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In the customer service game, perception is everything. It can spell the difference between a company recording its annual revenues in black ink or red.

I read a story once in USA Today about a guy named John Barrier, who didn’t like the way a bank manager in Spokane, Washington, looked at him. John was wearing a construction helmet and grungy clothes.

The problem began when Barrier went to his bank to cash a $100 check. When he tried to get his parking slip validated to save a buck, the counterperson refused, saying he hadn’t conducted a transaction. “You have to make a deposit,” she told him.

When told he was a substantial depositor, she looked at John Barrier differently.

Too late. Barrier asked to see the manager, who – amazingly - - also refused to stamp the ticket. Fed up, Barrier went to the bank headquarters vowing to withdraw the $2 million he had in the bank, unless the manager and the clerk apologized. But nobody called. So the next day he withdrew the money.

The moral of the story? Treat every customer as if they have a million dollars – because they may.

Unfortunately, most businesses with an online/web presence aren't doing a good job of that. Even with first quarter U.S. retail sales 2007 totaling $31.5 billion, a study from the business consulting group Talisma says that U.S. online retailers are failing in key areas of customer service, which has the potential to be devastating to the online retail market which is forecasted to reach $329 billion in 2010.

According to the study, which examined customer service trends throughout the spring of 2007, an amazing 34% of emails went unanswered by 100 of America’s top online retailers, with just over 50% of responses providing accurate and complete information.

Firms were judged and ranked on a range of customer service criteria, including speed of response, accuracy, completeness of information provided, and the personalization of interactions. According to the study, although 93% of companies audited responded to phone queries within 30 seconds, only 5% were able to communicate with personalized content – by referring to caller ID or a customer profile. Personalization is increasingly being recognized as a critical factor in delivering customer service excellence. In fact, customers are beginning to expect to be acknowledged and treated as “special” on return visits across all channels of communication. According to technology analytics firm Jupiter Research, consumers’ expectations of service performance increase as they spend more time online. As such, the repercussions of poor service experiences also increase.

By and large, the Talisma audit revealed that online retailers are failing in three key areas:

1. One-third of email queries were ignored - Email is generally accepted as one of the most efficient communication tools. This seems to have been overlooked by many online retailers as 34% didn’t reply to customer emails.

2. Lack of Self-Help Tools - 97% of online retailers had no knowledge base to help prospective buyers make an informed decision based on product features and suitability, known issues, or customer service accessibility and policies.

3. Accuracy of information provided - only 51% of emails and 72% of phone calls answered provided accurate information.

With $330 billion on the line, you'd think that business would be licking at the chops to garner more customers online, which is rapidly becoming the preferred way of doing business these days. Usually, the best way to attract and retain those customers is through great customer service.

If the Talisma study is any indication, U.S. businesses are more like that bank in Spokane than they are a crackerjack customer service outfit. And that is just not good business.

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Last Post by Phaelax
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With customers demanding to get cutthroat prices, leaving businesses with paperthin margins, something has to give.
That something is customer service, the one area of the business that most customers never have contact with and those that do are in large part considered lost to the business already.

It's the same with airline travel. Passenger grumble about not getting free 3 course meals, cramped seats, and other customer service related issues. But if an airline increases prices by a €5 dollars on a €300 ticket to give that free meal and maybe a bit more legroom those same passengers stay away and book Easyjet or Ryanair.
They never even notice that they end up paying the same for even worse service because of all the extra surcharges the lowcost carriers charge of course.

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There's a small, local computer store in my town where I continue to my computer parts after several years, even though their prices aren't as cheap as Newegg. Why? Because I know if I ever have any problems they'll go out of their way to help. I'm willing to pay a little extra for good customer support, unlike most as jwenting has mentioned.

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