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Human Resources

The Service Imperative

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There must be something in the air that has people talking about customer service. STORES’ cover story this month delivers exclusive research about what drives shoppers crazy, and as it turns out, we’re in good company: American Express and Oracle each released findings linked to customer service research in May.

While STORES’ data is largely based on store interactions, the American Express Global Customer Service Barometer casts a spotlight on social media; Oracle hones in on consumer views of live help online.

The American Express research found that social media-savvy consumers have high expectations: They spend more when they get good service — and abandon companies when they don’t. Though only one in five consumers polled say they’ve used social media at least once in the last year to obtain a customer service response, this group is highly engaged and vocal. The data finds that they are willing to spend 21 percent more with companies that provide great service (compared with 13 percent on average), and tell three times as many people about a positive service experience compared to the general population. But they’re not a very forgiving bunch: More than 80 percent have bailed on a purchase because of poor service, compared with 55 percent overall.

Oracle’s research produced some eye-opening findings related to social media. More than half of Twitter users expect a personal response within two hours of tweeting a question or complaint, and 51 percent of Facebook users expect a same-day response to questions or complaints voiced via the site.

The Oracle report, which closely examines consumer views of online help, drives home the desire of shoppers to interact with a live representative. More than half (57 percent) of consumers worldwide said that access to customer service via live help was among the most important features they expect from a website. The findings indicate that 50 percent of consumers use live help today, compared with 37 percent in 2009.

What’s the appeal? Thirty-eight percent prefer Live Chat because they can do other things while waiting for a response; 34 percent opt for this route so they can save or print a copy of the conversation.

One eye-popping figure: American Express found that 93 percent of Americans say companies fail to exceed their service expectations. That’s a scary number — downright haunting when one considers the challenges so many retailers face when it comes to managing social media.

Consumers expect answers, and they expect them quickly. If you thought they were frustrated when they couldn’t find help in a store, just wait and see how they react when they can’t access live help online or don’t get a response to a tweet. Customer service is now a 24/7 initiative for retailers and it needs to be staffed by a company’s best and brightest. Their survival depends on it.