on the customer even more than they are today to be “exceptional!”

Figure 2: The American Customer Satisfaction Index, 2000-2023

Source: ACSI, “American Customer Satisfaction Index: US Overall Customer Satisfaction,” December 2023 (Used with permission)

By Isaac Smith on Unsplash

Analysis

So, if you run a business - of any size - or you are an administrator in a government agency, whether in Washington, DC or Walla Walla, Washington, what should you take away from all of this? To me, as a management “expert,” I would advise all managers and executives to seriously think about how they can improve their customer experience, both in the near and long-term - and do so today! Why? Well, if you don’t, your competition surely is. So, if you are a consumer-facing organization and you are not analyzing your operations to eliminate “pain points” in consumer interactions and training your people to deliver higher levels of customer satisfaction, you will find yourself falling behind. You will be falling behind not just your direct competition but falling behind the rising tide of “good” customer service in the United States.

In short, you do not want to be that business, that organization, that government agency - the one with the bad word of mouth and the bad reputation out there. You don’t want “Joe” - or an army of “Angry Joes” (or “Josinas”) - badmouthing your company, either online or in person. Today, more than ever before, the way your entire organization interacts with its customers - both current and prospective - is a key driver - perhaps the key driver - of your success. Failing to pay attention to your customers - and their rising expectations - could well be fatal for your organization - and your career!

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About David Wyld

David C. Wyld is a Professor of Strategic Management at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, Louisiana. He is a management consultant, researcher/writer, publisher, executive educator, and experienced expert witness. You can view all of his work at https://authory.com/DavidWyld. You can subscribe to his Medium article feed at: https://davidwyld.medium.com/subscribe.

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About the Creator

David Wyld

Professor, Consultant, Doer. Founder/Publisher of The IDEA Publishing (http://www.theideapublishing.com/) & Modern Business Press (http://www.modernbusinesspress.com)

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