Thursday, May 24, 2007

Accenture Study Underlines Need to Measure Customer Service Technology Impact

Accenture released an intriguing study (registration required) earlier this week contrasting the views of high-tech executives and their customers regarding after-sales support.

Perhaps the most substantive finding was that while 74% of the executives who implemented new customer self-service systems believed they now had higher customer satisfaction, only 14% of their customers rated their experience as “much better”. Twenty two percent actually said service had gotten worse.

This is intriguing for two reasons. First, it shows that customers just don’t find service technology all that helpful. Specifically regarding online self-service, only 11% said it was a priority. (The highest priorities were solving problems completely [69%] and quickly [65%].) Maybe that isn’t really a surprise—plenty of people don’t like self-service tools, particularly for technical issues where a simple FAQ is unlikely to be helpful. I suspect most companies really know this, but implement them anyway to save money.

Which brings us to the second point. That companies think satisfaction has increased even when it hasn’t, suggests they aren’t bothering to measure it. I suppose this isn’t really a surprise either, but the optimist in me never quite wants to accept what a truly miserable job most firms do at customer management and how little they truly care.

The same issue appears in another gap uncovered by the study: 75% of executives feel they provide “above average” service while 78% of customers feel their service is “at or below average”. Yes, humans have a well-known tendency to overestimate themselves, but such delusions can only persist if they don’t bother to measure actual performance. Apparently, the great majority of executives aren’t bothering.

Taken together, these two factors (customer dislike of self-service, and company failure to measure results) hint that investment in self-service systems may actually be value-destroying. If the systems make customers feel service has gotten worse, they will be more likely to leave, and if companies don’t measure this, they’ll never know about it. In addition, self-service systems may not even save money, since people must eventually speak to a human to get their problems resolved anyway. (To the first point: the press release accompanying the study states that 81% of customers who rate their service satisfaction as “below average” plan to purchase from a different supplier in the future. To the second point, the study reports that 64% of customers had to access service channels two or more times to resolve their issue.)

All of this just reinforces the conventional wisdom that you have to measure the impact of a CRM project, and the only measure that matters is the impact on customer behavior (dare I mention…lifetime value?) But since so many people keep ignoring this most basic of principles, I guess it needs repeating.

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