Is Slow Service The Way To Win Customers' Hearts And Wallets?

Yes, according to recent research into consumer behavior. But how can you cool your pace while still solving problems on time?

"Get em' in and get em' out" is likely the unspoken motto of many customer support departments, but should we as consumers really complain? After all, we do want to minimize our time in the service queue, right?

On the surface, this may seem to be the case, but when we look at the actions of consumers in relation to customer support, we see a very different story unfold--while speed is certainly important, it is generally not a consumer's biggest concern when contact customer support.

In fact, consumer research makes a strong argument that spending more time with customers is actually the way to go.
Many notable entrepreneurs have already made the case for slowing down service through how they run their company. Zappos is the obvious example here, with CEO Tony Hsieh's philosophy always being focused on the happiness of the customer and community being built both in and around the Zappos brand.

Derek Sivers, founder of CDBaby (which he later sold for $22 million), holds similar opinions on service. His stance is that the kind of service that keeps people coming back simply cannot be rushed. He was so concerned about this aspect of the customer experience for his company that he coached employees into taking their time with customers, as he explains in this interview:

I used to request all my employees to intentionally take a little longer on customers calls.

I would ask them to pull up customers albums and catalogs; have a look at their pictures and gears--to learn a bit about them.

Imagine how powerful it is for a customer to know that he is listening to somebody who is a musician that gets him, rather than something like, Thank you customer 4325. How may I quickly handle your problem?

It's a great sentiment, but as any entrepreneur knows, long-term strategy also needs to be dictated by results. Is there any data to show that slowing things down with customer service is the right move to make?

There are certainly a few noteworthy pieces of consumer research that entrepreneurs should know about. Consider, for instance, this Gallup analysis on a study that examined customer engagement with a bank. The Gallup researchers wanted to find out which elements of the service experience affected engagement ratings, and their results will likely surprise those obsessed with service efficiency:

Gallup consultants found that the level of engagement felt by the bank's customers was affected by the speed with which these customers were served--a finding the company expected.

However, customer perceptions of the tellers' courtesy and their apparent willingness to help were far more important than speed of service in generating customer engagement. Customers who gave the bank high ratings on those "people" attributes were nine times more likely to be fully engaged--Gallup's definition of an emotionally engaged customer.

Author William J. McEwen, Ph.D. notes in this analysis that despite this evidence, many companies tend to solely focus on the speed of their service because, "Speed is easy to measure, and it seems easy to manage."

Companies often equate the fastest service with the best service, but ticket times do not show how well customers are being treated, and if the interactions are creating any sort of goodwill or customer loyalty.

Similar findings are apparent when we examine why a customer might leave a business for a competitor. According to RightNow's Customer Experience Impact study, consumers cited "rude, incompetent staff" as the No. 1 reason why they would leave a business, 18% more often than "issues weren't resolved in a timely manner."

As the finding above shows, there is definitely a connection between quality and speed, in that quality service isn't slow or inefficient. However, there is also a clear difference between the two--just because a service is fast doesn't mean it is good, as it overlooks customer's feelings on how well they were cared for.

In addition, the Jim Moran Institute published data from Lee Resources in 2010 that stated the following:

Seventy percent of complaining customers will continue to do business with you if you resolve their complaint. Ninety-five percent will continue to do business with you if you resolve the problem immediately.

The marriage between speed and service quality is apparent here as well, as is another important lesson: Customers are forgiving, but they care deeply about your ability to get issues resolved the first time around. When speed is placed as a priority, can you really be sure that your support team cares about first contact resolution over ticket times?

While company efficacy measurements may label a ticket time that's less than a minute as "excellent" service, customers don't always agree. Although they certainly care about an efficient process, the research above suggests that customers care far more about feeling welcomed and treated by competent, friendly employees.

In a quest to do things as fast as possible, many companies may miss the mark and pressure their employees to get customers out the door as fast as possible, forgetting that accuracy and quality care are often sacrificed when there is an impending time limit. The truth is that customer service is all about what the customer wants, and speed isn't always what they care about most.

As McEwen would so elegantly put it:

What builds a stronger tie to Arby's may not be whether a customer receives a sandwich in less than three minutes. Speed won't compensate for a cold, tasteless sandwich or for rude and incompetent service.

Make sure your service isn't leaving a bad taste in customers' mouths, either.

--Gregory Ciotti is the marketing strategist at Help Scout, the invisible email support software for small businesses. Get more consumer research on the customer experience from Greg's free guide on The Art of Customer Loyalty.

[Image: Flickr user Moazzam Brohi]

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3 Comments

  • CommonSenseService

    Thorough personalized service is important.  I experienced this type of service described from CD Baby when producing my audio book. (www.AllenSpeaks.com/shop)
    Teresa Allen
    Author: Common Sense Service

  • Sara Troy

    I very much agree with you, service personal attention is key to success in any business, you cannot cheapen out on service.