“ Here, in no particular order, are the five companies that have consistently failed to deliver quality customer service — along with examples of smaller businesses that do it right.
- Bank of America
Sample opinion: “If a situation has arisen that you need their help to resolve, forget it — they do not help. They are all about making money, and they seem to forget that without the customers, there will be no money to make,” wrote “Unhappy” on MeasuredUp.com, a consumer feedback and review site.
The lesson: Making it difficult for customers to do business with you — and charging them money for the “pleasure” — is the opposite of great service. “Great service companies make it easy to do business with them,” Tschohl notes.At Umpqua Bank, in Roseburg, Ore., employees are trained to be “universal associates,” so they never have to pass the buck when attending to customer needs. Many branches have Internet cafés that serve the bank’s own brand of coffee, and tellers hand out chocolate with every receipt. Moreover, bowls of water are set outside for customers’ pets. At TD Bank, in Philadelphia, customer calls are answered by an attentive, knowledgeable staff person after one ring. “You call most banks and it’s push two, push four, push seven, go to hell,” Tschohl notes.
Role models:Greatest sins: Customers at bankofamericasucks.com and other sites rail against BoA’s myriad fees and a bureaucracy that makes even the simplest transactions difficult. Representative Maxine Waters of California, a member of the House Financial Services Committee, recently got put on hold for two hours while trying to resolve an issue with BoA for one of her constituents.
Sample opinion: “I have never received such horribly incompetent, could-care-less service as I have with Comcast,” wrote “Shabo L” on Yelp.com, an online review site.
The lesson: Don’t keep your customers waiting, ever. “Every employee should be empowered to make a decision on the spot in favor of the customer — not a day later, not an hour later, but in seconds,” Tschohl says.
Role model: Northeast Delta Dental, based in Concord, N.H., reimbursed customers more than $80,000 in self-imposed penalties in 2008 for not meeting its own service guarantee. It’s no coincidence the company has a whopping 60 percent market share in New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont — and a 98 percent retention rate. “We turn ourselves in, and we tell our customers what we’re going to do, process-wise, so that failure doesn’t happen again,” says Northeast Delta Dental CEO Tom Raffio. “It costs us in the short run, but in the long run, it builds trust — and we get customers for life.”Greatest sins: Sluggish service and lame response to customers’ needs earned Comcast a score of 54 in 2008 — one of the lowest among all companies — on the American Customer Satisfaction Index, a standard developed by the National Quality Research Center at the University of Michigan Business School. A famous online video shows a Comcast technician who fell asleep on a customer’s couch while waiting on hold — with Comcast. “They have unlimited marketing budgets to get new customers because they get rid of their old ones so fast,” Tschohl says.
- eBayGreatest sins:
Role model:What really irks customers of the online auction site are the fees it charges and the total inaccessibility of human staff. “They don’t allow you to talk to a human,” Tschohl points out. “There’s no way to communicate with them. eBay thinks they’re in the technology business, while companies like Amazon.com understand they’re in the service business.”“It took me three days to find a phone number [for eBay customer service],” wrote one customer on the company’s own forum. “Don’t expect results. It’s worse than trying to get an honest answer out of a politician.”Be there for your customers. Great service is about supporting your customers every step of the way.Les Schwab, a chain of tire stores in the western U.S., has a “Sudden Service” philosophy that states, “You come in, we come running.” Employees run out to customers’ cars as they pull in to the store, then spring into action to install new tires in half the time it takes the competition.
- Wal-MartGreatest sins:
The lesson: Creating a culture of great service starts with treating employees well. “Take care of your workers, and your workers take care of your customers,” Yellin explains.
Role models: Northeast Delta Dental and Umpqua Bank frequently appear on lists of best workplaces thanks to their outstanding employee benefits, and Les Schwab shares half its profits with its employees. “It’s a matter of treating your employees better than anybody else does and offering world-class customer service,” explains a manager of a Les Schwab Store in Concord, Calif. “That is what keeps your business growing.”Underpaid, disempowered Wal-Mart employees have a tough time staying chipper these days — and they pass along their misery to the company’s customers. “Wal-Mart built its business on customer service, but they’re in the sink now,” Tschohl contends. “The stores are ugly, and they attract the people with the least amount of money who are willing to put up with bad service.” Adds David VanAmburg, managing director of the American Customer Satisfaction Index: “They are at the top of our list when it comes to value, but near the bottom when it comes to service.”Sample opinion: “The employees are rude most of the time, and none of them help when you ask them something,” wrote “Amber” at ConsumerAffairs.com. “I spend $300 a week in that store. Now they have lost my business.”
- US AirwaysGreatest sins: Long delays, surly service, and a lack of personality have helped send this airline to the bottom of the list of companies tracked by the American Customer Satisfaction Index — though the extra fees don’t help, either. “This industry has the lowest scores on our list, and US Airways is at the bottom,” VanAmburg says.
Sample opinion: “Figure out a way to communicate with customers that doesn’t involve hold times approaching geological epochs, and make your damn computers work correctly,” opined blogger Christopher S. Penn after he was told it would take 45 to 60 days for US Airways to respond to his email request for a refund.
The lesson: The best service companies are fast, reliable, friendly, and don’t skimp on the little details.
Role model: Insight Studios, a tattoo and piercing parlor in Chicago, averages five stars from reviewers on Yelp.com, who praise the store for being pleasant and clean, and for offering customers horchata and chocolate when they walk in the door (and a lollipop for their bravery after their treatment is done). You’d never know these folks were paying to get poked. As one happy customer gushed, “I can’t wait to come back in a few months for my next piercing!”
The Road to Customer Satisfaction
Because bad reviews on the Internet can be so damaging, companies are starting to get savvy. In response to its poor reputation, for example, Comcast has installed a team dedicated to scouring the Web for complaints and reaching out to the “influencers” in its customer ranks. And Bank of America now has a team of support employees who can be reached via Twitter. “The Internet is making everybody more accountable,” author Emily Yellin points out. “Companies can’t get away with what they used to.” Growing businesses are wise to stay abreast of their reputation on sites like Yelp, and they can also get customer feedback through such sites as MeasuredUp.com and GetSatisfaction.com. Those two sites not only host online forums for customers to make suggestions or register complaints, they also allow companies to respond to commonly asked questions and create a knowledge base for future customers.’