Rising Consumer Expectations, Not Worsening Customer Service, Are To Blame For Low Satisfaction, Temkin Group Finds

Out of 278 companies across 20 industries, USAA dominated this year's Temkin Group Customer Service Ratings for the third year in a row; TV service providers such as Comcast, meanwhile, continued to deliver disappointing customer service. Overall, 13 industries declined with regard to customer satisfaction and only six improved. The reason for this trend, however, isn’t necessarily worsening service. Rather, consumer expectations are growing and evolving, forcing companies to keep up not only with direct competitors but also with the companies outside of their industries that set impressive service standards.

Most companies generally fell within their industry averages, with only a few standout organizations significantly rising above competitors. For example, while fast food chains received an industry average rating of just below 60 percent and were deemed "okay" by the Temkin Group, Chick-Fil-A earned a score of 75 percent and took second place below USAA. It's considered a "very strong" performer. "One of the problems we've noticed this year is that companies are often comparing themselves to other companies in the same space, but not looking outside of that space enough," Aimee Lucas, vice president at Temkin Group, says.

To become more than "the best in the worst industry," companies need to look outward and learn from organizations that deliver outstanding customer experiences and service regardless of what industry they are in, Lucas recommends.

"It's important to not just look at industry peers but also look at customer experience leaders across the board. From a consumer's perspective, they're forming their experience based on experiences across industries. All of those shape expectations, and expectations are growing faster than companies can make changes," she says. In USAA's case, the climb to the top was driven largely by conscientious leadership. With a customer- and employee-centric approach to its business aim—providing financial security to its members and their families—USAA consistently earns high marks because it aligns culture and process, according to Temkin Group research. Out of all the industries surveyed, hotels and computer companies were the most improved since 2014.

As for the companies that performed poorly, Lucas says that in many cases, the unsatisfactory service is inexcusable. With TV service providers, for example, the lack of improvement is concerning. Companies such as Comcast have extensive access to employee information, including intelligence on local service uptime, customer preferences for channels and programming, and other data points, yet they're rarely proactive about providing customer support. Organizations in heavily regulated industries, on the other hand, have more of an excuse for poor marks, Lucas points out. "A lot of the time, they are limited by certain rules and restrictions. It's not an excuse for bad customer service necessarily, but it’s a reason why it might be harder for them to compete in certain aspects of service," she explains. Despite the challenges they face, heavily regulated industries such as healthcare and financial services were not the ones that declined the most. Instead, supermarkets, rental car agencies, and major appliances saw the heaviest drops.

Recently, Temkin Group also released the findings from their report on Customer Forgiveness, which Lucas says is closely linked with the customer service ratings the research firm has observed. Forgiveness is closely related to loyalty, she explains, and its virtually impossible for brands to build up customer loyalty and a propensity to forgive without focusing on customer service. Companies that did well in terms of customer service also rated highly on the forgiveness scale. USAA earned the highest score on in the Forgiveness Report as well, for instance.

"Customer service is the primary channel through which a customer is going to get help when something is wrong, so if you want that customer to be forgiving and remain loyal, that customer service component is critical," Lucas says. 

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