Customer Service Far Worse Now Than During the Recession

With the US economy recovering steadily, you would think that both customers and the staff working with them would be happier, more carefree, and more relaxed – it makes sense after all. There are more jobs, there’s more money and people feel more secure.

However, the exact opposite is true – customers are receiving worse service than they did during the height of the recession. According to the University of Michigan’s American Customer Satisfaction Index, customer satisfaction (particularly in department stores and discount stores) is at its lowest level since 2008, when global recession hit. Specifically, the cleanliness and maintenance of the facilities, the attitudes of staff and the long wait times are the source of their complaints, with the comparatively relaxed post-recession attitudes of employees and employers seeming to be largely to blame.

This counter-intuitive drop in customer service quality comes as people get more optimistic about money, employment and the economy in general, precisely because of such optimism. In 2008, when the recession hit hardest, businesses faced intense competition for customers, prompting discounts, better prices, and all-round better service. The businesses’ employees, now with less job security than ever, worked harder than ever to please their customers, providing better service than had been seen in years.
Then the economy began to recover, and the fear and competition that had created such conditions lessened enough to see a drop in service satisfaction across the board. In the US, the biggest drop went to Macy’s, followed closely by Target and Nordstrom.

The improvement of the housing market saw increased competition between rival tradesman’s hubs Lowe’s and Home Depot, and in the UK, their counterparts B&Q and Homebase, but both groups saw drops of between 5 and 10% in satisfaction levels, while in supermarkets sucha s Whoel Foods, hits of 10% or more were common. With Whole Foods in particular, a specific lingering problem seems to be dragging them down.

“Whole Foods cannot shake its reputation for high prices,”the ACSI report states. “Customers have recently reported the perception of increasing prices despite the grocer’s statement that they are trying to align their pricing to be competitive with other grocery stores.”

So how can businesses rekindle their customer service excellence?

Motivating customer service staff and the businesses themselves to provide the best possible service is the key to success here. We saw after 2008 that such extremes were possible, but the motivation provided by the recession is no longer in place. Upping a business’ competitive spirit is the first step to providing excellent deals and offers to the customer, while incentivising customer service staff to go the extra mile is the rest of the battle. Having high standards for customer happiness, and providing rewards to staff who exceed them, will help make sure the customers walk away smiling!