As if most of us needed to be reminded, poor customer service is the main reason that consumers switch service providers, while new technology has done nothing to improve the customer experience.
A survey of more than 2000 U.S. and U.K. consumers by consultants Accenture found that almost half (49 per cent) said poor service led them to change service providers in at least one industry in the past year.
When asked to explain their reasons for switching, six out of 10 identified poor service or product quality, almost half said they could get lower prices elsewhere and four out of 10 were left unimpressed by a service representative's lack of knowledge about a provider's services or products.
Almost a quarter switched because of a lack of customised solutions, while one in five were put off by company policies that create bureaucracy and technologies that delay or stop service.
In addition, despite companies adopting technologies to help them respond more effectively to customer concerns, nearly two-thirds of those surveyed said they believed that customer service had not improved significantly in the last five years.
"These findings are troubling for any industry with heavy customer interaction, given that poor service was the predominant reason that nearly half of the respondents gave for changing service providers in one industry or another last year," said John Freeland, global managing partner of Accenture's Customer Relationship Management practice.
"Winning companies strike the right balance between using technology to help reduce costs and streamlining the customer experience with well-considered processes that contribute to more personalised services."
A third of the respondents said that the most important aspect of a satisfying customer service experience is the ability to obtain assistance from a company without being forwarded to multiple representatives.
However, when respondents were asked to choose the scenario that best describes the typical customer service experience, more than half of them likened it to driving in slow city traffic that also required them to take many alternate routes to reach a destination.
In contrast, a mere 13 per cent said customer service was like finding a good short cut to avoid a traffic jam.
Unsurprisingly, more than three-quarters of consumers complain that their biggest customer service gripes are being kept on hold too long and having to repeat information to multiple service representatives.
The survey found that consumers spend an average of six minutes on hold when seeking assistance via a telephone help line and that they speak to an average of 2.6 service representatives to resolve issues.
Other big frustrations were the inability of representatives to solve problems, representatives trying to sell other services or products when contacted, inflexible service, slow responses, the lack of personalized solutions, computers that are often down and requests for too much personal information.
Of the 10 industries included in the study — banking, Internet services, wireless telephone, home telephone services, utilities, cable/satellite television service, hotel, airline, life insurance and retail — the most customer turnover occurred in the retail industry, with one in five respondents saying they began to patronise a different retailer, such as a grocer or department store, in the past year due to poor service.
On average, nearly one in 10 respondents said they had switched service providers because of customer service issues.
"Customers really want their service experience to be more like a good short cut – they expect the first customer service representative they talk with to have the knowledge, tools and capabilities required to address their needs," said Accenture's Robert Wollan.
"Leading companies use technology to deliver streamlined, self-service capabilities that quickly and effectively filter out solvable problems, with a carefully synchronized set of agent-assisted capabilities that eliminate the frustrating effects of shuffling the customer around."
Judging by the attitude of customers, however, these paragons of service capability remain few and far between.