Anyone who has badmouthed a company because a customer service agent badly handled their problem will not be surprised about the findings in a new report from AchieveGlobal. The study by the global workforce development firm found that emotion is the “key to building customer loyalty and advocacy.” 

In the study, “Why Your Customers Stay or Stray: Insight from Global Customer Experience Research,” emotional response was found to be so important that one-third of respondents preferred being treated well -- that is, being heard and respected -- to having their issues immediately resolved. The survey questioned 5500 consumers worldwide in 2012, and conducted interviews with top customer-contact employees.

Losing Your Reputation

CEO Sharon Daniels said in a statement that, “while slashed prices and special promotions may get customers in the door, an inability to connect on an emotional and human level while delivering services will hamper any business’ customer engagement efforts.”

The survey provides evidence that a bad experience not only threatens a given sale, but the reputation of that brand. In the age of sharing your every grievance with the world via social media, a bad brand reputation can spread widely and quickly -- and a customer can and will shift their business to a more helpful competitor.

AchieveGlobal found that almost 40 percent of respondents admitted to posting negatively about a brand following a bad customer experience. Half of those surveyed said they would try out a competitor after just one bad customer service experience, and 93 percent would defect after three or fewer episodes.

Negative Behaviors

Whether customer service was handled in-person or on the phone, the top negative behaviors were all interpersonal responses that affected the customer’s emotional response.

Nearly half of respondents said that occasions when customer service agents were rude, short, nasty, unhelpful or impatient represented the greatest customer service mistake they had experienced. Other biggies: agents using a canned script to deal with issues, agents saying “no” or “I don’t know,” or agents talking about things other than the problem being addressed, such as trying to up-sell.

In phone-based interactions, frequently cited negative behaviors included being transferred multiple times, not getting a real person or being put on hold. 

The study said it is essential that companies develop training and other support programs around a culture of service, with instruction that emphasizes ways to recognize emotional responses by customers and effective but concerned ways to handle them.

Interpersonal Skills

Overall, the survey said that its findings coalesce around one major point: “The interpersonal skills of employees ultimately make or break the customer experience.”

And this emphasis on customer experience is rapidly becoming gospel for companies that provide customer service software. Aspect and Kana, for instance, are increasingly emphasizing that overall customer experience with a brand is now a key responsibility of customer service departments.

This view of customer service is a far cry from two decades ago. As the report noted, in those pre-Internet days the occasionally upset customer was “all but ignored,” customer interactions were “all business,” and customer experience was “a non-starter.”

From AchieveGlobal's Report.png

From AchieveGlobal's report, "Why Your Customers Stay or Stray"

But what is meant by “customer experience”? The report defines three core concepts.

Defining Moments, Customer Needs, Global Expectations

There are Defining Moments, when a customer forms a negative or positive judgment, such as greeting a customer, answering a question, or resolving a problem. The second concept is Customer Needs, which breaks down into two categories – Human Needs, whose importance the report highlights, and Business Needs for products, services and issue resolution.

And then there are Global Expectations, in which every customer, in every interaction, expects Respect, Simplicity, Solutions and Responsibility.

To accomplish the best results, AchieveGlobal advises that employees practice certain best practices, including building relationships with customers, listening carefully, gathering information, learning how to manage difficult conversations, empathizing and learning continuously.

To put it all in a nutshell, the report said that employees need to “make the emotional effort to meet the relevant human and business needs of every customer."