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New research from Accenture shows that customer service is becoming an increasingly important competitive differentiator.
However, companies continue to find it hard to create and deliver differentiated service models. Accenture uses the research to identify guidelines for delivering the personalized service that drives high performance.
Companies tend to shy away from offering a differentiated service experience. For good reason: The things that matter to customers vary widely by age, location, intention and many other factors. Customer preferences and expectations are constantly in flux and, as a result, companies are at a loss for how to execute against such dynamic diversity.
Furthermore, since dissatisfying a customer now comes with far greater implications, companies tend to rely on a “one size fits all” service model, hoping to satisfy as many customers as possible. Accenture’s latest research found that this uniform approach is no longer acceptable.
Accenture conducted primary research with 2,900 consumers in North America across a wide range of age groups, income brackets and education. Our aim was to test consumer receptivity to differentiated service strategies. We sought to understand the impact that differentiated offers have on brand perception, price sensitivity and customer purchase behaviors across industries. In addition to asking more general questions, our research presented four differentiated service offers across the airline, banking, communications and utilities industries.
Two-thirds of customers surveyed said they had taken their business elsewhere at least once during the past year because of poor customer service.
Poor customer service was the top reason for switching providers across all age groups.
Customers want incentives such as discounts to accept lesser service.
Seventy-two percent of customers indicated it was important or very important to access customer service using multiple channels—up significantly from last year’s results.
Ninety percent of consumers surveyed either want specialized treatment or don’t care if special treatment is offered to some customers as long as the overall service is satisfactory.
An overwhelming majority of customers (79 percent) indicated their willingness to choose between a set of support packages offered at the time of purchase.
Eighty-two percent of all consumers said they appreciate a company that allows them to customize the products and services they receive based on their personal preferences and situations.
As the importance of customer service grows, so does the bar for acceptable service performance. However, despite its importance, companies across industries struggle with customer satisfaction because they simply do not have the tools to formulate a data-driven perspective on what drives individual customer satisfaction. They therefore tend to make investments into a universal service model that they believe will satisfy the majority of their customers.
A complicating factor is the increasing extent to which customers influence and are influenced within the social media channel. The common rule of thumb used to be that a customer told eight people of a good customer service experience and 22 people of a bad one…and then came social media. Twenty-six percent of consumers in our survey posted negative comments on social media after having a bad customer service experience in the last 12 months.
This reality often paralyzes companies by creating a fear of trying anything different—and yet something different is often exactly what is required.
Adding further complexity, customers expect multichannel service options and may even prefer self-service.
Other key insights include:
There is a correlation between customer control and brand perception.
Responses to pricing structured on incentives versus penalties vary according to segment.
There is clear support—and little downside—for companies to pursue differentiated service models.
Customers are open and responsive to having their service expectations set for them by their service providers.
Consumers are far more receptive to differentiated service if they feel they are empowered to control their service choices.
Leading companies invest heavily in personalized and differentiated service delivered through highly configurable experiences. Accenture’s research provides some guiding principles for companies seeking to implement such models effectively:
A deep understanding of customer segments is critical to getting differentiated service right.
When developing differentiated offers, it is important to remember that consumers respond most positively to offers that are created around their specific needs.
Since customer perception, expectation and experience are intricately connected, companies must understand, plan and control the subtle differences that offers communicate.
Companies that consistently deliver satisfying and profitable customer experiences are more likely to achieve superior financial performance.
Leading organizations are already moving away from “one size fits all” support models and leveraging differentiated service strategies to better match customer experience with customer value. Those that operationalize a differentiated service experience strategy will benefit from cost-efficient service delivery, greater customer retention and accelerated growth. Consequently, they will make significant strides in their pursuit of high performance.
November 16, 2011
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