“Success is not delivering a feature, it is learning how to solve the customer’s problem”. – Eric Ries
Going by the quote above, among the top reasons for customer service gaps is the fact that companies fail at solving the problems of customers and focus only on making a sale. The current ‘breed’ of customers is a lot more intelligent, informed, and seems to have a lot less time. These aspects in turn have made customers much more demanding and less patient – they refuse to settle for less and expect companies to understand their needs, and provide top quality service. No company today can hope to gain a strategic advantage only through quality products. They must provide for the emotional needs of their customers too. Customer service is no longer a standalone aspect – it has become part of the complete set of offerings from a company. The rapidly changing customer expectations and the inability of companies to keep pace leads to customer service gaps.
Delivering top class service and enhanced value is something that every company must remain concerned about, and consciously strive to achieve. Even with top quality products, it would be difficult for a company to keep customers happy and retain them in this highly competitive marketplace if the customer service were below average. Companies must put together tools and processes in order to identify and fix customer service gaps. The process would involve identifying gaps between what customers expect versus the actual service provided by the company at every stage of the association and through every interaction. It is only after identifying the gaps that a company can implement methods to close them and enhance the level of service it provides to customers.
The challenge for companies lies in the fact that the view customers have of customer service is highly subjective – it depends on the individual needs and mind-set of customers. For some, a company may be the best they have ever worked with, while some other customers may have nothing good to say about the company. The customer’s perception of service quality depends on their expectations, and in most cases hardly ever matches with what the company believes to be top class service – the recurring classic customer service gaps. Given that customers have myriad choices today, it is the onus of companies to ensure that they bridge these ‘gaps’ and consistently endeavour to give customers exactly what they want.
There are several reasons why customer service gaps occur and reoccur. Most importantly would be a lack of understanding of customer expectations. Given that service is essentially intangible, and expectations change according to the changing needs and emotions of customers, it becomes hard to know what customers expect at any given point of time. There are a number of service quality dimensions that cannot be qualified, and often customers too either do not know what they want, or are unable to articulate their needs and expectations. Given all these aspects, companies often have to rely on historical data, guesswork, and their experience, which sometimes results in a proper grasp of expectations leading to customer service gaps.
Another reason for service gaps is a company’s failure to interpret correctly customer expectations, and as a result is unable to put in place adequate standards of service performance. This inability to interpret expectations despite understanding them, could be a consequence of the company’s unwillingness to do more, failure to commit to unfailing standards of quality, and the lack of dedication towards standards of quality. Some companies do not commit to service standards because they believe that it would be unfeasible for them, or that these standards would not be sustainable given the dynamic nature of customer expectations. Hence, while customers continue to expect, a company would either ignore or continue to serve based on its own capability without making effort to change or improve.
The most glaring customer service gaps occur when companies over promise and under deliver. This means that despite having service standards in place, the company fails to conform owing to several reasons. The customer service employees could either, be unable to or unwilling to perform their service duties due to poor work environment, inadequate pay, lack of training, inept leadership, lack of resources and equipment to do their job well, and other such reasons. In addition, very often the company’s sales and marketing teams usually make claims and promises on behalf of the company in a bid to make a sale – it is their way of making the company’s offerings sound big, better, exciting, and more beneficial. However, as the relationship progresses customers realize that the claims do not hold, and complaints begin to rise. Whatever the reasons, the fact is that ultimately customers do not receive the kind of service they deserve and expect, leading to dissatisfaction and frustration.
Another of the customer service gaps is when a company believes that it may have provided the best service possible, while customers may not agree. The experience of the service provided may be diametrically opposite to what the customer expected, leading to dissatisfaction. Unless the company completely understands the immediate needs of the customer, providing the most appropriate and top class service would not be possible. It becomes necessary for a company to constantly monitor and upgrade their services such that they never fall short of customer expectations.
Customer service gaps are a result of what customer’s expect based on their experiences, beliefs, values, lifestyle, personality, and other such aspects. The customer’s perception is the subjective part of the association. The perception is based on the current experiences the customer has with the company, the brand, and the offerings. Perceptions change consistently, and hence there is always a gap between what customer’s would expect versus what they perceive to be receiving. It would therefore be important for a company to understand the needs, expectations, and reasons of customers perceiving things in a certain way – and work towards bridging the customer service gaps.
Companies must remember that it would be better to under promise and over deliver. They must make it easy for customers to do business with the company, place orders, alter or delete orders, track shipments, make payments, and every aspect of the customer’s ‘relationship’ with the company. Companies need to let customers know that their needs and expectations are foremost and that the company would do anything to come through on its promises. Everyone in the company must understand the service level agreement, and work relentlessly to ensure that the company does not falter at any step or touch-point.
The fact is that customers are never going to stop expecting and neither would their needs remain stable. It is the job of companies to ensure operational excellence and all round focus on customers to optimize customer satisfaction, retention, and ultimately brand advocacy. When a company is able to recognize and accept that customer service gaps exist, only then would it be able to offer top quality customer service and help customers to achieve their business goals, while simultaneously strengthening their own market position and financial status. Accepting shortcomings would push a company to improve, and remove the reasons for customer service gaps such that it forges ahead of its competitors, and becomes the go-to company for customers, preferred employer of the best market talent.