Corporate Customer Service Doesn’t Set the Bar High Enough

“Often companies think their customer service experience is better than it really is. However, most corporate customer support fails because it’s not human and is run through the marketing or PR departments.” That was the stark assessment of Frank Eliason, SVP of social at Citi. As a presenter at the Brands Conference on Wednesday in New York he outlined general problems facing the area along with ways to address the issues.

The customer service function is not new, but social media has changed the dynamic. “Social media has provided outlets where customers can vent, so they are taking back the power,” Eliason said. However, the existence of social platforms has led to another situation, he added. “Companies are in effect sending the message that if you want something fixed, then be as loud as you can about it.” He thinks the long-term answer is creating a feedback loop to fix the underlying causes of the complaints.

Eliason also criticized the overall approach to customer service, and observed, “Businesses want to turn everything into a process, but that’s not how customers think. They just want their problems to be solved.” He cited outsourcing as one of the processes most fraught with headaches. “Outsourcing involves a script, but customers can’t see the script so they don’t know what questions to ask.” As he noted, this is another case where the human dimension is sorely needed.

Apple is one of the rare cases where customer service over-delivers, according to Eliason. He described walking into an Apple store and visiting their Genius Bar. “They not only researched and solved my problem, they also provided a great customer service experience. As a result I now frequent the store seeking product advice and I even look forward to my next visit.” It might be time for other companies to make an appointment and take some cues from Apple’s bartenders.