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Is customer service getting worse?

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“Customer service isn’t getting worse. Customer service is getting harder.” This was the message Barak Eilam, CEO of software provider NICE, shared at a recent conference in Las Vegas. How profound. And he’s right.

Surveys indicate that customers feel the service they receive is getting worse. A study by the W.P. Carey School of Business found that in 2013, customer dissatisfaction was 50 percent, versus 45 percent in 2011 and 32 percent in 1976. And yet companies are bragging in their marketing about the great customer service they provide!

Here’s my take: When it comes to customer service, the customer is smarter than ever. The best companies are becoming benchmarks for others—not just in their own industries but across industries. Companies such as Apple, Amazon, Zappos, Ace Hardware, Ritz-Carlton, Nordstrom and others consistently provide above-average service. They have demonstrated to the consumer what outstanding service looks like and have raised the bar. As a result, customers have begun to expect this level of service everywhere they go.

This makes it harder for less customer-focused companies—and that’s a good thing. Companies that really want to compete and stand out are being forced to rise to the example set by these customer-service leaders and provide a better experience. While keeping up may require some companies to make adjustments in the way they deliver service, it’s good for the customer—and in the long-run for business.

So, how does a small company match the example set by the big guys? Begin by identifying the typical customer’s journey. Determine the main touch-points and interactions with the customer. Think of each of these interactions as a link in a chain. If there is a weak link, figure out how to strengthen it. Then look at the sturdy links and determine what might be done to make them even stronger.

Next take a look at what is happening behind the scenes to support these interactions. The systems and people at work behind the scenes can make or break the customer-service experience. Do what you can to bolster those functions.

The truth is some companies just aren’t good at delivering customer service. But what about the ones making an effort and still falling behind? Are they really getting worse at delivering great customer service? Maybe not. Maybe they’re only lagging in the customer-service arena because the customer has come to expect so much. Maybe it’s just getting harder.

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Shep Hyken is a professional speaker and best-selling author. For more information on Shep’s speaking presentations, call 314-692-2200, email [email protected] or go to