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Customer Satisfaction Rates Are On A Steep Decline: Here's Why

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Brooke Lynch

customer satisfaction

2020 was a tough year for everyone, and even with all of our efforts to adapt to this unprecedented environment, customer satisfaction has continued to fall short. The American Customer Satisfaction Index released its fourth-quarter score for customer satisfaction, revealing a steep decline that began in 2018. Although it only dropped 0.9% in the last quarter, it represents the lowest satisfaction score since 2005.

This news is interesting when considering the widespread push we’ve seen in the past year for companies to offer better, faster, and more exceptional customer service. However, it offers some insight into the rising assumption that successful experiences are ones that proactively exceed customers’ expectations. 


Did We Pass The Golden Age of Customer Service?

According to the ACSI, there was a clear upward trend in satisfaction from the year 1990 up until 2014. Founder and Chairman Claes Fornells notes that when companies understood the financial impact of an investment in customer service, scores went up. However, this surge eventually flattened out in 2018, putting forth the question -- what changed?

Although it seems like companies are making every effort to improve and do whatever they can to deliver excellent experiences, why are satisfaction scores continually decreasing? Or is this decrease in satisfaction actually a product of increasing customer expectations?

The rise of Amazon gives customers the power to have almost anything sent their door within a couple of days, if not hours. The rise of concierge service, meanwhile, has introduced customers to five-star, luxury experiences with dedicated and utterly exceptional support. These concepts have greatly improved the customer experience, marking a distinctly customer-centric approach that has heightened the emphasis on hyper-convenient, over-the-top support. They definitely shouldn’t yield a decline in satisfaction, unless they are actually working to create expectations that the typical business cannot yet meet.

While it may not be feasible for everyone to provide this level of support, many companies are doing their best to enhance their customer service efforts. To dig a bit deeper into this trend, here are a few reasons customer satisfaction may be declining:


A Lack of Seamless Support

Part of the reason customer satisfaction may be decreasing is not the implementation of digital channels, but the lack of harmony between these channels. In the most recent CCW Digital Market Study, research indicates that the disharmony between channels is one of the most widespread challenges companies surveyed are facing in 2021.

When channels are disjointed, companies do not have a 360-degree view of the customer journey. This is not only a disadvantage to your company, in losing valuable insight into your customer’s end-to-end experience, but it also forces customers to repeat information and increase their overall effort. A lack of seamless support gives customers the impression that their time is not valuable; the goal is to make an experience as convenient as possible for users, which is not the case when they are inefficiently working across each different channel.

Additionally, although it may appear that digital channels have improved the customer experience, with the increase in accessibility and real-time support - a lack of integration can actually make this advanced technology a pain point. It’s important to consider whether your technology is actually offering valuable support to your customers. A cutting-edge messaging or chat platform transforms from perk to problem if it does not actually result in more convenient, personalized experiences.


Numbers Aren’t Everything

According to ACSI, another possible cause for this continual drop in customer satisfaction is the inefficient use of customer data. It indicates a need for improvement in the tools actually used for analyzing data. The company notes that in order to boost satisfaction, there needs to be a greater emphasis on cause-and-effect. Although modern intelligence tools often do a great job of analyzing large amounts of data through patterns, they may not be providing the more granular information needed to interpret the ‘why’ behind the numbers. As a solution, they recommend increased use of causal models in analyzing customer data.

While customer satisfaction is often measured through scores and numerical data, it’s important to understand the meaning behind these numbers. Simply seeing a score on paper does not necessarily help determine a solution or a method to improve the situation. Therefore, taking a closer look at the cause behind your customer’s satisfaction, or lack thereof, can be critical in improving their overall sentiment.

This could definitely be identified by reassessing customer data with a more causal approach, but satisfaction indicators may also benefit from a more qualitative counterpart, in the form of a survey or interview. Giving customers the opportunity to submit open-ended responses prompting an immediate reaction to their customer experience will give greater insight into existing data.

The rise of omnichannel communication has only amplified the importance of explanatory data. Suppose, for instance, that a customer leaves a negative rating after interacting with a phone agent. If you only look at the score, your assumption would be that the agent did or said something wrong. In reality, the issue might be unrelated to the agent’s tone or competence but instead a product of the customer wasting time jumping through multiple, futile digital channels before finally reaching the live agent. Without that explanatory insight, you would not know whether to focus on retraining the agent or redesigning the customer journey.