Is a bad economy good for customer service?

Cutbacks might seem prudent right now, but smart companies are investing in customer service during the downturn

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"All products in most categories end up being about the same eventually," he says. He gave copiers as an example, but this is true for computers, medical equipment, and even home appliances. Eventually most companies offer a similar choice of features.

"And they all eventually gravitate to the same price," he says. "The only distinguishing factor is the service. And companies recognize that if they cannot provide good service, they will not be able to attract customers."

In fact, in this era of social media, even a few incidents of poor service can have a quick and nasty effect on customer opinion. (And suing customers to shut them up can really backfire.) "They know," says BenBassat, "their mistakes will be reported right away."

This puts the 32 percent in the Accenture survey who aren't spending to improve service in this downturn on notice, not to mention the 4 percent who don't believe that customer service and support are important during a recession.

"The real question is why companies are not doing something to improve service," BenBassat says. Of course, many companies have investors watching their backs and may be more concerned with showing a profit than attracting and retaining customers, as Bruce suggests.

We've all seen how that ends, right? So my question is this: How can I get a list of the companies who aren't investing in service? Or the ones who don't think service isn't important to those of us who have less money to spend on goods? That would really help me when I go shopping.

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