Customer-Service Perceptions and Reality

By Becker, Wendy S.; Wellins, Richard S. | Training & Development Journal, March 1990 | Go to article overview

Customer-Service Perceptions and Reality

Becker, Wendy S., Wellins, Richard S., Training & Development Journal

Customer-Service Perceptions and Reality

Is the customer always right? If so, corporations have a long way to go in improving customer-service training. Customers' perceptions of service quality are alarmingly different from the perceptions of front-line employees, says this study. Jane Miller walked away from the airport restaurant in disgust. She was close to missing her plane thanks to the restaurant's slow service, and her encounter with the uncooperative waiter had left her even angrier. After a long, hard week of training, the unpleasant experience stuck in her mind. Even though she travels weekly, and had found the restaurant convenient and the food good, Jane vowed she would never go back there again.

How often we hear stories like that one! Poor service can turn the most loyal, devoted customer into a former customer.

But it doesn't stop there. Chances are, Jane shared her bad experience with others. Research shows that the typical dissatisfied customer tells at least 10 other people about the poor service; many tell up to 20 people! The implication is clear: the airport restaurant lost a regular customer who probably influenced several more.

Most organizations stress the value of excellent customer service. A large number, however, only pay lip service to that value. Today, our service sector lies on the cusp of tremendous change. The huge growth in service-related industries, concurrent with the decline in available workers to fill service positions, will lead to an employment crunch in the 1990s. Employers will have a hard time finding-- and keeping--dedicated, hard-working customer-service people who will meet their customers' needs.

A perceptions study

In the past few years there's been a tremendous amount of research into customer-service issues. Very little of that research, however, focuses on the skills, abilities, and motivations customer-service people need to do their jobs successfully. Since these people represent the key link between customers and the service organization, the critically of their role cannot be overstated.

For that reason, we recently conducted a research study in conjunction with several major organizations. This innovative study had four major purposes: * to identify the dimensions, or job behaviors, required for effective customer service, from the viewpoint of both customers and customer-service people; * to assess the degree of proficiency with which the dimensions are performed from both perspectives; * to examine the impact of customer service on customer behavior; * to explore any differences between the perceptions of customers and those of customer-service people.

Our first step was to identify a list of dimensions we believed would relate to effective customer service. We examined more than 100 books and articles on customer service, reviewed numerous job analyses from our database on dozens of customer-service positions, and finally identified 17 dimensions of customer service. To check the accuracy of these dimensions and their definitions, we had them reviewed by a panel of job experts. You can find the revised list of dimensions with their definitions in the sidebar.

To get both the customers' and the customer-service people's perspectives on customer service, we devised two survey questionnaires constructed around the dimensions. Respondents rated each dimension on two scales, importance and proficiency. The importance scale asked respondents, "How important do you feel this dimension is to effective customer service?" Possible responses ranged from 5 (extremely important) to 1 (not important). The proficiency scale asked respondents, "How well do you feel customer-service people use this dimension when they interact?" Again, the responses ranged from 5 (always done well) to 1 (never done well).

More than 1,300 customers from a wide geographic range (including the United States, Canada, and Great Britain) completed one survey. …

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