Customer Service

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Category: Business and Industry

Date Submitted: 02/14/2011 09:28 PM

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Customer Service as a Growth Engine

Companies Shift More Resources to Help Staffers Who Deal With Public to Reduce Frustrations and Improve Loyalty

Executives are paying more attention to customer service in an effort to increase sales and gain market share in the economic recovery.

Drug-store chain Walgreen Co. is training pharmacists to spend more time helping patients with chronic illnesses. Comcast Corp. is putting call-center agents through new training and instructing supervisors to coach their agents more. American Express Co. is expanding a program aimed at getting agents to build better relationships with customers.

Just over a quarter of the 1,405 companies surveyed by Accenture late last year said customer service would be the first area they'd increase funding for as the economy recovers. Some companies have begun that practice this year.

Businesses are changing their approach, too, dedicating more of their efforts to the customer segments considered most lucrative. It's an outgrowth of the recession, when companies scrutinized customer-service spending to see which business practices delivered the biggest returns.

Some executives also see a chance to woo frustrated customers from rivals through word of mouth and by creating pleasant experiences. In another Accenture survey of 5,000 consumers, 69% said they had switched at least one provider because of poor customer service in 2009. That's two percentage points higher than in 2008 and 10 points higher than 2007.

Walgreen is trying to gain the loyalty of patients with chronic illnesses, starting with diabetes. Since January, it has trained 500 pharmacists to work closely with diabetes patients. The pharmacists set up regular 20-to-45-minute meetings with patients to help them manage their disease. Pharmacists normally meet with patients for about three to five minutes. Walgreen is betting that loyal customers with lifelong illnesses will spend more money at the pharmacy and consolidate...