Corporations in every sector are spending more than ever before in an attempt to improve their customer service levels. Every year they pour hundreds of millions of dollars into new campaigns, systems and carbon copy training programs that promise them the ability to win customer loyalty. Despite their efforts, however, customer satisfaction results continue to fall. Why aren’t these massive efforts paying huge dividends? One would think that by now the organizations that have committed these vast resources would have a large population of satisfied, loyal customers, but in most cases just the opposite is true.

The Malaysian Government with a new leader at the helm is embarking on easily one of the most ambitious efforts to eradicate bad service within its ranks. Mainstream media attention is on particular governmental departments whom are notoriously known for their abysmal service. Are these corporations and governments practicing prevention or applying a cure?

Think about the scenarios that play out every day. Where is the “fast” in the fast food industry, when drive-up or walk-in service can now take ten, fifteen, even twenty minutes or more? Why are there so many IVRs that offer callers recorded messages warning that due to unusually high call volume, wait times may be many minutes long? Or how about small businesses, such as dry cleaners and specialty stores, whose staff do not care to remember customers’ names?

Today, customer service and satisfaction are more often than not disappointing. The main problem is that the majority of the money being spent is simply covering the symptoms of the epidemic. When sick, no matter how much cold medicine you take, you will still feel miserable because it can only lessen the symptoms. The same holds true in business or government in this instance. To overcome this problem they must get to the cause of the sickness rather than merely cover the symptoms.

The cause of the sickness is simple. Governed by strict rules and processes, an employee is not left much room to exercise due empathy and create a valuable customer experience. Bogged down by the daily routines of processes, employees become robots of habit, unable to allow themselves to feel and create a delighting moment for the customer. Often times, inconveniences that are caused to customers are internal issues, yet customers end up paying for this by getting improper handling of their issues and requests. This leaves a bitter taste in the mouth and a bad emotional experience that resonates. Customers may forgive but they do not forget.

The cure is straightforward; educate your people as to how the customer feels when things go wrong. Teach them to empathize. And then take your training an important step further: Empower your people to make a real difference in creating opportunities to build customer loyalty. The cost to the company for doing so is typically small to insignificant, yet the payoff is often gigantic.

Ken Ng
CEO/Senior Managing Consultant