Has customer service gotten worse?

Has customer service gotten worse?: Person in suit looks frustrated while using the phone outside an office building

No matter the product or service, in today’s oversaturated marketplaces, customers have more than their fair share of options to choose from. Because of this, people are getting more selective in terms of who they do business with. Yet despite this, a contradictory phenomenon seems to be happening at the same time: many people feel that customer service is, in general, getting worse.

In a world where one bad experience can cause a customer to call it quits, you’d think the opposite would be true and that customer service would be getting better. And for savvy business owners trying to stand out from the pack, prioritizing customer experiences is exactly what they’re doing. But numerous companies are doing the opposite—undervaluing their customers’ experiences and, intentionally or not, making decisions that lead to unsatisfactory customer service.

Is customer service really in decline?

One of the most apparent cases of declining customer service is the notable rise of interactive voice response (IVR) systems and chatbots. These automated programs appeal to businesses looking to save money, which is always a worthy endeavor… but not if it means pushing away customers who’d rather talk to someone helpful, empathetic, and well, human. 

Not only does IVR send the wrong message to callers—it puts your business at higher risk of losing potential business. How so? 86% of consumers state they prefer talking to a real person versus a piece of computer code. In fact, as customer service platform Gladly (PDF) writes, “IVR remains a wildly unpopular choice amongst consumers, with 98% admitting they try to bypass company IVR systems to get straight to a human service agent.” 

Doesn’t sound like IVR is very customer service-friendly! How can it be, when it’s literally the most impersonal way of “communicating” with someone who has taken the time to call your business? And, in many cases, chatbots are no better.

Are customer expectations rising?

With all the above said, there’s another way to look at this situation. Maybe rather than customer service getting worse, customers’ expectations are simply getting too high

And there’s certainly a case to be made for that. As noted by Hubspot, a staggering 88% of businesses report their customers “have higher expectations than they did in previous years.” But what’s behind that? 

For starters, as we mentioned above, customers can be more demanding because they’ve got more options. Consider the humble tube of toothpaste. There are approximately 50 major toothpaste brands offering hundreds of toothpaste products! Does society really need an entire grocery store aisle dedicated to boxes of toothpaste? Maybe not, but we’ve got ‘em nonetheless. And that’s just one example of oversaturation. 

In addition to that issue, 21st-century customers can easily do their shopping with the click of a button on their mobile device. As a result, they have little patience and when they do need service, they expect it fast, responsive, and personalized. So, with millions of e-commerce stores and mega-online markets such as Amazon, one of the only real differentiators is who offers the best customer experiences.

The double-edged sword of customer service technology

Okay, so it’s proven consumers don’t like depersonalized, automated customer service. But many businesses, large and small, seem to think it’s a necessary evil. 

Small businesses often don’t have the budget for an in-house employee to handle calls. Large organizations may receive so many calls they’d need a legion of receptionists to manage them all. This is especially true for businesses that need to offer speedy or round-the-clock responses

Either way, the rationale behind choosing automated systems typically boils down to cost savings (even though these businesses realize they’re probably bleeding money via lost revenue from people who hang up and go elsewhere). It’s a Catch-22. And it’s not technology’s fault. Actually, technology can be very helpful when used to augment rather than replace customer service. 

Walking the customer service/customer expectation tightrope

If we can say technology is a double-edged sword, let’s imagine that pleasing customers these days is like walking a tightrope! As mentioned, customer expectations are higher than ever. But in an era when it’s so tough to find new customers or clients, businesses need to do everything they can to meet that demand, or else someone else will. 

Remember, it costs less to keep existing customers than to find new ones. In fact, per Outbound Engine, “Acquiring a new customer can cost five times more than retaining an existing customer.” In addition, “Increasing customer retention by 5% can increase profits from 25-95%.”

So it’s worth it to invest in the art of providing stellar customer experiences—to include offering real human customer service! And that investment should pay off quickly, considering that 83% of customers are ready to pay up to 16% more for superior customer service, research shows.

People are tired of lame, impersonal service. They demand and deserve better. Smart businesses are perking up and paying attention because when customer experiences don’t align with customer expectations, customers start looking to trade up.

How businesses can start delivering better customer service today

To some extent, the question of whether customer service has objectively gotten worse or not is irrelevant, because, in the eyes of consumers, it has. Perception counts in the marketing game—and fortunately, small businesses have a simple solution to enhance their reputation for remarkable customer service instantly with virtual receptionists

With the right virtual receptionist solution on your side, you’ll be able to offer incredible customer service while taking advantage of tangible benefits for your business: 

  • 24/7 phone and chat services, 365 days a year
  • Standing apart from the automated service crowd
  • Increased customer satisfaction rates 
  • Elevated customer service reputation
  • More business opportunities
  • Collecting caller information effortlessly
  • Faster customer intake
  • Smoother payment processing
  • Easier scheduling 

Learn more about how virtual receptionists work.

The bottom line

Customer service can be the deal maker or deal breaker when it comes to your business success. 

If the customer service of your competition stinks, that’s great news for you! Meanwhile, if theirs is pretty awesome, you’ll have to step up your game by offering even better customer experiences.

Not sure where to start? Get a refresher on what customers really want from your business in our free ebook.