The Difference Between a Chicken Sandwich and a Cable Subscription

Kevin Payne | April 15, 2014

The Tempkin Group recently published their annual customer service ratings. They surveyed consumers about their recent experiences with 268 companies spanning 19 industries. The report can be downloaded for free here. Their assessment is based on ranking companies across three dimensions:

  • Functional: Were you able to accomplish what you wanted to accomplish?

  • Accessible: How easy was it to interact with the company?

  • Emotional: How did you feel about your interactions?

Food service and grocery stores received the highest ratings while health plans, hotels, and TV service providers got some of the lowest scores. Tempkin found that, overall, customer service ratings in 2014 were similar to those of 2011 with 37% of companies earning a good or excellent rating. Let’s pause for a moment. If you read that quickly you might just think “OK, things are about the same,” and that may be a sad enough statement on its own. But when you think about it, that means 63% of companies rate only OK (38%), Poor (20%) or Very Poor (5%). Facing tough competition, why aren’t more companies striving to make customer service a competitive advantage? Or, if they are trying, why aren’t they being successful?

Interestingly, the companies that ranked highest are generally the companies you deal with in a single, face-to-face, contained, simple experience. That is, you order a hamburger or you buy a loaf of bread and you’re done with the experience. The ones that rated lower involved managing your healthcare plan, adjusting your hotel reservation, or trying to understand why your cable bill went up another 20%. What are the common denominators?

Complexity, continuity, and context.

A few weeks ago I went to a Chick-Fil-A (ranked third overall) and I had great customer service. I was greeted with a smile, advised my order would be about two minutes, and was thanked. The place was clean. The staff friendly. The food fresh. It’s a simple transaction that maintains continuity and context. I ate my lunch and left.

That’s a lot different from going online to deal with your cable bill, having to enter your account and address, not being able to resolve the problem, calling the 800 number, and then having to repeat the same information over again (once if not twice) before your account info is found. And, it’s made even more complicated because consumers often do not complete these more complex journeys in a single interaction anymore. They interact in starts and stops, using different devices. It’s frustrating and time consuming for the customer because the cable provider isn’t maintaining continuity or context throughout their journey.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Modern customer service solutions provide the ability to maintain context and continuity across channels and devices and make it simple for the customer to solve their problem or take care of their business – even for more complex transactions. These solutions can predict and anticipate the customer’s journey, minimizing the amount of time it takes to complete a transaction and reducing the cost of servicing the customer. By utilizing big data and predictive analytics, customer service in complex transactions can be made much simpler and more effective.

While a bit understated in the report, Tempkin proposes six stages of customer experience maturity for a company: Ignore (organization does not focus on customer experience management and does not view customer experience as core part of its value proposition), Explore, Mobilize, Operationalize, Align, and Embed (CX is an integral part of company culture and not managed as a separate activity or focus area). Think about this as you interact with an airline, cable company, hotel chain, or bank. Is the company you’re doing business with trying to tell you they’d rather not hear from you or committed to you as the customer? Whether your transaction involves buying a chicken sandwich or re-upping your cable plan, it’s not hard to tell who’s committed to providing excellent customer service.