Wired tells us why customer service sucks.

su_customer_service In its most recent issue, Wired told us why customer service sucks (their words, not mine). They blamed:

Some call centers’ focus on getting customers off the phone versus resolving issues.
Outsourcing and offshoring to places like Bangalore, India and Manila, Philippines.
Unmotivated and untalented customer service representatives.
Customer service representatives that are distracted when serving customers.

The best customer service companies don’t run into these issues: they focus on resolving issues and customer satisfaction; they rarely outsource and if they do, they outsource to quality companies; they hired motivated and talented representatives; and they don’t force representatives to help more than one customer at once.

The issues that Wired pointed out are interesting because none of them are difficult to fix. It’s really easy to change policies to measure customer satisfaction and stop outsourcing. The most complicated one is the issue with unmotivated and untalented representatives and by the way Wired words the paragraph, the companies could just tweak their personality tests and avoid that problem.

The short article (part of a series of explanations about why things like traffic, batteries, and customer service suck) also cites some interesting statistics that I had never read before (no source is listed):

  1. Employees in Bangalore will work for 85 percent less than equally qualified US employee.
  2. One out of three call centers don’t measure customer satisfaction. One in two don’t measure employee satisfaction.
  3. The ideal customer service rep (according to personality inventory tests) is uncreative, has low incentive, and demonstrates limited empathy.
  4. Half of all service reps are talking, emailing, or IMing with another customer at the same time. One quarter handle up to four people at once.

I’m curious as to where Wired got these statistics. They seem like customer service hyperbole to me, but they’re interesting nonetheless. My thoughts:

  1. I’m not an outsourcing expert by any definition, but I don’t think the cost savings are that dramatic, especially not in Bangalore. The wages that Indians are getting are only going up. The Philippines is looking like it’ll be the next India.
  2. I would say that most measure customer satisfaction. How much they care about it is likely a another story. Only 50% measure employee satisfaction seems believable, but I think HR would put more of a effort into that than the survey shows.
  3. These aren’t ideal qualities for a customer service representative. Tests are relatively easy to tweak to look for ideal qualities, so this is surprising and doubtful.
  4. For email or live chat support, I might believe this. For phone support, I seriously doubt it. 

What are your thoughts about the Wired article? Were they right on or did they miss it totally?

Illustration credit: Wired’s Martin Woodtli (full size here)

5 Responses to “Wired tells us why customer service sucks.”

  1. Bill Gammell said:

    Jan 29, 08 at 6:40 pm

    In a way you’ve got to be optimistic after reading this article. If you have the audacity and resolve to make customer service a priority, there is an open playing field for you to stand out.

  2. Jeff Toister said:

    Jan 31, 08 at 2:01 pm

    I think I know where Wired got their “1 in 3” statistic on measuring customer satisfaction. A 2007 study by the Incoming Calls Management Institute found that 31% of respondants don’t formally measure customer satisfaction. There were ~250 participants from around the world, though mostly from the United State.

    Having worked in a few call centers, my experience is that talk time is a more more prevalent statistic. In other words, the average call center focuses more on getting you off the phone quickly than on resolving your problem.

    You are definitely on to something when you wondered about measuring agent satisfaction. A 2006 Harvard Business Review article detailed some research done by Gallup on the clear link between “Customer Engagement” and “Employee Engagement”. You can find a free PDF of this article by Googling “hbr human sigma article”.

  3. Service Untitled said:

    Jan 31, 08 at 8:45 pm

    Thanks for your comments!

    Bill: you’re exactly right. It is kind of scary that it could be this easy. It is actually far more complicated, but what Wired said is a big part of a lot of issues.

    Jeff: Thanks for pointing those links and studies out.

  4. Service Untitled » GoDaddy Made it Quick and Easy - customer service and customer service experience blog said:

    Feb 01, 08 at 1:47 am

    […] The goal of a customer service interaction (except at some companies) is to get the customer’s issue resolved in a timely manner and to the customer’s satisfaction. When I called GoDaddy this morning, they did exactly that. […]

  5. Expat said:

    Apr 19, 10 at 12:42 am

    In regards to the price of outsourcing, as a expat currently residing in the Philippines I have seen what the call centers offer in terms of pay. On average, a call center will offer around $300-400 (US) per month to someone handling phone calls. This depends on how many hours they are willing to put in (mainly graveyard shift with limited breaks & often with a minimum of 8 hours per day – some work 10-12 hour shifts with 2-3 5-minute breaks & 20-30 minutes for their main meal) & how well they handle customer service with those who call. It has been brought up time & again by those here that the call centers do not retain employees because someone can always replace them with one of the dozens to hundreds who apply every day. You can often search about the problems with the call centers here & it’s understandable to a certain degree why they do not show as much necessary customer support as they should when their own employers have little or no concern for them as employees.