shutterstock_76865011.jpg A recent survey of U.S. IT decision-makers conducted among 227 senior IT professionals by Kelton Research on behalf of Enghouse Interactive reveals that 93% of U.S. companies feel they deliver good or excellent customer service. Six of the remaining seven percent felt they delivered average customer service and just one percent believed their customer service was poor.

While this majority of businesses may be congratulating themselves on a job well done, it is highly doubtful that consumers would agree with this assessment of most customer service.

To complete the picture, in a Contact Babel survey of 210 contact center managers and directors, 86% believe that telephone-based customer interaction monitoring and analysis methods are either effective or very effective. This shows that companies believe they are doing just fine when it comes to both customer service and how they measure it.

Divergent Definitions of Satisfaction

Most consumers can attest to the frustrating disconnect between their perceptions of the quality of customer services and the companies’ opinion of the service they are delivering. Who hasn’t been annoyed when a friendly customer service representative smiles down the phone with “Is there anything else I can help you with today?” just moments after apologizing for not being able to resolve the problem being discussed?

A customer has a very subjective view of what makes him or her satisfied, while companies are only able to collect data and numbers from customer interactions to make an assessment of their satisfaction.

If a customer has to call numerous times to solve a problem, he likely will view the whole series of interactions as a frustrating failure. However the company might count the interaction as a success -- based on the fact that a solution was found at all or that the call was answered within five minutes.

The perception of what makes good customer service is simply not shared between customer and company. This disconnect has arisen because customers and businesses are measuring satisfaction based on different standards.

Better Reporting is Key

At some level many companies are completely aware of the problem. Anecdotally, we know that when companies talk to us about replacing their contact center, one of their major concerns is how to improve the reporting of their customer interactions. At least when companies realize it is time to upgrade, they know that better reporting has to be part of the fix.

Perhaps when the IT decision-makers in the Kelton study were asked how good their customer service was, they were not quite answering the question directly. Perhaps they were subconsciously adding the thought that “considering the technology constraints we have," I think we’re delivering good customer service.

So I suggest that the gap between real and perceived customer service is a two-fold problem. First, many companies do have technology constraints and are not able to deliver the quality of customer interactions they would like. And second, they do not have adequate reporting to measure the customer experience from a more meaningful, customer-centric view.

What Can Be Done

Practically speaking, what can companies do to close the gap between real and perceived customer service?

At the technology level, arguably one of the biggest problems is the disparate systems agents often need to deal with on a single customer issue. 60% of contact center decision-makers in Contact Babel’s study say their call center agents use three or more applications during any given call.

Until agents have all the information they need and a complete interaction history under a unified system or an integrated dashboard, they will struggle to provide the fast, efficient quality of care that customers want. First-call resolution will remain a pipe dream for the companies whose agents are forced to tell customers that they “do not have access to that information” from their system.

Another technology problem many companies face is the lack of suitable self-service options. Many customers would prefer to bypass an agent and take care of their own needs through an IVR, a web portal or a mobile app, provided such applications are intuitive and easy to use. Far from feeling disconnected from the company, a satisfied self-server will typically be far more happy with the company.

At the reporting level, the simple but tough answer is to get better metrics. That means a human-centric view of the customer interaction. A business-level overview is vital, but without a micro view of each customer’s interaction, the macro view is not meaningful.

The disconnect between actual and perceived customer service is real. And yet interaction management needs tweaking more than it needs a revolution. As consumers, we know that better customer service is possible. We may even suspect that companies’ technology limitations are at the heart of the problem, just as many companies may quietly admit it themselves.

Title image courtesy of Giordana Aita (Shutterstock).

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