Customer Service Technologies to Watch

As a person in the midst of the job search as well as seeking project work or contract business, I’m interested in finding signs of life in the economy. One area where companies ARE investing right now are Customer Service Technologies.

The Wall Street Journal this morning reports:

Companies are trying harder to please customers amid the recession — and it appears to be working. The American Customer Satisfaction Index, a widely followed survey conducted by the University of Michigan, is at a record high. Other surveys also report gains in customer satisfaction. The results are unexpected, because customer satisfaction typically declines in a recession as companies cut costs, says Bruce Temkin, a vice president for Forrester Research Inc. In this downturn, though, he and other analysts say companies are protecting spending that affects customers.

Here are a couple of examples:

  • Sprint Nextel Corp began a service-improvement plan at the end of 2007. Call-center operators now are rewarded for solving problems on a customer’s first call.
  • Cheesecake Factory Inc last year added an online customer survey to its “mystery shopper” program to assess service in its 146 restaurants. “Chief Executive David Overton cited the service initiative Thursday when Cheesecake Factory reported second-quarter earnings that topped expectations, though net income fell.”
  • Comcast last year introduced software to identify network glitches before they affect service and to better inform call-center operators about customer problems. The tools, and more employee training, helped Comcast cut repeat service calls 30% last year.
  • US Airways Group Inc. last year deployed hand-held scanners to better track baggage, part of an effort to improve reliability, convenience and appearance.
  • Southwest Airlines Co. recently introduced a system that allows customers waiting for a call-center operator to hang up and receive a call back, without losing their place in the queue.

Forrester Research suggests that 57% of large North American companies employed an executive in charge of customer satisfaction in 2008, up from 27% in 2006.

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