Brands must focus on service

07 February 2011

NEW YORK: Many brand owners fail to deliver high-quality service in the eyes of customers, but firms like Delta Airlines, Mattel and Family Dollar Stores are all investing in this aspect of their operations.

Research group Forrester surveyed more than 7,700 Americans about 154 brands across 13 different sectors.

Overall, 35% of scores fell into the "OK" category, and two-thirds of the featured products either received this title or were perceived as being "very poor".

By contrast, only 6% of the sample secured an "excellent" status, a decline from 10% during the same study last year.

"What this tells us is that mediocre-to-bad customer experience is the norm, and great customer experience is really hard to find," said Reineke Reitsma, a Forrester analyst.

Additional figures covering the European financial services industry, found 34% of respondents would inform friends when their expectations were not met.

Another 19% recommended that people avoid the company concerned, while 17% switched to an alternative provider, 15% wrote a letter of complaint and 9% reduced the funds in their account.

Digital responses proved somewhat less widespread, as just 4% awarded the relevant operator an unflattering rating online, and 3% uploaded a negative review.

"Only organisations that value their customers truly and build their organisation around their customers' needs will deliver an 'excellent' experience," Reitsma added.

Delta Airlines is tackling this issue head on, announcing regular training schemes for more than 10,000 staff, from baggage agents to individuals working at ticket counters, as part of a $2bn (€1.5bn; £1.2bn) investment initiative.

The carrier generated the largest number of complaints submitted to the Department of Transportation between January and September 2010, linked primarily to punctuality and cancellations.

"Nobody here aspires to being what we were last summer," Glen Hauenstein, Delta Airlines' evp, network planning, revenue management and marketing.

Toy specialist Mattel also embarked on a turn-around programme in this area, after witnessing considerable challenges during the opening six months of 2010.

"Our inventories were too low and our customer service levels suffered as a result, and we were plagued by customer service through the whole first half of the year," said Robert Eckert.

These problems meant many retailers ran out of products, damaging relations with consumers.

"Unlike that situation, this year we are absolutely committed to having better customer service, to taking care of our retailers, and we're going to have more inventory in the first part of the year to do that," said Eckert.

Family Dollar Stores, which benefitted as shopper habits changed in the recession, is now seeking maintain such momentum.

"We know from our customer research that customer satisfaction is highly dependent on the interaction with our team," Howard Levine, the firm's ceo, said last month.

"So we continue to enhance our employee training with an increased focus on customer service and recovery, and we are investing in new labor scheduling and workflow management tools."

T-Mobile was recently named as the top-ranking brand in JD Power and Associates' annual Wireless Customer Care Performance Study for the second successive year.

"This is especially rewarding because it's based on direct customer feedback," said Brian Brueckman, T-Mobile USA's svp, direct to customer.

"Our customers know that when they contact T-Mobile, our employees work hard to earn and keep their trust."

Data sourced from Forrester, Wall Street Journal, Seeking Alpha; additional content by Warc staff