Unmasking the Service Illusion: Why Listening to Customers Matters More Than Ever

Consumer Reports’ November/December 2023 issue is on newsstands now. The company’s flagship website and magazine publishes reviews and comparisons of consumer products and services, reaching millions of readers each month. The website (CR.org) has been called “the most successful online content business.”  

The Consumer Reports Magazine Covercurrent issue features an article entitled “9 Secrets to Getting Great Customer Service” by Beth Braverman. I was one of the sources for the article, which covers, as promised, tips and tactics for getting better customer service. It’s well-written, practical and addresses the widespread frustration with customer service.

Braverman characterizes the current the state of service this way: “Blame automated call systems, hard-to-navigate automated phone trees, understaffed call centers, and FAQs that don’t answer our Qs. It often feels as if companies are less generous and less concerned than ever about making their customers happy.”

Yep. And what a contrast with the content coming from our profession—the customer service and customer experience community: AI is a gamechanger that is pushing the boundaries of service; omnichannel is enabling seamless experiences; data analytics tools are powering personalized experiences; and so on. All true. But try to explain these developments to others who aren’t in the industry and you’ll often get incredulous looks and hear some service horror stories.

Clearly, customer experience is a work in progress and some organizations are far further along than others. But customers are trying to tell us: overall, things aren’t going so well.

Here’s my recommendation—as a leader, redouble your efforts to listen to customers, to really understand what YOUR customers experience. Many industry insiders equate listening to surveys. But customers are so over-surveyed that what surveys reveal can be limited. So, in addition to surveys, it’s imperative to include other sources, such as:

  • product and service reviews
  • social posts
  • community forums
  • focus groups
  • operational data
  • direct feedback from interactions
  • analytics and data analysis
  • customer interviews
  • employee insight
  • and others

My suggestion is to have your team brainstorm and identify all possible sources. Many organizations are not casting a wide enough net, so this can be an opportunity to get a step ahead. Then assess your feedback process—how well you’re funneling input into one place, making sense of it, and sharing this insight with the organization. When you have and can analyze feedback from many sources, a new world comes into focus.

Quotation on customer feedback from article

Here’s a power tip: there’s tremendous insight that comes from comparing customer feedback and employee feedback. Look for themes, where employees point to the same frustrations as customers. This is a powerful way to identify improvement priorities.

Whatever your role, my encouragement is to do your part to capture and really understand insight from customers. You may need to have a discussion with your team on how this process is going now and how it could be improved. You might also ask to see customer feedback—for example, be on the distribution list for summary reports that follow what’s happening.

We are indeed seeing a remarkable evolution in the realm of customer service. However, the true measure of progress lies in the experiences and perspectives of our customers. As they say in sports—keep your eye on the ball.

This blog post is from Issue #51 of The Edge of Service Newsletter®. Access this issue and past issues here.