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Americans are placing an even greater premium on quality customer service this year. In a stronger economic environment, seven in 10 Americans (70%) are willing to spend an average of 13% more with companies they believe provide excellent customer service.
This is up substantially from 2010, when six in 10 Americans (58%) said they would spend an average of 9% more with companies that deliver great service.
That’s according to findings in the American Express Global Customer Service Barometer, a survey conducted in the U.S. and nine other countries exploring attitudes and preferences toward customer service.
Despite the greater value Americans are placing on customer service, many businesses don’t seem to be making the grade with consumers. In fact, the survey says, six in 10 Americans (60%) believe businesses haven’t increased their focus on providing good customer service, up from 55% in 2010. Among this group, 26% think companies are actually paying less attention to service.
“Getting service right is more than just a ‘nice to do’ – it’s a ‘must do,’” said Jim Bush, American Express’ executive VP of world service. “American consumers are willing to spend more with companies that provide outstanding service, and they will also tell, on average, twice as many people about bad service than they are about good service. Ultimately, great service can drive sales and customer loyalty.”
Americans vote with their wallets when they encounter subparservice; 78% of consumers have bailed on a transaction or not made an intended purchase because of a poor service experience. On the other hand, the promise of better customer service is a draw for shoppers: three in five Americans (59%) would try a new brand or company for a better service experience.
Yet Americans feel most companies are failing to get the message that service matters. Nearly two-thirds of consumers feel companies aren’t paying enough attention to service. Two in five (42%) said companies are helpful but don’t do anything extra to keep their business; one in five (22%) think companies take their business for granted.
A notable bright spot? Small businesses: Four in five Americans (81%) agree that smaller companies place a greater emphasis on customer service than large businesses.
Consumers will tell others about their customer service experiences, both good and bad, with the bad news reaching more ears. Americans say they tell an average of nine people about good experiences, and nearly twice as many (16 people) about poor ones, making every individual service interaction important for businesses.
Customers who have a fantastic service experience say friendly representatives (65%) who are ultimately able to solve their concerns (66%) are most influential.
“There are many who subscribe to the convention that service is a business cost, but our data demonstrates that superior service is an investment that can help drive business growth,” Bush said. “Investing in quality talent, and ensuring they have the skills, training and tools that enable them to empathize and actively listen to customers are central to providing consistently excellent service experiences.”
Poor service experiences leave many Americans hot under the collar. More than half of respondents (56%) admit to having lost their temper with a customer service professional. Consumers age 30-49 are the most frequently angered (61%); young people are more patient, with more than half of those age 18-29 saying they’ve never lost their temper with a service professional (54%).
Americans who have lost their temper due to a poor service experience will express their displeasure in a host of ways, including insisting on speaking to a supervisor (74%) and hanging up the phone (44%). Perhaps most unsettling for businesses on the receiving end of customer anger: two in five Americans have threatened to switch to a competitor (39%).
Not everyone keeps it clean when dealing with a frustrating service situation either. Expletives have crossed the lips of 16% of respondents, with men more likely to use “choice words” (20%) compared with women (12%).
Businesses may want to ditch their traditional service scripts, too. Customers are equally irked by three of the most frequently-used customer service phrases (“We’re unable to answer your question. Please call …” / “We’re sorry, but we’re experiencing unusually heavy call volumes …” / “Your call is important to us. Please continue to hold …”), with the Internet generation particularly put off by not getting a quick answer and people 50 and older grimacing over hold music.
In countries around the world, a majority of consumers are willing to spend more with companies they believe provide excellent service, with the average amount they are willing to spend ranging from 7% to 22% more.
However, like in the United States, global consumers feel that businesses around the world aren’t getting the message, the survey says. In most markets, less than one-third of consumers feel businesses have increased their focus on customer service. And when consumers are dissatisfied with their service experiences, they also get angry; a majority in every market except Germany report having lost their temper with a customer service representative.
Companies that have earned a reputation for service excellence understand the employees interacting with customers every day are the true ambassadors of their brands. As a result, finding the right people and putting them in a position to succeed is key.
“Our primary focus is on hiring the right people and just letting them be themselves,” said Aaron Magness, senior director of brand marketing and business development at Zappos.com. “You can't hire someone and teach them to provide great customer service, but you can hire people that are committed to providing great customer service.”
The American Express Global Customer Service Barometer research was completed online Feb. 2-10 among a random sample of 1,018 U.S. consumers aged 18 and older.