Consumers Expect Poor Customer Service

I just published a research report with Andrew McInnes (a researcher on our team) called Consumers Expect Poor Service Experiences. The research, which was based on surveying more than 4,200 US consumers, looked at consumer expectations for getting an issue resolved in 10 different areas (apparel, bank account, hotel, auto insurance policy, TV service, credit card, wireless phone plan, Internet service, computer, and health insurance policy).

It turns out that consumers don’t expect much from customer service. Here are some of the findings:

  • In only one of the areas, apparel, did a majority of consumers (54%) expect to have an easy time getting their issue resolved.
  • The lowest marks were in computers and health insurance policies, where only 30% of consumers expected customer service to be easy.
  • In 6 of the 10 areas, Seniors were the most optimistic about these customer service interactions. But…
    • … in the 4 other industries, hotels plus three technology areas (wireless phone plans, computers, and Internet service), Seniors were the least optimistic about getting an issue fixed.
  • Only 23% of Seniors thought it would be easy to get a computer issue resolved — the lowest level we found.
  • Not surprisingly, Gen Yers were the most optimistic about customer service in the three technology areas.

The bottom line: Companies need to surpass customer service expectations.

Written by 

I am a customer experience transformist, helping large organizations improve business results by changing how they deal with customers. As part of this focus, I examine strategy, culture, interaction design, customer service, branding and leadership practices. I am also a fanatical student of business, so this blog provides an outlet for sharing insights from my ongoing educational journey. Simply put, I am passionate about spotting emerging best practices and helping companies master them. And, as many people know, I love to speak about these topics in almost any forum. My “title” is Managing Partner of the Temkin Group, a customer experience research and consulting firm that helps organizations become more customer-centric. Our goal is simple: accelerate the path to delighting customers. I am also the co-founder and Emeritus Chair of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA.org), a non-profit organization dedicated to the success of CX professionals.

9 thoughts on “Consumers Expect Poor Customer Service”

  1. Hi Bruce,

    I work in the banking industry. We provide mobile banking software for banks. This stuff will fundamentally change how customers interact with their bank. I would be interested in what this report said about the banking industry. How can I get more info? We could also chat on how mobile banking could let consumers turn things around and have the banks work for them.

  2. Why it is so hard for companies to surpass consumer’s expectations baffles me continuously. Trader Joes’s is a case study of successfully replicating Customer Delight and Scaling their business simultaneously. As such their success is partly grounded in this continuous effort to keep their customers happy.

  3. agreed — would love to know more about consumer’s reposne to bank service. Possibility of a link to the study or an additional post that delves into that? Abby Carr

  4. I am a new branch manager of a bank, and I would love more info on that sector. I am currently working on poor customer service issues in my branch, and would love to see customer expectations. Thanks

  5. Hi everyone: Thanks for joining the conversation on this post. I’ve been a bit busy, so I’m just getting back to you.

    Dave/Abby: If you want more information about the research, send me an email (btemkin@forrester.com) and I will have one of our salespeope contact you about becoming a Forrester client. Unfortunately, there’s only so much of the research that I can share for free in this blog. If anyone wants to brief me on a topic, then input the request at http://www.forrester.com/briefing.

    Domenick: I’ve also been a fan of Trader Joe’s for many years, both professionally and personally (my family loves to shop there). But I have never studied/researched them. I think I will reach out to them in the upcoming year.

    Andrew: I think you are generally right. As I’ve said in the 6 Laws Of Customer Experience, people do what is measured, incented, and celebrated. So until we change the measurements, incentives, and celebrations around customer service, it will continue to deliver underwhelming moments of truth for many companies.

    D Biel: Given the demand for some more banking info (that’s 3 comments already), I’ll consider a post with some additional thoughts in that area…

  6. I am in the midst of perhaps my worst experience as a consumer. I am 55. I will never buy a Toshiba product again.

    I live near Boston, MA. I bought a Toshiba Satellite L505D for my daughter, who began college at McGill U. in Montreal in August. It arrived in the last week of the month, only a day before we took Gabriela to school. The computer worked for a few days and then would not boot up. Shortly after Labor Day, my daughter called Toshiba. They told her to send the computer to a company in Toronto in a box that arrived 2-3 weeks later. She complied.

    Weeks went by. I called Toshiba: What’s up? It literally took hours on the phone before Toshiba could even locate the computer. My daughter and I made repeated calls to the repair center, leaving messages to which there was no reply. Gabriela finally got someone on the phone, who said a part was back-ordered and could not predict a repair completion date.

    It is now mid-December. My daughter is half-way through her first demanding year of college and has struggled without the use of a computer, which is standard equipment for college students these days. Dealing with this situation since September has been a nightmare. I’ve spent 20 hours on the phone if I’ve spent 10 minutes.

    I called several customer service numbers, speaking to different people in Canada and the US. Canadians said the US branch was responsible b/c I bought it south of the border. The US branch said the Canadians were responsible b/c that’s where the computer was located. I reminded them that Toshiba is one company. Then they said it was the repair company’s responsibility, the same one that Toshiba hires. Except to promise (several times) to refer the matter to a “case manager,” who would call me (hah! never happened), they refused to intercede with the repair company, or even call them (“we can’t call Canada”). They also refused to refer me to a supervisor, who, they all said in the same words, “didn’t take calls.”

    I’ve certainly had headaches with computer companies’ customer service departments over the years. But there were always helpful people among the unhelpful. I’ve never seen such a consistent policy of turning up the middle finger towards the consumer. I am left literally with no way to get relief, except to sue Toshiba. What do I do in the meantime? Buy another computer? My daughter needs one badly, but I don’t have the money to buy her two computers. I am thoroughly disgusted.

    I thought that Toshiba offered a nice deal on a computer. No deal is nice enough to compensate for this kind of aggravation, however.

  7. Phillip-
    I also went through a nightmare with Toshiba, as well. I took my laptop to a local “approved” repair shop. It sat there for 5 months…the whole time the shop kept telling us “we’re waiting for parts.” My husband spent hours on the phone trying to get the problem resolved.

    When the laptop was finally fixed, we picked it up, only to discover that it was still missing some pieces. Fortunately, they were only cosmetic pieces, and we took it home anyway. It’s been 3 years, and we’re still waiting for the pieces to come in… :-S

    I will never again buy a Toshiba after this ordeal.

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