Why Brands Struggle to Improve Customer Service

If you caught Seth Godin’s recent post “Four ways to improve customer service,” maybe you reacted the way we did (“AMEN!”). Seth’s “four ways” really are the pillars upon which leading brands build their reputations and business success.

We’ve seen this firsthand. It’s the exact approach we’ve championed and helped brands adopt since we first became a company. In fact, it’s the reason we exist.

Because Stella Connect has spent years in the trenches—encouraging clients to operate differently, empowering them to do so, and measuring the impact—we’d like to share a few observations of our own.

The Struggle Is Real: Why Companies Fail to Achieve Seth’s Four Customer Service Ideals

The kind of change Seth calls for isn’t easy. It goes against decades of standard industry practice. But the market is changing, and consumer expectations are somewhere in the stratosphere. Customer service is the new black: the great differentiator, the spark that ignites revenue growth.

Every brand must face this reality. But some are unwittingly sabotaging their success (perhaps even their future) by defining and dictating “great service” from the C-suite. Focusing on quarterly numbers. Cutting back on CX expenditures to maximize profits. Treating the contact center as a cost to be managed.

To borrow a phrase from Apple (whose loyal customer base is the envy of the industry), it’s time for brands to “think different.”

Let’s take Seth’s suggestions one at a time.

“Delegate it to your customers. Let them give feedback, good and bad, early and often.”

As we’ve written before, many brands do little more than pay lip service to the value of customer feedback. They collect it at the corporate level, and the research and marketing teams take weeks or months to sort through the responses. By the time the results trickle down to the front line, they have little effect on service performance.

When customers see their input go nowhere, they lose faith in customer surveys and customer service. This is the reason survey response rates have hit rock bottom.

When brands collect customer feedback in real time from the front line, they don’t just get more bang for their buck (response rates of 40% or more). They also connect emotionally with customers (“This company cares what I think!”), drive front-line performance improvements, and lay the groundwork for future sales.

“Delegate it to your managers. Build in close monitoring, training and feedback. Have them walk the floor, co-creating with their teams.”

In many customer service organizations, managers are ill equipped to improve performance on the front line. Corporate dictates service protocols and standards, and QA leaders conduct reviews of a small sampling of calls that occurred days or weeks earlier—with virtually no impact on service quality.

A steady stream of agent-level feedback flowing directly to contact center managers changes the game. Timely opportunities for micro-coaching and agent recognition give managers everything they need to ensure their teams excel. These shared moments also do wonders for agent engagement and morale.

When it comes to improving customer service on the sales floor, store managers can use objective data from mystery shopping in much the same way their contact center counterparts use agent-level customer feedback: to clarify expectations for team members, and to reward high performers.

“Use technology. Monitor digital footprints, sales per square foot, visible customer actions.”

You don’t need to build a 55,000-square-foot digital playground like Nike’s. But to compete effectively, you need to be able to deliver the kind of high-touch—and yes, high-tech—service experience consumers want and expect.

Your first priority should be to make sure your systems are talking. As CRM tickets close, they should instantly trigger feedback requests. Our clients personalize their Stella Connect survey requests by including information related the nature of the engagement (clothing department, product return vs. exchange, etc.). Small touches like these can make a deep, lasting impression.

We’ve written about rising consumer expectations, and what it takes to meet them, in our omnichannel age. First come the CX initiatives, including tech, that enhance the service interaction. Next comes 360-degree CX measurement. Objective measurement (mystery shopping) ensures brand consistency, but subjective measurement (customer feedback) is equally important for brand health.

“Create a culture where peers inspire peers, in which each employee acts like a leader, pushing the culture forward. People like us do things like this. People like us, care.”

Low morale in the contact center is a costly problem for businesses. In an environment where agents feel isolated and undervalued, there’s little incentive to provide outstanding service. And there’s no good reason to stay.

Despite the obvious need to develop and retain talented agents—with the twin benefits of reducing costs and earning customers’ loyalty—many companies see contact center churn as a cost of doing business, one that’s beyond their control.

This way of thinking is costing them more than they realize.

To help your agents thrive, keep them loyal, and improve their service performance, you must change the contact center culture. As our clients have discovered, leaderboards that display customer ratings and suggested rewards emphasize the impact agents are making, encourage friendly competition, and strengthen team spirit as agents congratulate each other for a job well done.

We also recommend having your best agents lead product and policy training. Your high performers will become more invested in their careers and the team’s performance, and their fellow agents will be more engaged in the process. This simple change, together with real-time feedback delivered straight to the front line, will inspire your entire team to perform at its peak.

It All Starts With a Commitment to Positive Change

If you prioritize great service, you can achieve it. Leading brands do so by investing in their people and processes and in measuring both employee performance and customer sentiment on an ongoing basis. There is no better way (in fact, there is no other way) to deliver consistently great service in an omnichannel environment—the key to every brand’s long-term survival.