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Facebook, Twitter Bridge Customer Service 'Last Mile'

The majority of customers are frustrated with customer service offered by communications and high-tech vendors, but social networking tools may enhance the customer experience.

Communications and high tech vendors have been striving to improve their customer service but customers generally still feel ignored by the vendors, according to a new study by Accenture.

Although there are no surefire solutions, the management consulting firm believes use of social networking could help deliver improved customer service. In fact, some vendors are beginning to tap the value of social networking features like Facebook and Twitter as well as traditional customer forums and review sites. The dilemma is underscored by the Accenture findings that revealed that firms’ efforts to improve their customer service often -- about 60% of the time -- failed to impress their business and residential customers.

The report, entitled “Lessons from the Recession: Where Customer Service and Support Investments Yield Superior Returns for Communications and High-Tech Companies”, is based on surveys with more than 2,500 executives and consumers in communications and high-tech fields.

“Companies are investing in customer service,” said Accenture’s Joe Hughes in an e-mail, “but at the same time customer expectations are rising -- in many cases faster than the investments. Some of the investment has been to reduce costs, which favorably impacted the way clients perceive customer service, but the path to more profitable, longer lasting customer relationships centers on improving the customer experience.” Hughes is senior executive with Accenture’s customer service and support business.

The 15-country survey found also that vendors tended to invest more in customer service for enterprise customers than for residential customers with the expected result that 84% of enterprise customers think their business is valued by vendors while just 40% of residential customers think their business is valued by their vendors.

Hughes suggested that many customer service problems can be and are being improved by the use of investing in new social networking “that enhances experiences for customers. Specific social networking investments include customer relationship management tools, remote services, and offering flexible schedules and availability of a service professional for customers.”

“Cheaper isn’t necessarily better,” said Hughes, “Now any mistake can be made public and broadcast on social media. Field service is key -- the days of ‘black box third party dispatch’ are ending -- this last mile of customer service needs to be handled better. Third party dispatch must be integrated into the core systems. DirecTV makes third parties wear the same uniforms and even has a haircut standard, for instance.”

Hughes noted the study found that 92% of enterprise customers and 81% of residential customers said they are more likely to continue doing business with vendors whose support they believe has improved.

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