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To celebrate the New Year, we thought we’d share some of our favorite new TV commercials, which of course poke fun at embarrassingly bad customer service. You think companies are starting to get a clue that great customer service is no longer just a “nice to have”…?
These commercials were all posted to YouTube within the last few weeks — enjoy!
And an update recommended by our friends at GetHuman.com, a recently released DIRECTV commercial:
Note: this is the first in a three part series looking at the customer service performance of the top 25 online retailers during the 2011 Black Friday through Cyber Monday weekend. View Part 2 (Email Support) and Part 3 (Live Chat Support) for a complete view on how the largest online retailers cared for customers during the big shopping holiday.
Despite the many ways consumers can connect with a company for customer service, the telephone is still the most widely used customer service channel for online shoppers. According to Forrester, 69% of online consumers use the phone when seeking customer service help (followed by 55% who use email).
As a result, we think online shoppers should be especially aware of the findings from our 2011 Cyber Monday Customer Service study. For the first time, STELLAService is providing an unprecedented inside look at which stores provide joyful customer service during the holidays, and which stores are likely to deliver a full-serving of slow, frustrating support as you do your online holiday shopping.
We found some of the numbers especially interesting:
Did you place calls to any of these retailers over the weekend? If so, what was your experience like?
Methodology: Baseline data was collected by calling each retailer each day (350 total calls) over a 14 day period, from November 1st through November 14th, asking general customer service questions on each call (product questions, shipping or returns information, etc). Black Friday through Cyber Monday data was collected by calling each retailer five (5) times each day over a four day period, from November 25th to November 28th. Calls were placed at random during the following time-blocks to generate measurements of service performance that have high reliability and construct validity: 8:00 -11:30am EST; 11:30 – 2:00pm EST; 2:00 – 5:00pm EST; 5:00 – 8:00pm EST; 8:00 – 11:00pm EST.
After an extensive evaluation of all online retailers who (seemingly) sell iPhones, as well as a deep dive into the online features, policies and customer service performance of the “authorized” online stores to sell the iPhone, we found there’s no reason to shop anywhere else but Apple.com for the new iPhone 4S.
Below are the details of our findings:
With lines for buying the iPhone 4S expected to wrap around city blocks (even internationally already!), and with no guarantees you will even get the new phone after waiting hours on line, you’re far better off purchasing the iPhone 4S over the Web from the comfort of your own home (or wherever you might be).
Since the price of the phone is the same across all online sellers, it’s a no-brainer to buy from the online retailer with the best service. When it comes to the iPhone, there’s no site better than Apple.com.
John (my co-founder) and I started to get nervous last Wednesday that our weekend travel plans would get canceled due to Hurricane Irene, so we did what most people did: we called the airlines to check on flight status, cancellation policies and airport closures.
While we waited on hold for several minutes, we thought what any entrepreneur in the customer service space would think: how will the contact centers of the country’s largest airlines perform under the stresses and high inquiry volumes caused by Hurricane Irene?
Well, since it just so happens we are in the business of evaluating and rating customer service performance, we mobilized our network of “mystery shoppers on steroids” to find out, and here’s what we found:STELLAService originally excluded replies from tweets sent to Continental’s Twitter account since it stated that its Twitter account is no longer active. Even though United and Continental have merged and now use a single active Twitter handle, @United, we have updated our findings as of 8/31/11 to reflect the 58% response rate to tweets directed to the inactive @Continental Twitter account. The tweets sent to American Airlines were sent to an account they deem to be inactive, so we have removed their Twitter findings and updated the above chart for that as well.
Kudos to U.S. Airways for keeping average hold times under three minutes the day before the storm hit. Most of the wait times at other airlines ranged from 10 minutes to over an hour (American Airlines took an average of 1 hour and 32 minutes to answer our calls)!
As for leveraging Twitter to provide service to travelers in despair, Delta, Frontier and jetBlue proved their social media savviness. Delta and jetBlue even responded to customer service-related tweets within 14 minutes and 11 minutes, respectively. Delta took it one step further and personalized it’s Twitter support by denoting the initials of the specific agent at Delta who replied to each tweet. This is time saving and convenient in the event the issue needed to be taken to the phones and that agent’s name could be referenced as someone who was already aware of the problem / issue.
Considering the major challenges in reaching a customer service agent over the phone and the conversational nature of twitter as a channel for customer support, it was great to see these airlines use Twitter so effectively to help their customers. AirTran responded to none of the tweets we sent the day before Irene made landfall.
It’s obvious we have choices when it comes to choosing an airline, and while there are sometimes slight price differences that make us lean one way or another, at the end of the day it’s all about the customer experience. When things are calm or when things are crazy, we need our airline of choice to be able to help us quickly, confidently and in a genuine way.
Ever been told to “Go Climb a Tree“? Well, we have and it’s quite rude. Unless you’re remarkably dense (or you’re a squirrel), being told to go climb a tree is something no online shopper should experience. With that in mind, why are so many retailers eschewing good customer service and essentially telling us to do just that?
Using data for the power of good, we’ve come up with some interesting customer service facts about the use of phone-trees and how it impacts retailer call hold times. Only 21 of the Internet’s top 100 retailers connect shoppers directly to a live agent. That list expands to 22 if we also include 1-800 CONTACTS, which falls just outside the top 100 at #101 (We’re especially impressed that a business that bears its customer service phone number as its name, which leads to even higher call volume, steers clear of an IVR to ensure the best possible experience for shoppers).
Unfortunately for shoppers, however, MOST OF THE INTERNET’S TOP RETAILERS require shoppers to strap on climbing shoes, chalk up their hands, and prepare to mount what is often times an arduous phone-tree (otherwise known as an IVR — Interactive Voice Response). Sadly, the odds of calling a retailer and being put directly in touch with a human being are out of your favor.
This inability to be directly connected with a human is more often than not accompanied by frustration. If you identify with this frustration, take solace, you have solidarity — turns out 71% of shoppers become extremely irritated when they cannot reach another human being on the phone. Even worse, 67% of those same people surveyed became so frustrated that they hung up the phone without resolving their issue at all. To make matters worse, we found that of the top 100 retailers, those who use an IVR have an average call hold time of one minute and fifty one seconds (1:51). Compare that to the fifty one second (0:51) average call hold time of retailers that do not use an IVR, and you can definitely pick up a trend.
So what can you do to help ensure that the first thing you speak to is a human and not HAL (or any other computer system for that matter)? Our ratings are a pretty solid indicator. Turns out, ten out of the top ten retailers with the shortest average hold times do not use phone-trees. Even better, those same ten retailers all achieved either STELLAService Elite or Excellent ratings.
(click below graph to enlarge to full-view)The above chart was updated in September 2011: Fingerhut.com, which was included in the original post, has since been excluded due to an insufficient sample size.
31% of the Internet’s top 100 retailers have call hold times under one minute. Out of that group, 90% are rated either Elite or Excellent. While average call hold time is by no means the be-all end-all when it comes to a retailer’s customer service, we think it’s an important indicator of the overall service you’re likely to receive. Take a look at our ratings. Although not every retailer who has earned a top rating will put you directly in touch with a human when you call them (or make you wait less than a minute), there are many that will; and there are even more that will provide you a terrific all-around customer experience!
Here at STELLAService, we try not to name names when complaining, but I’m sure you can think of a company whose customer service call hold times are consistently so long that you have to block out a time for it in your schedule.
What if I told you that you’ll never have to wait on hold again? Meet LucyPhone, a free service dedicated to preventing the many headaches, neck cramps, and frustration caused by long hold times. Featured most recently in a New York Times article and also on Lifehacker and The Consumerist blogs, LucyPhone does the holding for you. Log on to LucyPhone.com and create your free account. Back on the homepage, you can search for the company within their existing directory of used numbers, or enter the number you wish to call. You then enter your own phone number, and click start. Within seconds, LucyPhone calls you, and reminds you how things work, then connects you to the number you entered online. Things start off as they normally would, until you get put on hold to wait for the “next available customer service representative.”
How many times have you wanted to hang up at this point? After ten minutes? Twenty? An hour? Now you can. When put on hold while using LucyPhone, you simply press ”**” and your phone will be disconnected, while Lucy stays on the line. Feel free to do other things, without having to hear annoying hold music or needing to keep your head pressed to the phone waiting for an answer. When a live agent is on the line, Lucy calls you back immediately and connects you both. If you get put on hold again, just press “**” again!
While LucyPhone’s success does require some cooperation from representatives (albeit this is minimal – when they pick up your call they hear a recording telling them to press “1″ in order to be connected with the awaiting customer), LucyPhone is mutually beneficial for the customer service representatives.
“We’ve cooled their jets a little,” co-founder Tom Oristian said of LucyPhone customers. “These agents are delighted to have customers ready to talk about the problem at hand instead of ranting about how long they’ve been on hold.”
Now, if only there was a solution for waiting in long store check-out lines…
DISCLAIMER: While LucyPhone helps to make things less annoying and more convenient, a long wait for a response is annoying and inconvenient regardless of how the time “on hold” is spent. This invention does not mean –and this post is not trying to suggest- that long call hold times are now okay. Sorry!
Some critics are talking about how the world of e-commerce lacks the personal experience of shopping in a store. Without being face to face, often times what we’re also missing is the relationships with the store employees.
Perhaps the difference is more noticeable for me. I grew up in a town where any franchise-style stores are banned to help preserve the town’s beauty. Sounds crazy right? I loved it. When you have go to a different Mom and Pop store for each thing you need, the store clerks get to know you. Even with big discount stores in the next town over, I chose to stay loyal to the Mom and Pop stores for the relationships I made and the way they made me feel. I’m sure you can think of a store that you go back to for the same reasons.
You know that one website where every time you sign on someone smiles at you? Oh yeah, that doesn’t exist (and would actually be kind of creepy). But one important gesture that websites can make to their customers is to get as close to a relationship as possible by making an effort to make them feel like you know them.
I recently read a blog post by Joe Rawlinson on returncustomer.com about how the most important word you can say to your customer is their name. It’s incredible how little things like that so often get overlooked yet are so incredibly easy to incorporate. Emails can automatically insert the customer’s name throughout the message. On the phone, CSR’s should make a point to use the customer’s name in the conversation and when saying thank you and goodbye.
At the heart of things, the simplest additions by e-retailers to personalize interactions can make a big difference in the customer’s experience. Rather than the ones who address us like were all the same, the companies who are genuine in attempting to know each and every customer are the ones we’ll gladly take the time to get to know too.
Earlier this month, New York Senator Charles Schumer proposed radical legislation that would create cost incentives for companies to keep customer service jobs in the United States. His proposal charges companies a $0.25 excise tax (a big number!) on calls transferred to call centers outside of the country. As you’re probably aware, many American companies outsource their customer service representative (CSR) positions to foreign countries because of reduced labor costs, a practice that many feel reduces the quality of service provided and also takes jobs away from Americans.
In addition to penalizing companies who outsource this function of their business, the bill would also require companies to disclose (via an automated voice system, I’d imagine) which country a customer service representative is handling a call from. This requirement would lift some of the fog from the hazy call center landscape and provide online shoppers with unprecedented insight as to how companies handle their inquiries. Theoretically, U.S. shoppers who wish to support a national economy would be able to exclusively shop at those organizations that keep their call center jobs within the country. No matter which side of the fence you’re on, this is a powerful concept.
What do you think about this piece of legislation?
Comment below or Tweet about it here
We all know that it’s difficult to write clearly. Take this sign as an example:
Yes, I’ll admit that this picture was taken in a foreign country and most likely written by someone who had a few too many cocktails during their Rosetta Stone session. Nonetheless, I am sure you can relate to being in a writer’s funk.
What about speaking clearly? Do you think you’re better at conveying your message when speaking aloud? I’m not sure either. But what I do know is that you should not let an interactive voice response (IVR) system help you decide. What’s an IVR, you say? An IVR is a phone based system that allows customers to complete an agent-less transaction through self-service. You know, it’s the robot on the other end of the phone that “better directs” your call whenever you ring a customer support hotline. I personally find IVR systems annoying and on top of that, they have me convinced I have marbles in my mouth. Here’s what generally happens:
Company IVR: “Hello and welcome to XYZ Company. To better direct your call, please specify the reason for your call. You can say ‘sales’…”
Company IVR: “…I’m sorry, the system could not recognize your request. You can say ‘sales,’ ‘technical support’…”
Me: “Sales! Arggg”
Company IVR: “…I’m sorry, the system could not recognize your request. You can say…”
Company IVR: “…OK, you said ‘Sales.’ To better direct your call, what type of product are you calling about?…”
Me: At this point, I’m usually pressing “0″ as if I’m playing a video game with my nephew and required to rapidly tap a button on the controller.
Company IVR: “I’m sorry we could not process your request. Please hold as we direct your call to the company operator.”
Generally, dealing with an IVR system turns my mood from good to bad in a matter of moments, which is perfect timing for that lucky customer service representative (CSR) who handles my call. I understand that IVR systems can be a great tool for companies to handle inbound call volume, especially with the further improvement of these platforms. But for now, I can’t help but believe that IVR system’s generally hurt companies more than they help by frustrating customers and portraying an “it’s tough to do business with us” attitude. I guess that’s why I laughed so hard after watching this Ally commercial….
Is there anything more adorable than babies doing everyday grown-up things? No wonder the customer service is so great at Diapers.com…the customer service reps have real, practical experience using all the products sold on the site!
Great new add campaign for Diapers.com – a testament to the company’s dedication and focus on providing exceptional customer service.