The Art of Customer Service
By David Dykes
This writer learned a lot about the art behind customer service years ago at The Charlotte Observer when he was assigned to report on various occupations by spending time participating in three: walking a postal route near Queens Road with a mailman delivering Southern Living magazines (his satchel was heavy!); loading golf clubs into the baggage hold of a commuter flight from Charlotte to Myrtle Beach (was it ever cramped!); and tending a McDonald’s drive-through (too many toys with the Happy Meals!).
So it was with great interest reading how South Carolina fared in recent research about customer service.
South Carolina is 38th worst in the country. But not The worst.
The top 10 worst states for customer service:
The top 10 states for best customer service:
The research, carried out by telecommunications provider TollFreeForwarding.com, looked at a combination of Google Trends and FCC complaints to identify which U.S. cities and states have the unhappiest consumers.
The study also looked at the psychological reasons behind complaints, asking whether high complaint rates can translate directly to bad customer service or if there might be other reasons consumers choose to make a complaint.
It found that while many complaints are made to receive validation of genuine bad experiences, they can also be a way to assert high standards.
“Complaints are never good for a business, especially in the modern digital age where a bad review on social media can be damaging to a brand,” Jason O’Brien, COO of TollFreeForwarding.com, said of the findings.
O’Brien added: “People complain for a multitude of reasons, not limited to bad service but also to position themselves in a higher position of power or guarantee high standards. Whatever the reasons behind complaints, businesses need to know not only how to avoid them, but how to deal with them when they do occur.”
Researchers measured overall figures from the FCC about complaints across multiple industries, and search trends for complaint numbers by location. So the research applies to complaints’ culture overall across the U.S. rather than just in telecommunications.
As part of the research:
Data was collected from FCC complaints over the last year, which were calculated in relation to the location’s population to create an overall complaint rate. This was combined with data from Google on which locations showed the most interest in searches for complaints numbers.
Google search trends from April 2020-April 2021 were analyzed for the term ‘complaints number.’
The top 10 worst cities in the U.S. for customer service were:
1. Pittsburgh, PA
2. Baltimore, MD
3. Atlanta, GA
4. Richmond, VA
5. Sacramento, CA
6. Orlando, FL
7. Las Vegas, NV
8. Jacksonville, FL
9. Miami, FL
10. Tampa, FL
Founded in 2002, TollFreeForwarding.com is an international telecommunications provider based in Los Angeles.
A privately held company, TollFreeForwarding.com provides businesses around the world instant access to new and existing customers via its immense inventory of international phone numbers.
The survey found that customer service is the key driver when it comes to securing and maintaining brand loyalty. Whether you’re interacting with the public in person or speaking to consumers from around the world through a virtual number in a call center, getting customer service right is vital to ensure ongoing success, TollFreeForwarding.com officials say.
How TollFreeForwarding.com did it
To identify the ‘worst’ areas for customer service, it looked at consumer intent as well as actual complaints. It used two metrics: location-based Google search trends for ‘complaints number’ over the past year (April 2020 – April 2021), and actual FCC complaint figures for each state/city.
Once it had the FCC complaints figures, it needed to work out a relative complaint rate for each location. To do this, it factored in each state/city population (analyzing the top 200 biggest cities in the U.S.) and calculated the number of FCC complaints in relation to the location’s overall population.
Each location was then given a score out of 50 based on complaints figures, and a score out of 50 based on complaints search intent. These were combined to give a total score out of 100 – the higher the score, the more complaints in that location.
TollFreeForwarding.com theorized it might not necessarily be that customer service is worse in certain areas. It said it could come down to that, but it also could be the result of cultural differences, meaning people in these areas feel more comfortable making complaints.
How to handle customer service complaints
Whatever the reason, a complaint is never good for business. TollFreeForwarding.com said that in this digital age, social influence is huge, meaning a public complaint can lead to a negative perception of your brand – even from those who have never interacted with your business.
The telecommunications provider also said that it’s not just lowering complaints that is important, but how you handle them when they occur.
It offered these tips:
Listen to complaints and be genuine with your response
When people complain, they often want validation – to know they’re being heard and that their concerns are being understood. The worst thing you can do with a complaint is to be defensive. Instead, keep calm and try to understand what has gone wrong as well as what can be done to put things right.
Begin by apologizing for the issue and thank your customer for reaching out – a little politeness can go a long way when it comes to demonstrating you care and that you’re listening to a customer’s concerns.
Respond quickly and offer solutions
Once you’ve established the issue, you should work to quickly correct the fault or offer an alternative solution. This could be resolving the complaint if possible or offering some form of compensation.
Learn from complaints
As well as handling complaints well in the moment, it is important to understand why they occurred and how you can avoid them in the future.
For most people, complaints might be well-intentioned. Customers might want to highlight bad service, an unsatisfactory product, or simply want validation after a bad experience. However, sometimes complaints can be linked back to a customer trying to assert themselves and, if you’re a manager, you need to be aware of the line between a genuine issue and staff intimidation.
TollFreeForwarding.com offered the reminder that whatever the reasons behind them, customer complaints are an inevitable part of a business. It says that while avoiding complaints in the first place is ideal, how you react to genuine complaints can also say a lot about your business and the service you offer.
And it added that accepting comments, learning from them, and using them to improve your service or products is key to great customer service and ongoing business success.
The bottom line: Customer service – it really can make or break your business.
David Dykes is editor of Greenville Business Magazine, Columbia Business Monthly and Charleston Business Magazine.