Good customer service more important now than ever beforeApple (AAPL) has earned my loyalty for treating me better than I deserved after I "dunked" two different iPhones. Too bad more companies don't look after their customers this well.

Details of the iPhone incidents are not important. Suffice it to say I was sober both times, and my wife wanted to wring my neck, particularly after the second occasion. I felt like an even bigger idiot when I lied to the Apple Store genius and told him that I couldn't understand why my $200 phone stopped working.

They saw right through my fibs both times and gave me a new iPhone even though I violated the smartphone's warranty.

That's great customer service, and as a recent survey by American Express (AXP) indicates, it's in woefully short supply.

Treating Customers Right? Priceless

According to the survey, a whopping 70% of Americans are willing to spend an average of 13% more with companies that provide "excellent" customer service. That's up from 2010 when 58% of Americans said they would spend an average of 9% with companies that treat them exceptionally well.

Sadly, 60% of Americans believe that businesses have not increased their focus on providing good customer service, while 26% think that companies are paying less attention to service.

With the growing power of customer review sites such as Yelp and Angie's List, that's a huge mistake.

Be Nice or I'll Walk

"Getting service right is more than just a nice-to-do; it's a must-do," Jim Bush, American Express' executive vice president of world service, said in a statement.

In these tough economic times, people won't put up with subpar service because they don't have to. In fact, American Express found that 78% of Americans have quit a transaction because customer service was poor. Almost 60% of Americans have lost their temper with a customer service worker.

Bad news spreads fast, too. Data from the survey found that consumers tell about twice as many people about the times they are treated poorly compared with the times they were treated well.

What Really Irks Us

Following a customer service script isn't the way to win hearts, minds and money. The American Express survey measured exactly how annoyed we get when we can't get a human being on the horn to answer our questions:

Common Phrase
General Population Most Annoyed By This Phrase
Most Irritated Group
"We're unable to answer your question. Please call xxx-xxx-xxxx to speak to a representative from xxx team."
27%
People age 18-29: 32%
"We're sorry, but we're experiencing unusually heavy call volumes. You can hold or try back at another time."
27%
People age 50+: 34%
"Your call is important to us. Please continue to hold."
26%
People age 50+: 29%
Source: American Express.

Good companies don't need surveys to tell them that treating people right is good for business. For example, my family and I recently ate at one of the most mismanaged McDonald's (MCD) we had ever seen. As an experiment, my wife decided to vent her frustrations over Twitter. Less than an hour later, someone at McDonald's tweeted back and asked us to fill out a customer comment form. What made the gesture particularly noteworthy was that it happened on a Saturday.

Customer service is like the weather because everyone talks about it. But unlike the climate, it's a problem that often can be easily solved.

Besides dining at McDonald's, Motley Fool contributor Jonathan Berr owns shares of McDonald's. Follow him on Twitter @jdberr. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of McDonald's and Apple; and creating a bull call spread position in Apple.


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90 Comments

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euftisemery1

I stopped reading this article once the author gave his example of customer service after lying to get free product out of Apple because he was a moron on two separate occasions. Giving discounts and free products to...bad...customers is not good customer service from a shareholder point of view.

People like the author ruin companies margins and put them out of business. There are too many people out there that have this type of mentality and it really irritates me.

September 30 2011 at 9:26 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Steven Howard

Only 25% of consumers trust the companies with which they do business, according to latest Accenture Global Consumer Survey. See http://www.keepinggoodcustomersblog.com/is-customer-loyalty-dead for more details.

Customer loyalty may not be dead, but, as I write in my most recent Keeping Good Customers Blog post, it is certainly comatose.

Other research shows that 64% of global consumers changed at least one service provider in the last year due to poor customer service. And yet organizations and their senior executives still don't seem to understand the importance of customer service.

Good post and thanks for the positive examples from Apple, which is often a shining light for us all.

September 29 2011 at 3:34 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
jhrooney

The worst customer service is getting a recording or computer in the first place., After that is talking to someone from India or Pakistan who can't speak or understand English very well, and has to follow a preordained script.

September 28 2011 at 3:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to jhrooney's comment
ilm9p

Amen, the coolies drive me nuts with their lousy English.

September 28 2011 at 3:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
billcac

Now if they only knew what customer service means! How about throwing a little common sense with a mixture of good old American capitalism thrown in!

September 28 2011 at 2:31 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
wch2011

The worst "customer service" is from Washington! The very people that take an oath to uphold the laws and the Constitution of the United States could care less about "serving" "We The People"!

September 28 2011 at 1:54 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
jwmgrand

Most Customers are so preoccupied and their abilty to FOCUS is very diminshed .... maybe because of Cell phones, and texting , and also their limited mental Capacity to process a contract or service being sold or discussed by the customer service assistant . But then ...when customer EXPECTATIONS ... are not achieved because of Communication ERRORS .. Its the Customer Service reps FAULT ! and a angry customer says ... you never informed me of that ... and the customer service rep says .... I underlined it in red on your invoice .... I see more and more customers not having the Capacity to enter into a contract ... and their is a growing number of the public that have mental Stress health problems that get triggered at Businesses and Retail stores every day ! Many people in Retail deal with ( crazies ) every day . ask any one of them !

September 28 2011 at 1:21 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
bwyou812

Believe me, I agree with the last person's comment, but do think what the problem is. Many are hiring people without much training involved and are very low paying jobs that don't give these workers any incentives. Many not all can't speak english well and don't get what you're trying to explain to resolve your issue.

September 28 2011 at 1:03 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Peter

Customer service is the image of the company. However, those who are hired to do the job are not properly trained to handle customer's enquiry. They don't even care whether their attitude can affect the business of their company.

September 28 2011 at 12:52 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
jwmgrand

EVERYBODY SHOULD HAVE TO WAIT ON THE PUBLIC FOR 6 MONTHS .... THEN PROCEDE STRAIGHT TO REHAB !

September 28 2011 at 12:29 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to jwmgrand's comment
ilm9p

And for the sweet love of God, the blacks are the worst. Their entitlement attitude carries over into everything.

September 28 2011 at 3:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
pyps

A T & T worst in the world. Cannot service what they sell. They want to expand? Yea Yea Yea. They should teach their employees how to say something as simple as "HELLO"

September 28 2011 at 10:57 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply