January 31, 2006

Customer service is a sticky wicket these days. When done right, it helps separate high-performance financial services firms from the rest of the pack. But, if done poorly or inconsistently—which is all too common—it can cripple a company's top and bottom lines. Indeed, service often spells the difference among poor performers, mediocre companies and market leaders.

Some banks are drawing CIOs into the battle for the consumer as new technologies are expected to help foster customer satisfaction. But IT involvement means much more than merely refreshing legacy customer relationship management (CRM) tools to let service representatives address customer inquiries. Progressive CIOs help fuel activities in high-performance marketing organizations with updated technologies and processes. They can show ROI from targeted customer segmentation and data warehouses—improving efficiency and satisfaction. And they understand customer needs.

Make no mistake: Service is one of the most difficult things for organizations to get right, as it involves aligning the marketing vision with technological capabilities and operational execution. The common disconnect is that banks and their customers may disagree about what constitutes "satisfying" service. Banks often will invest in technologies, such as interactive voice response (IVR), only to see customer complaints and defections rise as the service experience becomes dehumanized and frustrating. Generally, this reaction results from the failure to understand the customer experience.

To shed light on what consumers think about service and the impact bad service can have on business, Accenture interviewed 2,009 consumers in the United States and United Kingdom in May 2005. The following issues were explored:

  • Satisfaction with different methods of customer service.,

  • Technology's impact on service quality.,

  • The most frustrating aspects of dealing with customer service representatives.,

  • Actions taken in response to bad service.,

  • The most important aspects of a satisfying customer service experience.

    Responses revealed numerous opportunities for companies to improve the way they address customer issues—and create some of the distinctive capabilities that contribute to achieving high performance.

    Take telephone assistance, for example. According to the survey, customers spend an average of six minutes on hold when calling a help line. Twenty-seven percent typically wait five to 10 minutes, while 14 percent wait more than 10 minutes before speaking to a live person. Given this input, it's not surprising that survey participants said the most frustrating aspects of dealing with customer service representatives include being on hold too long and being asked to repeat information to multiple reps. Third on the frustration list was representatives' inability to answer questions, followed by attempts to sell customers other services or products.

    No Satisfaction

    These reactions come despite the fact that companies invested millions during the past several years on CRM to improve service. For many, the bulk of that investment was directed toward new technologies that, in the interest of cutting costs, removed human interaction from the customer service experience. While such technologies did save money, they did little to improve service; in fact, they alienated customers in some cases.