AOL Tops in Customer Service, aka the “Best of a Bad Bunch”

In a recent report published by Forrester, AOL earned the top score among the USA’s largest Internet Service Providers. This seems like something to crow about until you look at the details, as Larry Dignan (of ZDNet) did. What he found took most of the air out of AOL’s sails.

AOL did in fact have the highest score in the report. But that’s like bragging about hitting the longest shot at your local putt-putt golf course. AOL’s score of 71 gave it a highly coveted “okay” ranking in Forrester’s Customer Experience Index. Verizon earned a “poor” rating and Comcast and Charter trailed the pack in the “very poor” range.

“Good” and “excellent” rankings were nowhere to be found in this industry segment.

I doubt this surprises many of us. The last time I requested help from Comcast through their regular channels I never heard back from them. If they didn’t have Frank Eliason and his team monitoring Twitter then I would have no idea how to get help from Comcast.

The sad thing is this does not have to be. There is no reason these big companies can’t do better with their service. There are many large companies that deliver amazing service to their customers every day. They do so because the people at those companies care about serving their customers well.  And it’s not just front line employees either. It’s everyone. These companies have created a culture that values service.

You could argue that the big ISPs don’t need to deliver great customer service. Many of them are monopolies. And, as a group, they control over 90% of the access to the Internet. So, why bother? Customer need them, not the other way around, right?

But things change. And with technology changing as fast as it does, the big ISPs will have more competition than ever. A focus on customer service now could pay huge dividends later when their market is more competitive.

So, what can a company do to improve when their current level of service is not so good?  Here are four things they could do that would help them improve customer service.

1. Get management in direct contact with customers.

The work of any business happens at the point of customer contact. It does not happen in executive offices or board rooms. Customer facing employees and their customers are the two groups of people who know exactly how a company does business. A company leader will never know this by reading reports. There is no substitute for direct customer contact.

2. Get customers involved in creating customer service standards.

No one knows more about what your customers want than they do. So get them involved. And I don’t mean lengthy surveys or phone calls by consultants. Talk to them like real people. Doing this one on one using your employees will produce much better results than using consultants or survey companies. Then use their input to create meaningful standards in how you will serve your customers.

3. Get employees involved in planning and implementing customer service standards.

As you gather information from your customers about how to best serve them, make sure your employees are part of the process. Get them involved from start to finish. Include them in planning, information gathering, customer service standard setting and implementation.

4. Leadership must show everyone customer service is a priority.

The leaders set the tone and direction for a company’s culture. If the top leaders expect great service for every customer every time, then they will naturally do what it takes to create a culture that breeds such service.

Ultimately, for a company to deliver fantastic service consistently across their organization, the top leaders need to make that a priority. Then they need to demonstrate this in their words and their actions. It needs to be at the core of everything they do.

For true, sustainable improvement in customer service quality, the big ISPs must make a commitment at the highest level of management to deliver the best service they can to every customer every time with no exceptions.

What do you think? What should the big ISP’s do to improve their customer service?

The article was written by Kevin Stirtz