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There’s a common misconception that our society has been on a dramatic downhill trajectory ever since some enviable golden age in which everyone was happy and prosperous. It is this narrative (certainly exacerbated by a media dominated by disaster stories) that presidential contender Donald Trump has banked on, with his “Make America Great Again” slogan. But it turns out that when it comes to customer satisfaction, we really do need to make America great again. The American Customer Satisfaction Index reports that national customer satisfaction is declining.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index is at 73.4 on a 100-point scale, which is the lowest it’s been in a decade. What that means: the idea of a golden age for customer service is not a myth, it just hasn’t existed in years.

There are two explanations for this: either customers have gotten more demanding, or service has gotten worse. We believe it’s both.

Let’s take a look at what’s happened in the last decade that could have resulted in this:

  1. Mobile adoption took off. In 2010 there were 62.6 million smartphone users in the U.S. In 2016, this number has risen astronomically- to 207.2 million, and is expected to reach 236.8 million in 2019.
  2. Speed has become the norm. 53% of US online adults are now likely to abandon their online purchase if they can’t find a quick answer to their question. Not only has online and mobile shopping become the norm, but consumers’ expectations have grown to match it- they want answers at the speed of the Internet.
  3. Consumers moved from in-person communication to messaging. Today, there are nearly 4 billion global active users of messaging apps– in fact, users open messaging apps more frequently than even Facebook or Instagram, and the top five apps in the world are all messaging apps.

Add to these technological shifts an economic crisis, lack of wage growth, and weakening corporate earnings, and it’s no wonder that customer satisfaction is at an all-time low. Basically, consumer expectations are growing (which is quite natural), and at the same time businesses are in crisis mode trying to keep up.

Of the three phenomena listed above, very few businesses are keeping up with these new consumer expectations. Much like the BYOD movement that dominated business media five years ago, we are in a situation where the individual has surpassed the corporate. While businesses have struggled to implement speed, UX-friendly apps, and messaging into their businesses, their customers have become ever more technologically literate, and their expectations have risen in tandem.

Why Low CSAT Means Now Is The Best Time To Implement Superior Customer Service

Because customer satisfaction is so low, this presents a unique competitive advantage: any business that implements speed, mobile-friendly, and chat-based support will win against competitors. Customers are disenfranchised with the support they are receiving, and are therefore ripe for churn- these means your company can not only poach customers from competitors, but also keep them loyal through continued cutting-edge customer support.

Again, to compare it to the BYOD movement, you had employees who were highly technologically literate, and didn’t like the slow, bulky, IT processes of corporate jobs. Startups began to provide their employees the same technology that employees were using in their own lives- iPhones, iPads, and were therefore able to poach the top employees from other companies. In the same way, it’s time for businesses to go after tech-savvy millennials by using the same channels and tools that they use in their own lives: smartphones, chat, and rapid communication.

While the lowest customer satisfaction rating in a decade might seem like a bad thing (and for customers, it certainly is), it also presents a rare market opportunity. Now, more than ever, superior customer service is a competitive advantage, and those that seize it are also likely to claim a top market position.

Published August 23, 2016
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