Most people aren’t surprised when we tell them 80% of companies say they provide superior customer service. But most are surprised when we tell them only 8% of those companies’ customers agree.

This means 72% of companies who say they provide superior customer service are wrong. This enormous disconnect raises some interesting questions.

If most companies’ customer service is so excellent,

  • Why do half of all customers report that service reps fail to answer their questions and/or resolve their problems?
  • Why do three out of four customers decide not to buy because of a poor service experience?
  • Why do three-fourths of dissatisfied customers name incompetent and rude service as the reason they abandoned a brand?
  • Why do one million people a week tweet about bad service experiences?

Here is a specific example from our case files:

The Boss at a company well-regarded for product quality was skeptical about the endless stream of glowing reports that arrived at his desk. He asked us to take a closer look at customer experiences and report directly to him. This took all of his gatekeepers out of the loop.

Using our investigative approach, we found twice as many customers with problems than his gatekeeping executives had reported. We also found half of his customers had experienced a disappointing experience with sales, service, and customer support.

Why were the company’s internal reports so invariably and overwhelmingly positive? We found these reasons:

  • Most customers that have problems don’t bother to complain, because it’s too difficult, there is nothing to gain, and it won’t do any good.
  • The satisfaction survey gatekeepers had been using asked the wrong questions of the wrong people. There are more ways to do this than most can imagine.
  • Executive gatekeepers interpreted results in ways favorable to  positions they had already taken.
  • Executive gatekeepers wanted to present The Boss with only good news.

So if you’re The Boss, what can you do about it?

  • Actively investigate the 90% of negative experiences you don’t hear about.
  • Benchmark your internal satisfaction surveys with objective third-party surveys, to ensure you are asking the right questions of the right people.
  • Have the hands-on people who actually conducted the research deliver their reports to you directly and privately. Then compare these findings with what your Executive Gatekeepers show you.

You can’t fix a problem if you don’t know you have one.