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Does Customer Service Influence Customer Service Ratings?

Posted on : 23-12-2009 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business, Comcast, Customer Service


This is probably way too deep of a post leading into the holidays, but it is on my mind, so here it goes.  I have been thinking about my own perceptions of service at various companies, and it has caused me to wonder what causes me to think that way and do others with these similar thoughts cause ratings to be high or low for other organizations?

This time of year is filled with shopping, and I have always had an interest in the Customer experience for retailers.  One of the places I like to shop is Target.  I like the assortment of products and the atmosphere.  If someone were to ask me I would rate Target service on the higher end.  But as I think about the Target experience, I do not like their restrictive return policies and I have never had a “wow” type of experience.  I compare this to Walmart, which I do not shop at as much.  I have never had a problem, I like the prices I have received (I have even saved over Target), yet I would rate them lower than Target.  Why would that be?  The experience is not much different and I would save money.

The same holds true when I compare Lowes to Home Depot.  Both have similar policies, I do prefer Lowes store layout and the brightness of the stores, but I have found I have had to wait longer at Lowes, because at Home Depot I can do self checkout which I like.  I have never had trouble with Home Depot, but I have with Lowes (which was fairly handled but should not have happened).  Yet with all of this I would rate Lowes higher than I would Home Depot.

Costco is typically seen as a leader in service in the club warehouse space, and it is a place I love to shop.  It is funny, but a few years ago we switched to BJ’s due to a membership offer we received.  Within a few weeks we shifted back to Costco because we missed the product assortment and the “wow” items they have in the store.  I will say Costco is great with returns, but I have seen the same handling at Sam’s and BJ’s.  I find the lines longer at Costco, which can be annoying.  I also have to show my receipt as I am leaving, which is another annoyance to me.  It would not be as much of an annoyance if they actually reviewed what I purchased by I find they just put a line on the receipt and I walk out the door.  I remember when I first joined Costco they had a sign that said “Why do we check the receipt.”  The answer was to ensure you received everything you paid for.  I would laugh every time I saw it, but they eventually took it down.  I understand the benefit of checking at the door, which is to reduce and discourage theft, which ultimately helps keep costs low.  If I were asked which store had the best service I would say Costco, yet is it really that much different?

So what does influence Customer Service ratings?  I think it is a multitude of things, and it varies by industry and even company.  Here are a few thoughts:

Brand Perception – This is a huge influencer in many Customer Service surveys.  Apple is a great example.  They are always highest ranked in service, and I would rate them high too.  Yet I have had many computers and the only time I ever had to call the manufacturer was for the first computer I purchased.  It was an IBM and they were great but they could not help fix it, so I had to return it to the store.  I have had many manufacturers, including Sony, HP, Toshiba, Apple and IBM.  I would rate Apple number 1, yet for really no reason from a Customer Service viewpoint.

Long Memories – As consumers we do have long memories and at times this will influence how we rate a company.  Using the computers listed above, I would rate HP and Toshiba very low, even though I have not had recent interactions.  Toshiba simply because I owned 2 laptops and both went right after the warranty expired (one was a 1 year warranty and the other was a 3 year extended warranty).  HP I have had a great experiences with my recent netbook and as well as the many HP printers I have owned, yet I would go back to trouble with a Compaq Pocket PC device that had a screen broken.  After numerous calls, I had to go to the executive office, and the person helped rectify but they were very rude in the process.

Customer Passions – Certain products create passion within the Customer base.  Apple can be a good example, but you can look at other products, such as TV, Internet or Cell Phone.  All of which we have learned that it would be difficult to live without.  What is interesting is this can create very divergent view based on the brand or the product.  TV and internet service providers typically rank very low is satisfaction, but I believe this is because we love to watch TV and we feel the need to be connected to the internet at all times.  In some cases we feel we do not have a choice and the costs keep going up.  Sometimes when people find an alternative there is excitement and they switch for that reason.  They then rank the others higher.  For me, I have had every provider across the board over the past 10 years, and with each I had good experiences, and some very bad ones.  In fact one popular highly ranked provider, I had some very bad experiences, and so have many others I know, yet they still rank high.  I think it is due to the passion for the product offering, and the fact that people feel they have a choice.  I also believe in many cases it is more of Customers trying to demand companies do better.  As an example, I have and love the iPhone.  I have never had a poor experience with AT&T, yet people sometime rank them lower in service.  A lot has been made recently about their network and maps.  This is a 2 sided issue that I do not want to get in the middle of, but I have never really had trouble. In fact I think the one time I did it was more associated with the operating system then the network.  It was later fixed with an update.  I do think people simply want AT&T to do better and are cheering them on to do just that.  I think the same can be said about the company I work for, and we are trying to do that.

Marketing – We like to think that marketing does not have an influence on us, but in many cases it does.  Verizon as an example spends something close to $3 billion a year to share their message.  As we saw with the map example, it has been highly effective.  We have also seen it with other products they have, yet if you dig into some of the experiences you will find just as negative example as any of their competitors, and in many cases more.  Of course some will say I am bias here, but I have had both good and bad experiences with this company, like so many others.  I would have their wireless service and AT&T through work.  I have not had a bad experience with either, but I would rank Verizon higher, is that due to their marketing efforts?  Another interesting example from a marketing side is Southwest airlines.  They have ranked high in Customer Service rankings, and I know many people that rave about their experience.  Is it really that much different?  I have found a few cool employees but I have had other flights where they were not that great.  For me I tend to rank them 4, behind Jet Blue, Air Tran (I love wifi on planes), and Continental.  Out of all each of these the only ones I have would say were influenced by actual Customer Service interactions are Jet Blue and Continental, but even with both of them, I loved live TV on the planes.

Price – This is part of the equation but probably not as large as we think.  Just using a few examples from above, my Walmart example it was not.  Apple is many times the highest price, yet people love them.

Company Culture and Employees – I think this is a very important aspect that is often overlooked.  I mentioned Southwest above, they have personalized their brand in many advertisement and the way they interact.  This culture has a high influence on Customer Service scores.  It is hard for me to rate a company low after I just got to know one of their employees.  The best example of this is of course Zappos and how open they are in sharing the spirit of their employees.  This personalization by the brand is extremely influential.  The same holds true on the other end of the spectrum.  General Electric is a company that has many influences on our lives.  I am not sure how there Customer Service ratings would be, but I would bet there is an influence in the rating due to the cold nature Jack Welch, former CEO, sometimes created or the amount of layoffs they have had in the past.  I like the company a lot as an investor and I think Jeff Immelt has tried to change some of those perception, but that is something that has impacted many families and will influence the brand for years, even though they do bring “Good things to life!”

In the spirit of this post, I would like to share this Comcast Customer Guarantee ad.  The reason is how it fits into the conversation.  All of the Comcast people you see in this ad are actual employees who were recognized for providing outstanding service.

What are some other influencers to Customer Service ratings?  What do companies need to do to win over the hearts and minds of Customers?  This will lead to an upcoming post on the Customer joining the C-Suite.

I hope everyone is have a great holiday season!