Executives Give Their Customer Service Capabilities a Failing Grade


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I recently surveyed 58 business and technology decision-makers who are member of Forrester’s CRM Research Panel to from understand their strengths and weaknesses compared to 18 customer services best practices capabilities. I found that adopting customer service best practices remains a major challenge for both B2B and B2C organizations. In fact, more than one-third of the executives evaluate their use of customer service practices as “poor/below average.” And, an additional 22% rated their abilities as only “average.” My CRM panel members report relatively poor abilities in six critical areas.

• Customer service phone agent support. One-third of the executives I surveyed evaluated their ability to create incidents and route these to the right customer service agent based on call queue lengths and agent skills as poor/below average. Customers become frustrated and dissatisfied when they are serviced by agents lacking in the appropriate skills and knowledge to resolve their issues. Providing the right support tools to customer service agents is critical to avoiding this problem.

• Call center infrastructure management. Nearly 25% of my CRM panel members evaluated their time zone and language support for global agents to be poor/below average. And 28% give the same low evaluation to their ability to effectively manage, assess, assign, and match calls/emails to the caller. A weak service center infrastructure makes it impossible to serve customers efficiently.

• Customer service knowledge base. Nearly 40% of those surveyed evaluated their ability to automatically generate and rank frequently asked question (FAQ) lists as poor/below average. This gap makes it very difficult for customer service agents to quickly find the most relevant information with which to resolve customer requests. This lengthens call-handle times and frustrates customers who are not provided the most pertinent advice for solving their problems.

• Customer service self-service to live-service transition. Forty percent evaluate their ability to pass relevant information to the agent when a customer service session transitions from self-service to live-service as poor/below average. From a service provider point of view, multichannel orchestration increases the ability to achieve “one-call resolution” of an incident, a major driver of customer satisfaction, or dissatisfaction if not achieved.

• Customer service email response management. Fully 50% of those surveyed evaluate their ability to manage and respond to a high volume of incoming email and have the capability for agents to use a browser-based UI to access a single companywide customer information database as poor/below average. Inefficient email management processes are costly to the enterprise and risk customer dissatisfaction when responses to queries are not timely.

• Customer service forums. Well over half the panel members surveyed evaluate their ability to support customer service forums as poor/below average. Organizations that do not participate in and support fast-emerging consumer social networks risk losing control of how their products are perceived in the marketplace. And they lose the benefit of gaining insights from members of these social networks that might be used to improve their products and services.

What to do about this poor state of affairs? Customer service leaders and contact center professionals need play a strategic role and build the business cases for the people, process, and technology required to provide superior customer experiences. Only with a strong business case will executive leadership begin to realize the financial implications of poor customer service and experiences.

William Band
Bill Band is a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research. He is a leading expert on CRM topics, having helped organizations define customer-driven strategies to achieve distinction in the marketplace for his entire career. Click here to download free related research from Forrester (free site registration required).


  1. Is it just me? “More than one-third of the executives evaluate their use of customer service practices as “poor/below average.”” Really? That said, who’s running the circus? The number doesn’t surprise me, their willingness to admit it does. I guess my confusion stems from admission versus ownership. Where is the clarion call to action; follow me, stand up and be counted, the buck stops here?

    I wonder how those same executives rate their own performance. If one is not part of the solution are they part of the problem? Doesn’t their answer scream for any one of a handful of follow up questions? How long have you felt this way? How long has this been a problem? What is being done about it? What are you doing about it?

    If I ran the circus and any of these executives came to me with that statement without being prepared to answer what they were doing to solve the problem, they would have to find a new circus.

    Paul Roemer,
    Partner, Clinton Rubin


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