A Harris Interactive poll finds that a whopping 95% of people believe it is at least somewhat important that companies know "who I am, my buying history, past problems or complaints, preferences and billing record." Some 37% said knowledge of personal history is important, and more than a quarter -- 27% -- called it "very important."
But you can't just know your consumers; you have to love them to keep them. "There's a whole generation of people coming up that will vote with their feet," said Frank Florence, VP-chief marketing officer of Chordiant Software, which commissioned the poll. "They say, 'I expect Bank of America to know me this well. I'm on Facebook, and everyone knows me. They know I like cheese ravioli.' "
Some 62% of people surveyed said they would not hesitate to cancel or switch services if they had a negative experience, and 60% said they had already done it at least once. Of the 28% of people who had never switched service providers, 78% said they would change if they received poor customer service.
Enduring bad rap
Younger consumers, in particular, are more likely to be less understanding of bumbled customer service, Harris' survey found.
That only makes sense when you consider what this publication has said again and again: This is the age of the tech-empowered consumer, where customer-service rants don't begin and end in a call center but live on in vitriolic e-mails, blogs, broadcast blasts and web videos. One bad customer-service episode doesn't fade quickly; it is revisited, repeated and replayed in perpetuity.
And that, of course, puts a new spin on the old customer-service adage that says if people like your product, they'll tell one person, but if they hate it, they'll tell 10 people. Now, thanks to technology, those 10 people are more likely to be 100, 1,000 or even 1 million.
"The technology age has really made consumers develop a real-time mentality," said Eric Fraterman, principal of Customer Focus Consulting.
Marketing executives who think negative chatter doesn't do real damage to their brands should rethink their mind-sets, said analysts and customer-service-industry insiders. "Your brand is impacted by all of your customer interactions," said Forrester Research analyst Bruce Temkin. "Today there are many more opportunities for the customer to interact with your brand -- and there are many more opportunities for people to discuss the interaction they had."
The good news is that technology cuts both ways. Companies can use it to better address consumers' comments, needs and complaints.
For example, companies such as Chordiant have developed sophisticated call-center software that can predict customer behavior and offer solutions in real time. Say a credit-card customer is upset with a monthly service charge incurred while stuck in an airplane with no internet access. The software can evaluate the customer's payment history and other behavior on file, analyze the problem and offer a set of solutions. In one case, an agent may be given authority to give the consumer a credit of up to $300 (rather than a standard $100) based on the software's conclusion that the solution has a 70% chance of satisfying the customer.
Of course, technology works best when mixed with quality people. "It's tremendously seductive to think we can use technology to solve all our problems. But customers, as tech-savvy as they are, just want to be helped," Mr. Fraterman said.